Proposed approach to managing Return to Work Act 2014 cases at hearing and determination
21 December 2020
The Proposed Approach
In September last year a document headed Proposed approach to managing Return to Work Act 2014 cases at hearing and determination was put forward. Submissions in response were called for and many stakeholders and other interested parties expressed their views. The submissions received were very useful and were predominantly supportive of the Proposed Approach.
It was intended that during 2020 changes to the way cases would be managed at hearing and determination would be phased in. However, as a result of the global Covid-19 pandemic such changes were put on hold.
It is now timely to reconsider the Proposed Approach in light of SAET’s performance and changes implemented due to Covid-19.
SAET in 2020
When the Proposed Approach was put forward it was acknowledged that the Return to Work Act 2014 had introduced new challenges to workers compensation litigation in South Australia. Such challenges had created concerns relating to increases in the time taken for RTW Act cases to reach resolution, and a growing backlog of cases at the hearing and determination level.
Whilst some challenges still remain, the concerns over the timely listing of trials and of a backlog of cases have now largely dissipated. Currently, in the ordinary course, when parties are properly ready to have their case listed in a callover, a trial date within the optimal period of three to six months hence is able to be accommodated. As such, there is no current apparent backlog of cases given that such listings are possible.
The initiatives adopted by SAET during 2020 in response to the Covid-19 pandemic have received very positive feedback from the legal profession, stakeholders, users of the Tribunal and others. It is apparent that some of those initiatives have led to more efficient practices and procedures, which in turn have contributed to the improved position SAET is now experiencing. Accordingly, it has been decided that the changes in line with the Proposed Approach will not be implemented, but that such issues will be reviewed in July 2021.
Continuation of certain practices
With regards to the initiatives adopted by SAET in 2020 for cases at hearing and determination, the following will remain in place:-
- Parties will be strongly encouraged to liaise prior to any listing before a Presidential member, including the filing of consent orders where possible.
- Unless otherwise directed, Pre-hearing conferences, directions hearings and Compliance conferences will continue to be conducted by teleconference.
- The listing of a case in a callover will only occur when the parties are properly prepared and where relevant orders have been complied with.
- The taking of expert evidence at trial via Microsoft Teams will be strongly encouraged.
In July 2021, the Case Management Working Group will reconvene to conduct a review. Thereafter, recommendations will be made and a communique published in due course.
The Honourable Justice Steven Dolphin
South Australian Employment Tribunal