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Tuesday, April 16, 2024

VCAT Domestic Building Disputes Overhaul

Australia’s legal system is undergoing a massive shake up.

Parties involved in domestic building disputes in Victoria, Australia are shocked by the uncertainty that prevails in the current legal climate.

Recently there have been significant legal developments that may have huge implications for domestic building disputes, particularly those brought before the Victorian Civil and Administrative Tribunal (VCAT).

No Limitations date
No Limitations Period on Statutory Claims

1. No Limitation Periods for Statutory Claims in VCAT

Limitation periods typically set a time limit within which a claim must be brought, failing which the claim becomes “statute-barred” or legally invalid. However, according to recent decisions, VCAT is not bound by limitation periods for specific statutory claims.

For instance, in the case of Steedman v Greater Western Water Corporation [2023] VCAT 128, VCAT held that limitation periods imposed by the Limitations of Actions Act 1958 (Vic) do not apply to statutory claims brought before VCAT. This means that historical statutory claims that would have been considered statute-barred in other courts may still be maintained in VCAT, even if the limitation period has expired.

While this may provide a unique pathway for parties seeking to pursue historical statutory claims, it is crucial to note that limitation periods still apply to contractual claims.

Magistrates Court2. VCAT’s Jurisdiction and Federal Legislation

Another significant legal development pertains to VCAT’s jurisdiction in matters involving federal legislation. In the case of Thurin v Krongold Constructions [2022] VSCA 226, the Court of Appeal of the Supreme Court of Victoria ruled that VCAT lacks jurisdiction to hear and determine cases involving federal legislation.

Traditionally, VCAT had been handling disputes involving federal legislation, but this recent decision has changed the landscape. If a party raises a federal issue in their claim or defense, VCAT no longer has the authority to decide on the matter. Instead, the case must be referred to a court with appropriate jurisdiction, such as the Magistrates’ Court or another relevant court.

This decision has significant implications for parties involved in domestic building disputes. It means that if federal issues arise in their case, they may face delays and additional costs associated with transferring the matter to another court.

3. Contribution Claims and VCAT’s Jurisdiction

Contributions claims, which allow parties to seek compensation from others responsible for the same damage, have long been addressed within VCAT. However, a recent ruling has brought into question VCAT’s jurisdiction over such claims.

In Vaughan Constructions Pty Ltd v Melbourne Water Corporation (Building and Property) [2023] VCAT 233, it was determined that VCAT lacks jurisdiction to decide contribution claims under Part IV of the Wrongs Act. This decision has created uncertainty regarding VCAT’s authority to handle such claims.

As a result, parties seeking to pursue contribution claims must initiate separate proceedings in a court that has jurisdiction over such matters, while keeping the primary claim in VCAT.

Key Considerations for Parties involved in domestic building disputes

In light of these recent legal developments, there are several key considerations for parties involved in domestic building disputes:

1. Seek Legal Advice: Engaging an experienced legal practitioner is crucial when dealing with domestic building disputes. They can provide guidance on the most suitable forum to commence legal proceedings and help navigate the complexities of these cases.

2. Limitation Periods: While VCAT is no longer bound by limitation periods for certain statutory claims, it is essential to understand the specific timeframes that apply to contractual claims. Parties should be mindful of any limitation issues and seek legal advice to ensure they meet important deadlines.

3. Federal Legislation: VCAT lacks jurisdiction to address disputes involving federal legislation. Parties must carefully assess the presence of federal issues in their cases and consult with legal professionals to determine the appropriate forum for their claim.

4. Contribution Claims: VCAT’s jurisdiction to handle contribution claims under Part IV of the Wrongs Act has been eliminated. Parties seeking contribution must initiate separate proceedings in a court that has jurisdiction over such matters.

5. Legislative Reforms and Appeals: Stay informed about potential legislative changes that may address the issues arising from these legal rulings. Additionally, keep an eye on possible appeals and subsequent court decisions that may provide further clarity or modifications to the current legal landscape.

The Take Away

Recent legal developments have introduced significant changes to the landscape of domestic building disputes brought before VCAT. Understanding the removal of limitation periods for certain statutory claims, the exclusion of VCAT’s jurisdiction in matters involving federal legislation, and the inability to pursue contribution claims is vital for parties involved in such disputes.

By seeking professional legal advice and staying informed about the latest legal developments, parties can better protect their rights and interests throughout the course of their domestic building disputes. Engaging experienced legal practitioners who specialize in domestic building disputes can provide valuable guidance and support in navigating the complexities of these cases.

Leonard Warren
Leonard Warrenhttps://www.lawarren.com.au/leonard-warren/
Leonard Warren is an expert in litigation and commercial disputes resolution. He is the principal of L A Warren Lawyers and holds a Masters in Building and Construction Law.

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