Article by the President for barnews
Article on future hearing venues written by the President and originally published in barnews, Journal of the NSW Bar Association, Autumn 2023
Personal Injury Commission – Future Hearing Venues
By Judge Gerard Phillips
President, Personal Injury Commission of New South Wales
barnews, Journal of the NSW Bar Association, Autumn 2023 edition.
The Personal Injury Commission of New South Wales (the Commission) has a stated aspiration to lead the way in the delivery of modern dispute resolution services to the people of New South Wales.
Building on the experience of the pandemic and the widespread adoption of virtual and hybrid hearings, the Commission has settled upon a plan for the delivery of hearings into the future. This plan will be supported by the Commission’s modern technology, its MS Teams platform and the new single digital case management portal ‘Pathway’ which will shortly be opened across the Commission’s divisions. The future state of hearings will be comprised of the following options:
- In person: The Commission will continue to conduct its hearings and mediations in person either at our modern 1 Oxford Street premises or at regional venues. The Commission is in the process of identifying appropriate regional venues in which to conduct such hearings. Such venues must be able to not only be suitable for the hearing of a citizen’s case, but also to support the Commission’s technology.
- Virtual: Matters which can fairly and efficiently be held online will be listed in this manner. One aim in this approach is to endeavour to conduct the regional list at the same speed as the city list. That is, regional claimants will not have to wait until a Commission member is able to attend an in-person venue near to the claimant’s residence if the matter can fairly be heard online.
- Hybrid: Such hearings will be a mixture of in-person and virtual attendances, for example witnesses in regional, interstate or international locations attending the hearing online.
- Additionally, the Commission will continue to conduct its psychiatric appointments for claimants online. While this was done to contend with the disruption of the pandemic, it has been proven to be a very successful way to conduct such examinations. While some psychiatric claims, due to their nature and complexity, will always require an in-person examination with the psychiatrist, most do not and this has proven to be so popular with the psychiatrists, claimants and workers alike that this pandemic practice will continue.
Importantly, the trained Service NSW staff at this venue will be able to ensure the integrity of what occurs in the virtual hearing space.
Dubbo Virtual/Hybrid Pilot
As everyone reading this article would know from their own experience during the pandemic, the conduct of some virtual or hybrid hearings was challenged by either the technology or the party’s capacity to use the technology in order to appropriately participate in the hearing. Clearly, some citizens’ capacity to access technology was also difficult and in particular, in some regional areas the NBN service was not always able to support such needs. Arising out of this experience was the idea that the Commission partner with another government enterprise to deliver online access to the Commission’s dispute resolution events. That partner is Service NSW, which has a significant physical presence in regional NSW. For piloting purposes, the Commission has developed a hybrid venue in the Dubbo Service NSW centre. This will enable claimants/workers and other tribunal users (witnesses, legal representatives, etc) in the surrounding areas to attend the Commission’s hearings virtually. A soundproof room has been constructed in this venue and it has been configured to ensure the privacy and confidentiality of the proceedings from other users of the Service NSW office. Importantly, the IT is entirely compatible with the Commission’s IT platforms, meaning that some of the challenges that were experienced during the pandemic with either connections, bandwidths or a lack of compatibility will not be an issue with this venue.
Importantly, the trained Service NSW staff at this venue will be able to ensure the integrity of what occurs in the virtual hearing space. Namely, they will ensure that the worker, claimant or the witness does not have documents or other prompts present while giving evidence. They will identify any legal practitioner or support person present in the virtual hearing space to the presiding member. They will ensure that the participant is joined to the virtual hearing. But this venue is not only available for such virtual hearings; it will be made available for claimants needing to confer with their legal representatives who may be based in another regional venue or in Sydney. It is of course available for the Commission’s mediations and other proceedings.
It is the intention that this venue service the Central West and Orana regions. This is very much a pilot site which will enable the Commission, the legal profession, and other users to get used to this new method of operating. Experience in the pandemic showed that access to IT like this in regional areas was not always available or if it was, it was inadequate for this purpose. This new venue addresses these challenges. The Commission’s aim in conducting this venue is twofold. Firstly, it is to make the experience for users who do not need to have an in-person hearing much more efficient and accessible. The individual’s access to technology will not be an inhibiting factor. Secondly, it is part of the Commission’s stated aim to reduce process trauma associated with the conduct of a proceeding, which frequently involves vulnerable individuals. Subject to the successful completion of the pilot, the Commission will examine other sites in Service NSW regional centres to establish such a venue(s).