Northern Territory Civil and Administrative Tribunal

The Northern Territory Civil and Administrative Tribunal (NTCAT) is a super tribunal for legal matters in the Northern Territory. NTCAT was established by the Northern Territory Civil and Administrative Tribunal Act 2014 to resolve minor legal disputes, as a venue to reconsider government administrative decisions, and as a forum to hear human rights complaints. This article explains the role of NTCAT in the Northern Territory.

The Northern Territory Civil and Administrative Tribunal

NTCAT was established as an alternative venue to resolve legal disputes. It is less formal than a court hearing and aims to be a more user-friendly experience. As such, NTCAT aims to be easily accessible to the public, less formal, costly and prolonged. The Tribunal also tries to be more responsive, especially to people with special needs.

Jurisdiction of NTCAT

NTCAT can only hear cases within its jurisdiction. NTCAT hears:

As part of its review jurisdiction, NTCAT also considers applications to review government administrative decisions. For instance, NTCAT reviews planning decisions, licensing decisions, and decisions about compensation payouts to victims of crime. The Tribunal considers the merits of a government decision to assess whether there should be a reconsideration of the matter. This may involve a consideration of facts that the original decision maker did not consider. NTCAT’s review jurisdiction also reviews its own decisions made in its original jurisdiction. An applicant should obtain legal advice if they are unsure if NTCAT can deal with their matter.

Applying to NTCAT

It is important for anyone intending to apply to NTCAT to understand the processes and procedures. Before making an application, a person should consider whether this is the best approach to take. It may be preferable to resolve the dispute through communication with the other party, or with the assistance of a legal representative. If an applicant does believe that NTCAT is the best option, they need to confirm that it has jurisdiction over the matter.

If the applicant wishes to proceed, they will need to lodge an “Initiating Application”. The application process is designed to be streamlined, so there is one form to commence most proceedings. There is an application fee to file an Initiating Application, although the applicant may be eligible to have their fees waived on the basis of financial hardship. An Initiating Application must identify the respondent and include enough information for NTCAT and the respondent to fully understand the matter. The Registrar can also ask for further information before the matter can proceed.

NTCAT will send both the Applicant and Respondent standard orders on how to proceed. All parties must comply with the standard orders or notify the Tribunal immediately if they cannot follow the instructions. Service of documents is a vital part of an NTCAT proceeding. The Tribunal will not hold a hearing until an Initiating Application is served on the respondent. The parties should gather any documents or information they need to support their case and provide these to the other party and NTCAT. The material should be identified in a logical manner, such as with a date and a short description. The Tribunal may not allow a party to rely on evidence if it is not presented before the hearing.

The respondent prepares a “Response”, setting out their rebuttal of the Initiating Application. This Response identifies the scope of the dispute and highlights the factors under contention. If a respondent fails to file a Response when ordered, then the matter may proceed to an uncontested hearing, and NTCAT can make orders in the respondent’s absence. A respondent may be able to make a counterclaim in their Response if the issue is sufficiently connected to the matter raised in the Initiating Application. If the issue is not sufficiently connected, NTCAT can direct the respondent to commence a separate proceeding through their own Initiating Application.

Time limits apply to some types of dispute before the NTCAT, so it is best to seek legal advice as soon as possible after a dispute arises. The Registrar may refuse to accept an application made out of time, or that does not comply with relevant legislation, or if it is made by someone who is not entitled to apply.

Emergency hearings

If there are urgent circumstances when applying to NTCAT, the applicant can indicate that they need an emergency hearing. Emergency hearings are typically listed within a few days. The application needs to explain why an emergency hearing is necessary. NTCAT will consider whether they should hold an emergency hearing based on the following considerations:

  • health and safety issues;
  • threat of injury to person or damage to property;
  • prospect of severe personal or financial hardship if the matter is not heard urgently; and
  • prospect that an emergency hearing will prejudice or disadvantage either party.

Outcomes

An applicant may choose to withdraw an NTCAT application because they do not want to proceed, or they settle prior to the final decision. An applicant can seek leave to withdraw a proceeding at any time but must obtain permission from NTCAT. NTAC then makes a consent order to grant leave to withdraw. If the respondent disagrees over withdrawing, the matter will be referred to a Tribunal Member for decision.

Go To Court Lawyers can help if you need advice over a legal dispute, or need assistance in applying to NTCAT. Please contact our team on 1300 636 846 today for legal assistance or representation.

Author

Nicola Bowes

Dr Nicola Bowes holds a Bachelor of Arts with first-class honours from the University of Tasmania, a Bachelor of Laws with first-class honours from the Queensland University of Technology, and a PhD from The University of Queensland. After a decade of working in higher education, Nicola joined Go To Court Lawyers in 2020.
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