2014 Victorian Civil Appeal Reforms: requirement for leave to appeal, new time limits, and no entitlement to an oral hearing

The Courts Legislation (Miscellaneous Amendments) Act 2014 implemented changes to the Supreme Court Act 1986 (Vic) that include a requirement for leave to appeal for all civil appeals, with limited exceptions, and there is no entitlement to an oral hearing for leave to appeal. The changes commenced on 10 November 2014, and the Supreme Court (General Civil Procedure) Rules 2005 were amended also.

These reforms follow the criminal appeal “Ashley-Venne” reforms in 2011, which implemented a leave to appeal requirement. The Court of Appeal has reported (see link to “Revised Instruction to the Profession and Litigants” here) that the criminal appeal reforms requiring leave in all cases have enabled the Court of Appeal to expedite dramatically the hearing of criminal appeals, and it is considered that similar efficiencies can be gained for civil appeals by implementing a leave to appeal requirement also.

The essential features of the new civil appeals regime are set out in the document “Revised Instruction to the Profession and Litigants: Court of Appeal: Proposed New Regime for Civil Appeals and Applications“, which was recently published by the Supreme Court of Victoria. This is extracted below, and the author of this article has added the relevant section and rule references in square parentheses, for ease of reference:

  • With few exceptions (appeals against refusal to grant habeas corpus and appeals under the Serious Sex Offenders (Detention and Supervision) Act 2009) leave to appeal will be required for all appeals [s14A]. Leave to appeal will be granted only if the Court is satisfied there is a real prospect of success on the appeal [s14C].
  • Appeals and applications for leave to appeal will be commenced by filing rather than service [s14Br64.05]. Service is to take place after the appeal or application, and other required documents, are accepted for filing by the Registrar and a sealed copy of the application for leave to appeal, or appeal, has been returned by the Court.
  • The time for initiating applications for leave and appeals will be standardised to 28 days [s14Br64.05].
  • An applicant for leave, or appellant, will be required to file a written case (10 pages maximum unless otherwise permitted in advance) with the application for leave, or appeal, setting out the detailed contentions in support of the grounds [r64.01r64.03r64.04]. An applicant for leave must address the merits of the application and the appeal [r64.04].
  • A respondent will have 28 days to file and serve a written case in response, or file a notice of intention not to respond or contest [r64.11].
  • A respondent will also have 28 days in which to file a cross-application for leave to appeal, or cross-appeal, and accompanying written case and/or a notice of contention and accompanying written case [r64.30r64.31]. Service of a cross-application for leave to appeal, or a cross-appeal, is to take place after the application or appeal, and other required documents, are accepted for filing by the Registrar and a sealed copy of the cross-application for leave to appeal, or cross-appeal, has been returned by the Court.
  • Applications, other than for leave to appeal, will continue to be commenced by filing an application supported by affidavit and submissions [r64.03]
  • Greater capacity for a single judge to determine applications, including for leave to appeal, and on the papers without an oral hearing [s14Dr64.40]. There will be no entitlement to an oral hearing and whether there will be an oral hearing will be the decision of the Court [s14Dr64.15].
  • Where an application for leave to appeal is determined without an oral hearing the applicant can apply to two or more judges to set aside or vary a dismissal of the application, unless the single judge has also determined that the application is totally without merit in which case the determination on the papers is final [s14Dr64.15]. Such applications to set aside or vary a dismissal of an application will be by way of oral hearing and be determined on the basis of the materials filed prior to the decision to dismiss the application and any additional documents ordered by the Court or the Registrar [s14Dr64.18]. To rely on further material the Court’s leave will be required [s14Dr64.18].
  • Applications determined on the papers will be final, other than applications for leave to appeal, and it will not be possible to apply to set aside or vary a dismissal of such an application, whether determined on the papers or by way of oral hearing. There will be an exception for ex parte orders.
  • More intense Registry management of applications and appeals, including early assessment of applications and appeals, and communication with the parties to establish a timetable and making of orders and directions to prepare applications for hearing, or determination by the Court on the papers, and to prepare appeals for hearing.
  • As appeals will require the leave of the Court, applications for leave will be streamed so that applications for leave to appeal will be listed either with the hearing of the appeal or listed separately, with an appeal being listed at a later date, if leave is granted.
  • An emphasis on electronic filing wherever possible.
  • Greater compliance with Court orders. In particular, subject to the Court’s order, if applicant or appellant fails to comply with a direction or order for a month or longer the application or appeal will be taken to be abandoned [r64.45].
  • The ability of the Court, on its own motion, or for a party, to apply for dismissal of an application or appeal [r64.46]

The Victorian Bar hosted a seminar on 20 October 2014 in which Judicial and Administrative members of the Court of Appeal discussed the civil appeal reforms. Click here for the video presentation (note – only members of the Victorian Bar can access this video).

The most contentious aspects of these reforms are:

  1. The perceived abrogation of the right of appeal, which has been replaced with a requirement for leave to appeal.
  2. A leave to appeal application can be determined “on the papers” by a single Judge and without an oral hearing.

Given applications for leave to appeal can be determined on the papers and without an oral hearing, when a single Judge of Appeal is making an order refusing leave to appeal in part or in whole, including determining that the application for leave to appeal is totally without merit, it is expected that the giving of the order includes the giving of reasons. This is not expressed in the Rules, but in the author’s view is the only logical construction of the rules in circumstances where the order dismissing the application can be determined in the absence of the parties, and subsequently set aside or varied under s14D/r64.18 before two Judges of the Court of Appeal. Also, this construction would be consistent with s24 of the Charter of Human Rights and Responsibilities Act 2006 (Vic).

Author’s note: this post first appeared on the author’s website and blog www.the-civil-lawyer.net.

Andrew Downie – CommBar profile

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