Posts Tagged VCAT not a court
On 17 October 2013 I posted a note about Subway Systems Australia Pty Ltd v Ireland  VSC 550 which concerned a dispute between a franchisor and a franchisee. The franchise agreement contained an arbitration clause. VCAT refused to refer the dispute to arbitration pursuant to s.8 of the Commercial Arbitration Act 2011 which provides that:
“A court before which an action is brought in a matter which is the subject of an arbitration agreement must, if a party so requests not later than when the submitting party’s first statement on the substance of the dispute, refer the parties to arbitration unless it finds that the agreement is null and void, inoperative or incapable of being performed.”
Justice Croft held that VCAT was not a “court” within the meaning of s.8 and therefore the dispute could be heard and determined in VCAT.
The decision is significant because many agreements, particularly franchising agreements, contain arbitration clauses. The effect of the judgment is that if a proceeding is commenced in VCAT concerning an agreement that contains an arbitration clause a party to that agreement cannot request the Tribunal to refer the matter to arbitration pursuant to s.8. If the same proceeding were commenced in the Magistrates’ Court, the County Court or the Supreme Court, the Court could refer the proceeding to arbitration. According to Justice Croft this did not produce an absurdity because VCAT was intended to be a forum for speedy and inexpensive resolution of disputes.
Justice Croft noted that a party to a proceeding in VCAT could still apply under s.77 of the VCAT Act to have the matter referred to the arbitral tribunal on the basis that it was a more appropriate forum.
In the earlier post about Subway the Commercial Arbitration Act 2011 was erroneously referred to as a Commonwealth Act; the reference should have been to a Victorian Act.
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  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.