Arbitration clause ineffective to oust VCAT’s jurisdiction

In a fascinating decision given today the Supreme Court of Victoria held that an arbitration clause in a lease could not oust VCAT’s jurisdiction under the Retail Leases Act 2003 (2003 Act).  In Subway Systems Australia  Pty Ltd v Ireland [2013] VSC 550 Croft J held that VCAT was not a “court” within the meaning of the Commercial Arbitration Act 2011 (Cmlth).  The matter came before Croft J after a VCAT member declined to find that the Tribunal was bound to refer the dispute to arbitration under s.8 of the CAA. In broad terms s.8 of the CAA requires a court before which an action is brought in a matter which is the subject of an arbitration agreement to  refer the matter to arbitration if one of the parties  makes that request.  Croft J held that VCAT was not a “court” for the purpose of s.8(1) of the CAA and therefore VCAT was not bound to refer the dispute to arbitration.  His Honour also accepted that  by the time s.8 of the CAA might be said by a party to a lease to be engaged, s.94 of the 2003 Act  had already rendered void the clause requiring disputes under the lease to go to arbitration. Section 94(2) of the 2003 Act provides that a provision in a retail premises lease is void to the extent that it purport to exclude the application of a provision of the 2003 Act  or to limit the right of a party to a lease to seek resolution of a retail tenancy dispute under Part 10 of the 2003 Act.

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