Tribunals follow their own set of rules
Whereas the courts have a standard set of rules that govern all court proceedings, tribunals are established to resolve disputes about very different and specific topics. For this reason, every tribunal follows its own set of rules and procedures. Learn more about the differences between Tribunals vs Courts. To learn more about the process that your case may follow, search the BC Admin Law Directory and select the suitable tribunal or agency.
What happens first?
Tribunals are established to resolve disputes or determine your rights and benefits. Many things will happen before an adjudicator makes a decision or hears your case. Most tribunals will take some or all of the following steps in an effort to resolve your dispute or determine your rights as quickly as possible. Check your tribunal’s website to find out what steps will be followed in the dispute resolution process.
A senior tribunal staff member or one of the tribunal members usually does a preliminary review of your case. This ensures that your case is before the correct tribunal and it is within the correct time limit. During this initial review stage, an adjudicator may contact you to request further information. Before an in-person hearing, you may be asked to provide written submissions, or to participate in a telephone hearing.
Alternative Dispute Resolution
Not all disputes have to be adjudicated at a tribunal hearing – many disputes are resolved long before they reach that stage. An adjudicator may use case management techniques to find out if the matter can be resolved without a hearing. For example, a tribunal member may arrange a telephone conference with the parties to understand the issues that are in dispute, the evidence that the parties have gathered to support their claims, and how the case will proceed if it cannot be resolved at this stage. The tribunal member may order that the parties exchange documents and other information with each other to help resolve the dispute.
A tribunal will sometimes arrange for the parties to attend a settlement conference or a mediation session. Usually conducted in person rather than by telephone, these sessions help parties reach a mutually satisfactory agreement about how to resolve the dispute without the expense and stress of a tribunal hearing.
The tribunal sometimes imposes mediation in an effort to resolve the dispute without a full hearing. In some cases, the parties have the option of choosing mediation.
Mediation is a meeting between the parties for the purpose of negotiating a resolution that is acceptable to both parties. The benefit of a mediated settlement is that the parties can resolve the matter in any way that is acceptable to them, as opposed to a win-lose resolution that an adjudicator may impose. Discussions at a mediation session are confidential, which means that no one else will know what was discussed. The mediator is a neutral person (often a senior staff person or a tribunal member) who discusses the issues with the parties with a view to reaching consensus. If the parties cannot reach an agreement, the matter can proceed to a hearing.
A neutral tribunal member conducts the settlement conference, but he or she may take an active role in discussions and offer a non-binding opinion on what the outcome might be if the parties proceed to a hearing. Non-binding means that the opinion will not be imposed on you. Settlement conferences are confidential and if an agreement cannot be reached, the matters discussed at the conference cannot be raised at the subsequent tribunal hearing. A settlement conference may be held instead of a mediation session where the tribunal has a duty to ensure that any agreement is in accordance with the legislative scheme that governs the claim or dispute.
If the parties cannot agree how to resolve the dispute during the case management process, an adjudicator may hold a hearing and make a decision. Not all tribunal hearings are done in person. Many hearings are done over the telephone or by giving written submissions. Sometimes the tribunal will arrange for the hearing to done by videoconference so you do not have to travel a long distance to attend the hearing in person.
What kind of hearing will it be?
The tribunal will advise you what type of hearing you will have – by written submission, by videoconference, over the telephone, or in-person. The tribunal may post this information on its website or it may contact you directly to give you this advice. Some tribunals will let you choose the type of hearing you would like to have.
If you need help
Tribunals are set up to be less formal than courts and the procedures are usually simple enough to follow on your own. If you need help, consider talking to a lawyer who can explain the issues to you or represent you at the hearing. Many organizations provide free (pro bono) legal advice on some administrative law matters. Search the BC Admin Law Directory to find a website link or contact information for the tribunal that interests you.
Some tribunals, such as the Workers’ Compensation Appeal Tribunal (WCAT), provide free assistance to workers and employers who are involved in a dispute. You can call WCAT for assistance, or they can direct you to a workers’ advisor who will explain the policies and procedures you have to follow, provide information about your claim, and sometimes represent you during the appeal. A similar service is also available to employers. In all cases, it is a good idea to ask the tribunal what kind of assistance it can provide.
If you need an interpreter
If you have difficulty communicating in English, you should tell the tribunal well in advance of the hearing that you need an interpreter. The tribunal may have its own rules about bringing an interpreter to the hearing and may require that you use a qualified interpreter that they have approved for services.
Find information on the tribunal’s website
Every tribunal’s website sets out important information:
- Legislation (the law that applies to your case);
- Rules (the tribunal’s rules of procedure); and
- Policies established by the tribunal.
It is very important to know the rules that apply to your case. For example, there will be time limits for filing documents and failing to meet a deadline may prevent you from proceeding with your case or from introducing documents at a hearing.
Some tribunal websites provide a database of previous decisions that it has made (e.g., the Residential Tenancy Branch). You can read about cases that are similar to yours and find out what decision the tribunal reached. That information will help you understand the legal issues in your own case and may help you quickly resolve the dispute with the other party. If the tribunal does not maintain a database of previous decisions, you may be able to read about similar cases that were appealed to the BC Supreme Court or the BC Court of Appeal. A database of all court decisions can be found online at the BC government courts website you can also search CANLII.org.
As soon as you know that you may be involved in a tribunal hearing, you should gather evidence to prove your case. Your evidence may include:
- Original documents (e.g., contracts, letters, receipts, financial statements, cancelled cheques, etc.);
- Clear, readable photocopies if the original document is not available; and
- Statements from people who were eye-witnesses to an event or have direct knowledge about a particular issue (e.g., a friend who saw you give the rent cheque to the landlord). It is best to provide sworn statements from these witnesses (i.e., affidavits or statutory declarations).
You should start collecting this information as soon as you know that you may be involved in a tribunal hearing. You may have to exchange documents with the other party, who has the right to examine them, and you may have to submit them to the adjudicator well in advance of the hearing. If you do not have these documents ready and available, you may miss important deadlines, which may complicate your case.
Review the tribunal’s rules because that will give you guidance on things like:
- how you must notify the other party that you will be introducing documents into evidence;
- how you introduce documents as exhibits at the hearing;
- how many copies to bring;
- who numbers the documents; and
- page size.
The success of your case depends on the evidence that you provide to support your position. The “best evidence” is always direct, relevant and originaldocuments, statements, or other information that support the facts of your case.
The adjudicator will decide the importance of the evidence. In other words, the adjudicator will determine its “weight” in light of all the evidence that has been admitted. For example, a witness to an event in your case may be biased in your favour and the adjudicator may not attach much weight or importance to his or her evidence. The adjudicator will assume that your spouse or close friend will be biased in your favour, so keep that in mind when choosing witnesses to give evidence.
Evidence must be relevant, which means it relates to the issues and facts. Ask yourself: does this evidence help you prove the facts of your case? Here is an extreme example: if the issue in your case is whether an injury was work related, the fact that you injured your arm while lifting over-weight boxes at work is relevant information; the fact that it was raining that day is not relevant unless it contributed to the accident.
An original document is the best evidence; if you do not have the original, you will need to explain to the adjudicator why you are submitting a copy – the original may be lost, destroyed, or someone else may have it.
Someone who witnessed an event that is important to your case will be able to give direct evidence about what happened. This evidence is much better than someone who was told of an event, but did not see it happen.
In some cases, it may be important to bring a witness to the hearing or have the witness provide a statement supporting your case. Again, the “best evidence” for an in-person hearing is to bring the witness to the hearing to give his or her evidence directly to the adjudicator.
If you are bringing a witness to an in-person hearing, you should prepare your questions for the witness ahead of time and review them with the witness. While you cannot tell the witness how to answer the questions, you can prepare him or her for the kinds of questions you will be asking.
In some cases, you may want to have an expert witness provide a report or give evidence at the hearing.
An expert is someone qualified with special knowledge, skill, training, and experience, like an engineer or a doctor, who can provide an expert opinion. The expert opinion is based on information that he or she has personally observed, or information that was provided by others.
You must follow special rules if you intend to bring an expert witness to the hearing or submit an expert’s report. For example, you may have to submit the expert’s report or a summary of what you expect the expert to say at the hearing at least 30 days before the hearing date. It is very important to inform yourself about the special rules that apply to expert witnesses by reviewing the tribunal’s procedural rules.
Organize your material
Organize your evidence in a logical way – a binder, with tabs, is an easy way to assemble your material. Make sure that any photocopies you are including are clear and readable. Sometimes things like photographs are much more effective in colour. Find out how many copies you must submit to the tribunal.
How to make a good presentation
The key to making an effective presentation to the adjudicator, whether it is in writing, by telephone or videoconference, or in person, is to organize your documents and present the information in a logical manner to the adjudicator hearing your case. For example, think about organizing your documents in a binder, with tab markers. Is the material best organized in chronological order, or by topic?
Your general approach should be:
- Tell the adjudicator the facts they need to know about your case.
- Present the facts in a clear and simple manner.
- Provide material to support your case.
- Explain how the law supports your case.
The law is set out in statutes, regulations, and case law. You will certainly benefit from talking to a lawyer about the law that applies to your case. A lawyer can explain the law to you and help you understand how an adjudicator would apply the law to the facts of your case. Case law is the collection of cases similar to yours that have been heard by the tribunal in the past. The adjudicator will decide your case, in part, according to decisions made by other adjudicators in cases that are similar to yours.
The staff at Courthouse Libraries cannot give you legal advice, but they can help you identify and show you how to use the legal resources that apply to your case. Visit their website to get help to make your legal argument, or call toll free: 1-800-665-2570.
Watch a hearing
If you will be appearing before an adjudicator in person, the best advice is to go and watch a hearing. Check with the tribunal to find out if hearings are open to the public and when they are scheduled. Attending a hearing will help you understand how hearings are conducted and help you prepare for your own hearing.