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Communtity Law Manual | Disputes Tribunal | What happens at a hearing

Disputes Tribunal hearings

What happens at a hearing


Dispute Tribunal hearings are held at a District Court or at a hearing centre. Unlike going to court, hearings are usually held in a small meeting room with chairs for the referee and parties sit at around a table.

On the day of the hearing, you should turn up early. The Disputes Tribunal will have a waiting area for you to wait for your hearing to start.

You don’t have to dress formally – you can dress comfortably, as the Disputes Tribunal is intended to be more informal than going to court.

What will be the process at the hearing?

  • How it starts – The hearing will begin with the referee introducing everyone and explaining the procedure for the hearing.
  • Each side states their case – Both parties will be asked to explain their side of the dispute. The applicant will be invited to speak first. The referee may ask the parties to write down anything they disagree with while the other party is speaking, for discussion later on.
  • Discussion of disagreements – Once both parties have told their side of the story, the referee will explain the law, identify the points that both parties agree on, the points they disagree on and set out the areas for discussion. Both parties will get to comment and ask questions to clear up the points that they disagree on.
  • Witnesses – If either party has any witnesses, they will be called into the hearing room to give evidence after both parties have spoken. The referee and both parties may ask a witness questions.

Disputes Tribunal Act 1988, ss 18, 47

  • Trying to reach an agreed settlement – During the hearing, the referee will usually try to help the parties reach an agreement. If an agreement is reached and approved by the referee, it has the effect of an order of the Tribunal and can be enforced in the same way as an order (see “Enforcing Disputes Tribunal Orders” in this chapter).

Disputes Tribunal Act 1988, s 18

  • Referee’s decision, if no agreement – If agreement cannot be reached, the referee will consider the evidence and make a decision. This decision may be given at the hearing or it may be posted to the parties at a later date.

Obtaining further information before a decision

Disputes Tribunal Act 1988, s 41

In some situations, the referee may need further information before they can make a decision. If so, the referee may put the hearing on hold and a Tribunal investigator may be appointed to conduct an inquiry and prepare an independent report on the case. The Tribunal pays for the cost of the investigator.

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