The Victorian Civil and Administrative Tribunal (VCAT) has signed a deal with legal tech startup Immediation that will allow the tribunal to continue to resolve disputes online, despite lockdown and social distancing measures due to the coronavirus pandemic.
Under the agreement, VCAT will use Immediation's online video conferencing platform to host mediation and hearing sessions virtually online. The platform has been designed to mimic a face-to-face mediation conference where there are separate virtual rooms for the mediator and plaintiff to converse privately.
VCAT expects up to 1,000 matters will be heard on the platform over the next three months.
The move to an online dispute resolution platform is part of VCAT's recovery response plan to digitise processes that have been brought on by the pandemic.
"VCAT is pleased to work with Immediation and to implement the use of these new technologies to ensure Victorians continue to have access to justice during these challenging times," VCAT CEO Mary Amiridis said.
The news comes less than two months after Immediation won similar contracts with the Federal Court of Australia, the Family Court of Australia, and the Federal Circuit Court.
In April, the NSW government granted the ability for video conferencing platforms, such as Skype, WhatsApp, FaceTime, and Zoom to be used for the witnessing of important legal documents like wills, powers of attorney, and statutory declarations.
The new temporary regulation, made under section 17 of the Electronic Transactions Act, opens a new window that helps reduce face-to-face contact during the COVID-19 pandemic.
"Thousands of legal documents are executed every day in the presence of one or more witnesses, but COVID-19 restrictions have made it difficult for many people to do so in person," NSW Attorney General Mark Speakman said at the time.
Under the new regulation, a witness must still see a person signing the document in real time to confirm the signature is legitimate. The witness will sign the document, or a copy of the document, to confirm they have witnessed the signature.
The NSW Department of Communities and Justice said this could be done on a hard copy version of a document that is scanned and sent to the witness, or on an identical counterpart of the document the signatory signs.
Elsewhere, Rabobank has continued to provide property valuations to farmers and rural property owners during the pandemic through the rollout of its Rural Valuations Hub.
Co-created with Digital Agriculture Services, the hub is a software-as-a-service platform that has been designed to provide virtual rural property valuations and appraisal reports.
Rabobank Australia COO Andrew Vickers said while the solution was co-created over three years, the platform has proven useful during the COVID-19 lockdowns.
"We have been able to support the business continuity of an essential industry by using the Rural Valuations Hub to undertake rural property valuations when they weren't able to be conducted in person because of the lockdown restrictions," he said.
The pair first piloted the Rural Valuations Hub last year before they decided to roll it out earlier this year.