The Victorian Civil and Administrative Tribunal (VCAT) has been handed $5.2 million from the state government to support a wide-ranging tech and teleservices upgrade to help to see it through the Covid-19 shutdown period.
The upgrades, scheduled over the next 12 weeks, will include the sourcing of project management software, an inventory of new hardware, software programming and licensing, and the digitisation and scanning of paper files.
VCAT said the upgrades would enable wide-ranging matters to be heard digitally.
Moves are also underway to transition from manual and hardcopy-based systems to an end-to-end digital solution – an effort, VCAT said, that would assist staff in handling future backlogs.
The VCAT tribunal hears and decides civil and administrative legal cases in Victoria concerning planning and development. On average, a total of 85,000 cases are finalised each year through 58 hearing venues, according to tribunal figures.
Since March, in accordance with Covid-19 state services shutdowns, the tribunal has suspended all in-person hearings, while only handling injunctions and other urgent matters. The deferments have created a backlog for planning and environment matters, according to the Minister for Planning, Richard Wynne.
He said the latest IT funding would help to prevent critical building and infrastructure projects across the state from being held up in the system.
“This is at a time when we need them most. This will help deliver important projects more efficiently, support jobs, and [assist] new projects to get off the ground faster.”
Attorney-General Jill Hennessy added that the latest IT upgrades would address Covid-19 social distancing whilst helping the tribunal continue to deliver critical services.
“This is about ensuring vital projects can continue during coronavirus. We’re giving VCAT the resources and the ability to continue their vital work remotely – delivering access to justice for all Victorians.”
The upgrades follow the passage of sunset legislation that will enable courts and other legal systems, including VCAT, to operate remotely in some circumstances during the pandemic.
A recently-passed Covid-19 omnibus (Emergency Measures) Act now enables councils, parliamentary committees, and planning panels to conduct meetings and hearings remotely.
Victoria’s Supreme Court and County Court has already begun testing virtual courtroom technology after in-person hearings and trials were suspended due to the coronavirus pandemic.
Several state courts have also initiated e-court trials supported by teleconferencing, virtual hearings, and live streaming via YouTube.