Hearings ‘on the papers’

A hearing 'on the papers' is a process where a VCAT member makes a decision on your case based on written submissions of the parties, without a face-to-face hearing.

Some cases, particularly planning and environment and owners corporations, may be decided based entirely on documents supplied by parties.

If your case is about a different type of dispute and we think it can be heard ‘on the papers’, we let all parties know. You can object to your case being heard ‘on the papers’.

Temporary changes to hearings 'on the papers'

On 4 November 2020, VCAT’s power to conduct a hearing ‘on the papers’ changed in response to COVID-19. If a party objects, we can still hear the case ‘on the papers’ if we decide the objection is unreasonable. This change applies to cases until 26 April 2021.

For a hearing ‘on the papers’ to be as fair as a hearing in person, there are things you must do.

Types of cases

We decide if your case is suited to a hearing ‘on the papers’. The hearing will go ahead in this way, unless a party objects and we agree with their reasons.

Even if a party objects, we might still hear the case ‘on the papers’, if we are satisfied that the objection is not reasonable.

Planning and environment cases 

Planning and environment cases that are more suited to hearings ‘on the papers' are those where there are a limited number of parties, or the issues are limited or confined. Examples of this include if a question of law is referred to a legal member and applications for costs. 

Owners corporations cases

Owners corporations cases more suited to hearings ‘on the papers’ are fee recovery applications, which are applications made by owners corporations to recover unpaid fees owed by lot owners. 

Even if none of the parties in the case object to a hearing ‘on the papers’, we may decide it’s not appropriate.

When this happens, we:

  • cancel the scheduled hearing ‘on the papers’
  • tell all parties in writing
  • give a new date for a hearing by phone or video conference.

When we decide to have a hearing ‘on the papers’

If we tell you your case will be decided 'on the papers', it’s important to consider:

  • a hearing ‘on the papers’ can take place unless one of the parties objects and we agree with their reasons
  • all parties must agree on the timing and process
  • in planning and environment cases, you must comply with VCAT's Practice Note PNPE9 if amended plans are proposed. This must be done before you agree to a hearing ‘on the papers’.

If you want to object

If you want to object to the case being decided ‘on the papers’ you must do this in writing to VCAT and to the other parties. Check the order we send you to find out if there is a date you must object by. 

If you don’t object in writing, the hearing will go ahead based on the documents we have.

If we are satisfied an objection is reasonable, the hearing is held by phone or videoconference on a date and time we set.

If we don't consider the objection to be reasonable, we will decide the case ‘on the papers’. 

How to prepare for the hearing – planning and environment cases

All parties have  the opportunity to make written submissions, provide expert evidence and make written submissions in reply. The order we send you gives you the timelines. 

You agree to a timetable

Where there is no evidence

The parties agree on a timetable for providing:

  • written submissions
  • written submissions in reply.

Check the order carefully to understand the process you must follow and when you must make your submission. The timelines in the order may be different to the timetable you’ve agreed on. 

Each party must email its submissions to VCAT and to all other parties by the date we tell you in the order. Learn more about how to send documents.

Where there is evidence

The parties must agree on a timetable for providing:

  • written submissions including any questions for another party's witness
  • written submissions in response, including answers by the other party's witness to the questions
  • written submissions in reply by any party who asked questions of another party’s witness. These submissions must only address the answers provided by the witness.

How to prepare for the hearing – owners corporation cases

If you’re the applicant you have an opportunity to give us a summary of proofs and fee notices.

If you’re the respondent you can give us a defence and any other documents to support your case. 

The order tells you what documents and submissions all parties must send in writing to each other and to VCAT and when.


If you’re an applicant, you must pay a hearing fee, just as if you were attending a hearing in person.

How to send documents

When you communicate with us by email you must:

  • Send emails to the email address for your case type.
  • If we don’t already have your email address, send it to VCAT and to all other parties. (You can do this when you send your documents.)
  • Put the VCAT reference number and hearing date in the subject line of the email. 
  • Send a copy of any email to VCAT to all other parties

If you communicate with VCAT by post you must also send a copy to all other parties.

What happens next

Planning and environment cases 

  1. Each party must send its submissions to VCAT and to all other parties.
  2. As a party you can also propose an agreed alternative process that’s appropriate for the case.
  3. The VCAT member reads and considers all submissions, supporting material and any evidence.
  4. If we consider the parties haven’t identified or addressed a key issue, we make an order to give the parties the opportunity to make written submissions addressing the issue.
  5. The VCAT member may decide to make a site inspection in a planning or environment case. If you want a site inspection, state this in your written submission, so it can be considered by the member.
  6. The VCAT member gives written reasons explaining the decision.

Owners corporations cases

  1. Each party must send its submissions, supporting material and evidence to VCAT and to all other parties as set out in the order we give you.
  2. The VCAT member reads and considers all submissions, supporting material and evidence.
  3. If the VCAT member doesn’t have everything they need, the hearing may be adjourned, and a party or parties ordered to produce more documents.
  4. If the VCAT member decides it isn’t an appropriate matter to decide ‘on the papers’ they may adjourn the case to a phone or videoconference hearing.
  5. If the VCAT member hold a hearing ‘on the papers’, they send the decision with findings to all parties in a written order.