Media release: Court decision reduces tenants’ access to be heard
6th September, 2011
A landmark legal decision handed down today will reduce vulnerable tenants' ability to obtain accessible and efficient remedies for human rights breaches, forcing them to launch Supreme Court action to seek fair and just outcomes.
In Director of Housing v Sudi, the Victorian Court of Appeal has held that social housing tenants are not able to ask the Victorian Civil and Administrative Tribunal (VCAT) to review decisions to evict them on the basis that their human rights have been breached. Chief Justice Marilyn Warren, President of the Court of Appeal Chris Maxwell and Justice Mark Weinberg have held that only the Supreme Court has the jurisdiction to review these decisions.
"This decision will force vulnerable tenants to take Supreme Court action to assert their human rights in tenancy disputes," said James Farrell, Manager/Principal Lawyer of the PILCH Homeless Persons' Legal Clinic (HPLC). "This reduces access to fair and just outcomes for vulnerable tenants through increased legal costs and delays to being heard."
The decision comes as the Victorian Parliament's Scrutiny of Acts and Regulations Committee reviews the operation of Victoria's Charter of Human Rights and Responsibilities Act. The HPLC submission to the Charter review is available here.
Mr Farrell noted that this decision would have a profound impact on the protection and promotion of human rights.
"Before this decision was handed down, we've been able to argue that a tenant's human rights must be considered by a social landlord," he said. "In our submission to the Charter review, we have identified 20 matters where we used the Charter to prevent 42 people, including 21 children, being evicted into homelessness. We may find ourselves in the Supreme Court representing evicted tenants as early as next week.
"This decision comes as we've seen improved tenancy management and support from social landlords, largely as a result of the cultural change triggered by the Charter. The knowledge that rights are enforceable in a court or tribunal is a powerful motivator in terms of compliance."
When this matter was first decided at VCAT, Justice Bell stated that if VCAT did not have jurisdiction to consider Charter issues, the tenant would need to proceed to the Supreme Court by way of judicial review and "[f]rom the point of view of ensuring equal access to justice, which is an important value and purpose of the Charter, this would be a bad outcome."
Mr Farrell agreed that this is a poor outcome for vulnerable tenants, and urged legal reform to address this issue. "The Charter should be clarified to allow a person who claims that a public authority has contravened its obligations to rely on their human rights under the Charter in other legal proceedings."
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PILCH Homeless Persons' Legal Clinic
0447 797 000