At a compulsory conference, the parties confidentially discuss ways to resolve their dispute with the help of a VCAT member. All parties must come.
The member does not make a decision in the case. Their role is to help you and the other party agree on a resolution instead of the member deciding the case for you at a hearing.
Compulsory conferences are usually a half-day or full day. The notice or order we send you shows how long it’s expected to take.
Why you should come to the compulsory conference
If you don’t come, VCAT may make a final decision without hearing from you. It’s important that you come so you can have your say.
What happens at a compulsory conference is private. Reaching agreement at a compulsory conference can save you the cost, stress and time of going through the VCAT hearing process.
Even if you can’t completely resolve all the issues, reaching agreement on some issues can mean a shorter hearing.
What to expect
In a compulsory conference the VCAT member:
- explains the process
- manages the discussions
- helps everyone involved in the dispute identify the key issues.
To help everyone identify the issues the member:
- asks each party or their representative to give a summary of how they see the dispute. All parties have an opportunity to speak and to respond.
- may talk to the parties privately to clarify issues and discuss settlement options. These discussions remain private, unless it’s agreed that the member can tell the other party
- may provide a view on the strengths of the case if the dispute was to go to a hearing.
How to prepare
It’s important to be prepared for the compulsory conference so that you have the best chance of coming to an agreement without going to a hearing.
Read the notice or order you receive from VCAT carefully. It tells you what you must do before the compulsory conference, for example prepare and send documents to VCAT and the other parties.
To get ready for a compulsory conference, be ready to answer questions about:
- the details of the dispute
- your claim or your defence
- how you think the dispute could be resolved.
In some cases, VCAT may tell you to prepare a position paper or opening statement and give it to the other party or parties before the compulsory conference. This should include all these details in writing.
What to bring
Bring key documents relating to your case. You don’t need to bring all supporting information to the compulsory conference.
You might want to bring, for example:
- a copy of the application (if you are the applicant)
- reports from experts
- invoices, statements
- written authority if you are representing someone.
Who you can bring
You can bring someone with you to your compulsory conference for support. This support person could be anyone you choose, including a friend or family member. They can’t usually speak on your behalf, but they can help explain what you need (for example, ask for a break).
If you have a lawyer or other professional representative:
- you still need to come to the compulsory conference, as this is your case and you need to make the final decision about whether to settle
- your representative must bring written authority to represent you
You cannot bring someone to translate for you. If you need an interpreter you must ask us to arrange for one.
What you can’t bring
For safety reasons, you cannot bring into our venues:
- weapons and any other items that could be used as a weapon
- any sharp items (for example, manicure sets, table knives, forks and scissors)
- harmful substances and chemicals
- glass bottles and any other glass objects
- tools (for example, stanley knives, box cutters).
You will be searched and scanned by security when you enter.
On the day
All parties listed on the VCAT application, or who have been added to the case by an order, must come.
The date you must come to VCAT is shown on the notice or order we send you. We will tell you if the date changes.
You can check the time and location of your compulsory conference after 4.30pm the day before. See Upcoming hearings.
At a compulsory conference, everyone must be respectful and polite:
- Call the member ‘Member’. They will let you know if you need to use another title, like Deputy President.
- Switch your mobile phone off or to silent
- Remove hats and sunglasses
- You don’t need to bring your own water.
- Do not record any part of the conference without permission, for example, take photos or make audio or video recordings.
If you're attending by phone or video
Make sure you’re ready for your phone or videoconference hearing at the allocated time or within the allocated timeframe. If you’re not available for the hearing, orders may be made against you.
Phone and videoconference hearings may be less formal, but there are still rules to follow and things to do. Our cases are heard by members. Some cases are heard by judicial members (our president or vice presidents) who are also judges.
Etiquette for phone and videoconference hearings
- Turn off or eliminate background noise and distractions. Use headphones if possible.
- All VCAT hearings, including phone and videoconference hearings, are recorded.
- It’s important you email any documents or evidence you want to rely on in your hearing to VCAT and all other parties well before your hearing.
- Mute your phone or microphone if not speaking to avoid feedback or noise.
Tips on how to settle the dispute
You are at a compulsory conference to try to come to an agreement to solve the dispute. It will save you the time, stress and cost of going to a hearing at VCAT. Reaching agreement helps you put the dispute behind you and move on with your life.
- Stay calm. You may be upset or offended that there is a claim against you. You’re more likely to get an outcome if you stay calm.
- Be prepared to negotiate. Think about a range of options or alternatives you would be prepared to accept. Think about the choices and what your ‘bottom line’ really is.
- Listen. Listen carefully to the other party so you don’t miss important details. You could also pick up things that will help with your argument.
- Watch your tone. Avoid aggressive, offensive language and behaviour. This is not acceptable.
- Focus on the outcome. Be clear about what you hope to achieve and how you suggest you can get there.
- Think about the other party’s position. They have their own perspective on the dispute, just like you do. Compromising and agreeing to some of their interests, as well as satisfying some of yours, gives you a better chance of reaching an outcome.
Conversations at compulsory conferences are private and can’t be used later at a hearing.
You may be asked to sign a confidentiality agreement. This means you can’t disclose to anyone, including the media, what was said or done in the compulsory conference.
Compulsory conferences at VCAT cannot be recorded and the member’s notes are not kept on file.
What happens next
What happens after the compulsory conference depends on the agreement you reach:
- If you come to an agreement (that is, reach a settlement) at the compulsory conference, the agreement is put in writing and all parties sign it.
- If you reach a settlement about some issues but not others, you may need to come to another compulsory conference or a hearing about the unresolved issues.
- If you don’t reach a settlement at the compulsory conference, the case usually goes to a hearing at a later date. We may make orders for the hearing, including setting a timetable for what you need to do before the hearing.
A different VCAT member will hear the case and won’t know about the confidential discussions at the compulsory conference.
Settle before a hearing
Even if an application has been made against you, you can still try to resolve the dispute yourselves without going to VCAT.
A consent order is a legal document issued by VCAT to confirm an agreement between the parties.
How to communicate with VCAT and other parties
Understand when and how to communicate with VCAT and any other parties involved in your case.