Articles > Small Business

What place do tribunals have in the legal system?

November 10, 2020   Brigid NelmesPhilip Evangelou

Tribunals are independent, decision-making bodies which give a binding decision on parties to a dispute.

For particular disputes, tribunals are the first port of call before entering the court system as they are generally more informal, faster and cheaper. Sometimes, it is even necessary to go to a tribunal before bringing a case in court. However, not all disputes can be brought in a tribunal.

Tribunals may deal with administrative and civil claims. Administrative law is concerned with government actions and decisions, civil law concerns private disputes. 

It is worth clarifying, tribunals are not courts, they only deal with specific disputes and the decision-makers are members, not judges.

Different types of tribunals

Tribunals may be created at the state or federal level. There are both general and specialist tribunals. However, in many jurisdictions, a number of specialist tribunals have now been combined into one larger tribunal. For example, the NSW Civil and Administrative Tribunal (NCAT) consolidated 22 former tribunals.

Examples of specialist tribunals in NSW are the Migration Review Tribunal, the Workers Compensation Commission and the Dust Diseases Tribunal. 

The federal Administrative Appeals Tribunal (AAT) deals exclusively with administrative law disputes. It covers disputes of government decisions related to, for example, taxation, migration and freedom of information.

Why bring your case in a tribunal?

Generally, tribunals are praised for their speed and cost-effectiveness. However, there are many other benefits to bringing your case in a tribunal (although these may vary):

  • Informal
  • Greater support for self-representation
  • Forms and documents in plain language – easily understandable 
  • Simplified procedures
  • Availability of alternative dispute resolution methods such as mediation 
  • The rules of evidence are less strict 

For the most part, the decision of a tribunal can be reviewed/appealed within the tribunal. Afterwards, the decision can most likely be appealed to the court system. However, appeals to a court generally require an alleged error of law. 

Examples of disputes dealt with by tribunals

Below are examples of the types of disputes dealt with by NCAT and the AAT. If your dispute falls outside the jurisdiction of the tribunal, it will most likely need to be dealt with in court.


The NCAT deals with a wide range of cases which can be broken down into:

  • Housing and property – for example, disputes between landlords and tenants
  • Consumers and businesses – for example, consumer complaints up to the value of $40,000 about the supply of goods/services in NSW
  • Guardianship – for example, the appointment of a guardian for a person with decision-making disabilities 
  • Administrative review and regulation – for example, the review of government decisions revoking or refusing a licence
  • Anti-discrimination – for example, anti-discrimination complaints referred to it by the Anti-Discrimination Board
  • Professional discipline – for example, applications and appeals about the regulation and registration of health professionals 


The AAT may review government decisions related to:

  • Centrelink
  • Child support
  • Citizenship
  • Freedom of information
  • Migration and refugee
  • National disability insurance scheme (NDIS)
  • Security assessments
  • Taxation and commercial
  • Veterans’ entitlement and military compensation
  • Workers’ compensation


If a tribunal is able to hear your dispute, they are often the first option before entering the court system as they are generally more accessible, expedient and cheaper while still reaching a binding decision. Additionally, tribunals will try to assist the parties to resolve the dispute among themselves through mediation. If you disagree with the tribunal’s decision on a question of law, the decision can generally be appealed in court.

About Brigid Nelmes

Brigid NelmesBrigid is a legal intern at OpenLegal, working with our legal content team. She is currently completing her Bachelor of Laws and Bachelor of Arts (International Studies) at the University of Technology Sydney. Her interests are in digital/privacy and startup law.

About Philip Evangelou

phillipPhil is a director at OpenLegal. He has over 16 years experience working in private practice and in-house counsel in Sydney and London, giving him expertise in employment law, IP, finance, leases, dispute resolution, insurance and contracts.