Monday, December 12, 2011

VCAT must set out its reasons: Dimatos v Coombe & Ors [2011] VSC 619

The matter of Dimatos v Coombe & Ors [2011] VSC 619 was an appeal from VCAT to the Supreme Court of Victoria before Beach J. The matter in VCAT concerned an allegation by the applicant that the respondents had defectively serviced the applicant's Torana motor vehicle, causing loss and damage.

Beach J noted that although the judgment in VCAT was voluminous and consisted of 292 paragraphs, the 'path of reasoning' for making the particular findings was not apparent. Beach J noted that the VCAT judgment set out the evidence without reference to the issues, and then the VCAT judgment went on to make findings of fact based on the evidence without providing the reasons for these findings of fact.

At [20] Beach J set out a summary of the authorities concerning the statutory requirement in s117 VCAT Act 1998 for VCAT to give reasons:
20 Having made final orders dismissing the substantial parts of the appellant’s claims, the tribunal was required to give reasons.[2] Whilst the extent of the reasons in any case will depend upon the circumstances of the case, the reasons should identify the issues in dispute; deal with the substantial points which have been raised; include findings on material questions of fact; refer to the evidence or other material upon which those findings are based; and provide an intelligible explanation of the process of reasoning that has led the tribunal from the evidence to the findings and from the findings to the ultimate conclusion.[3] Failure to expose this path of reasoning is an error of law.[4] Further, as has been said on a number of occasions, in general, the mere recitation of evidence followed by a statement of findings, without commentary as to why the evidence is said to lead to the findings, is “about as good as useless”.[5]
Beach J held that the reasons in the matter were deficient as no path of reasoning has been exposed. Beach J held that whilst VCAT recited the evidence, little or no explanation was given as to why a particular piece of evidence, or all of the evidence, is said to lead to the critical findings leading to the final result (at [21]):

21 Unfortunately, the reasons in the present case are deficient. No path of reasoning has been exposed. The failure to expose a path of reasoning is, as I have said, an error of law. Accordingly, the appeal must be allowed, and the orders made below must be set aside. Whilst the judgment below contains a substantial recitation of the evidence given, little (if any) explanation has been given as to why any particular piece of evidence (or the evidence as a whole) is said to lead to the critical findings leading to the final result. Much of the present problem may have been avoided if there had been a concise statement of the issues in dispute (including the parameters of each dispute) at the commencement of the judgment with the evidence (conflicting or otherwise) then being analysed by reference to those issues. 

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