Up until recently, the Victorian Civil and Administrative Tribunal (VCAT) was relying on paper-based and manual processes, and a legacy case management system to process some 80,000 cases annually.
However, VCAT realised it needed a better solution, particularly when it is considered as the "cheaper and faster" alternative to resolving legal disputes in Victoria. In VCAT's 2018-2022 strategy document, the tribunal outlined its goal was to become "more digitally streamlined and contemporary" and be able to introduce opportunities for client self-service.
VCAT's Planning and Environment division kick started the transformation project by teaming up with PwC and Microsoft to deploy a digital tribunal case management system for planning dispute resolution. The system was built on Microsoft Dynamics 365, and leverages the Power Platform, Teams, and SharePoint.
Through this project, VCAT has managed to digitise its paper files and processes, as well as automatically allocate correspondence to the relevant case in Dynamics 365, manage payment and decision notifications, and manage information and work processes across the division. The new platform also provides information about member availability to hear a matter, room availability, and hearing schedules.
"It's our demonstration project, if you like. It's our proof of concept. And we've already started planning for the next list that we want to actually stand up on the new platform," VCAT CEO Mary Amiridis said.
VCAT strategic and operational changed director Melissa Biram said the need to digitise VCAT's systems was further reinforced during the COVID-19 pandemic when accessing content remotely was necessary once members and operation staff had to work from home, but had limited access to VCAT systems or documents.
"Where we were used to running all of our hearings at that point in person, usually with people on site at our principal venue at King Street, or at one of the other venues in Victoria, we had to suspend face-to-face hearings," she said.
"So we stopped in-person hearings and we weren't in a position to just quickly move to our amazing digital platform to hear matters remotely. We had to really scramble in terms of how were we going to initially stop, and then how are we going to maintain a level of operation during the pandemic," she added.
During the peak of pandemic, the Victorian government announced it would spend AU$5.2 million to upgrade VCAT's technology system so it could continue to hear planning and other matters remotely.
Following the announcement, VCAT signed a deal with legal tech startup Immediation to allow the tribunal to continue to resolve disputes online.
Under the agreement, VCAT said it would 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.
As part of next steps, VCAT said there are now plans to deploy the digital platform across other divisions of the organisation.
"In the future, the idea is that we would build on that single environment, so that we have a single point of entry for any user interacting with VCAT, who then wants to submit an application for whatever list it might be relevant to," VCAT senior digital program manager Claire Reinecke said.