Simon Corbell mulls judicial changes to ACT Civil and Administrative Tribunal
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Simon Corbell mulls judicial changes to ACT Civil and Administrative Tribunal

The ACT's civil tribunals could be taken over by the territory's judicial establishment under a plan being considered by the Attorney-General.

The ACT Civil and Administrative Tribunal was conceived as a "super tribunal", giving ordinary Canberrans low-cost access to legal solutions for less serious disputes without having to pay for lawyers, barrister and court fees.

Attorney-General Simon Corbell is considering NSW-style reforms to the ACAT.

Attorney-General Simon Corbell is considering NSW-style reforms to the ACAT.Credit:Rohan Thomson

However, some legal insiders are warning of the "judicialisation" of the ACAT system.

The system was conceived as the "people's tribunal".

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Attorney-General Simon Corbell is considering NSW-style reforms.

That could mean a Supreme Court judge would run the tribunals and the roles of ACT presidential members Linda Crebbin and Bill Stefaniak would be sidelined.

Mr Corbell said nothing would happen immediately and there would be a full debate, with an issues paper published, before there was any move to change what he called the successful ACAT model.

However, he confirmed that having a Supreme Court judge running the tribunal was one option.

Ms Crebbin did not respond to requests for comment.

The Chief Justice's office did not respond to requests for comment.

A Canberra lawyer said he feared that putting the judicial establishment in charge of the ACAT would make justice more formal and expensive and less accessible to "the man on the street".

The legal veteran cited reforms to the NSW tribunals which had led to the NCAT acquiring a reputation in the profession as a semi-retirement option for ageing senior barristers.

Mr Corbell confirmed that change was on the cards for the ACAT and that a judge at the top was one option.

"The government will be looking at options in relation to the structure of the ACAT," the minister said.

"In other jurisdictions, Civil and Administrative Tribunal are headed by a judicial officer and that officer has permanence in terms of their appointments and that provides for protections in relation to the independence of the tribunal.

"It doesn't reflect on the performance, standing or independence of the tribunal to date, but it does highlight the opportunity to further strengthen, potentially, and separateness from executive government.

"It is a normal concern for people to raise, that if a tribunal is headed by a judicial officer, then that brings an additional level of formality in the legal process.

"The reality though is that for many matters in the ACAT, legal representation is commonplace.

"These are the issues that people expect to be tested in the discussion paper process."

Mr Corbell said he and his colleagues believed the ACAT model, which was introduced in 2008, had been a success.

"Overall, the government has been very pleased with the transition to the consolidated tribunal; it's proven to be a very effective model," he said.

"The fundamental performance of the ACAT and its capacity to provide access to justice for minor and administrative matters has been a success."

The minister said he had nothing to say about Chief Justice Murrell's attitude to her ACAT counterparts.

"It's not for me to comment on the Chief Justice's position," he said.