This edition was issued on 4 April 2022
As you know, we have been engaged in a year-long refurbishment of our 1 Oxford Street premises, with all works near completion. Our staff have been gradually returning to the office with density limits in all our spaces and strict COVID-19 safety measures.
To keep our staff, service providers and stakeholders safe, I have introduced a range of measures to be strictly followed – everyone's safety is paramount, and this is how we are navigating the world as we now know it. We have a Vaccine Mandate for staff, and a Vaccination Direction for Members, Merit Reviewers, Mediators and Medical Assessors that stipulates the requirement of two doses of a COVID-19 vaccine by 19 April 2022.
The images of the 1 Oxford Street premises convey the truly considered design and modern features that reflect the professionalism of the modern tribunal that we are. The large Presidential Courtroom will allow for adequate social distancing for applicable in-person matters, as does the adjoining spacious waiting area. The new premises house Members’ Chambers, three new Hearing Rooms, Sessional Offices, Meeting Rooms and collaboration spaces. Our Medical Suites are the last aspect of our building works and are on track to be in operation in May. These include seven consultation rooms which are designed according to the Australasian Health Facilities Guidelines.
Our modern facilities incorporate technology which is a great asset as we navigate the pandemic, including a brand-new air conditioning system which provides hospital-grade filtration of the air; and touch-free technology with automated doors to minimise surface contact.
Level 21 – Presidential Courtroom, Level 21 – Waiting Room, Level 21 – Presidential Courtroom Waiting Area
We are also on track to commence limited in-person hearings after Easter, strictly adhering to density limits and prioritising the safety of all staff and visitors to the Commission. I want to be clear that online hearings very much remain a part of our service. The pandemic demanded them, and they are now embedded in our work, balanced with in-person hearings. Online hearings deliver numerous benefits including helping us get through our high volume of hearings and ensuring that people involved in a hearing who cannot attend in person, for any reason, can still have their matter heard. We have risen to the challenge over the last year and will not being going backwards.
I very much look forward to welcoming you into our impressive new premises and I will be in touch with another edition of Personal Injury Commission News soon.
Judge Gerard Phillips
Resumption of In-Person Hearings
In-Person Hearings will be slowly resuming after Easter – these hearings will be limited in number as not all Hearing Rooms are ready, and we are taking a measured approach to tackle this period of change, for our staff and service providers.
In the lead-up to the resumption of in-person hearings, comprehensive planning has been conducted, including a risk assessment, to identify and mitigate risks associated with the COVID-19 pandemic.
There are unique transmission risks to these types of events. These include the attendance of various external parties, the proximity of those parties in hearing rooms, in addition to the need for parties to be able to communicate effectively during proceedings to reach outcomes.
To mitigate risk and provide as safe a setting as possible for in-person hearings we are currently adhering to the following:
- External participants must be double vaccinated and produce evidence of this before admission to the Commission’s premises.
- From 1 June 2022, we will allow people with medical exemptions and contraindication forms to attend hearings with appropriate controls.
- If proof of double vaccination prevents in-person attendance the Commission will conduct the hearing online or by other means.
- We are proposing that external participants involved in our in-person hearings must undertake a Rapid Antigen Test in the 24 hours prior to attending the premises.
- External participants must not attend the premises if they have any cold or flu-like symptoms, even if their Rapid Antigen Test is negative.
- All participants must wear masks throughout the proceedings, and we are currently assessing specific protocols when parties are presenting.
- Maintain social distancing.
- Observe all density limits for enclosed spaces.
- Avoid poorly ventilated rooms.
This will also help to harmonise our processes and platforms further; become more autonomous with our management of virtual proceedings; and ensure we have better coverage and provide better access for parties in the regions.
This initiative will reduce the number of different technology platforms we need to know how to use and demonstrates that we are operating as a single tribunal with a single and simple technology platform that parties use to engage with us.
The transition is taking place in a phased approach, with the goal of phasing out all other platforms (Streamlined, Telstra and Modron) currently in use; with all dispute resolution events to be conducted via Microsoft Teams by 30 June.
Medical Assessment Update
Our Medical Suites are on track to be completed in late May and we plan to commence hosting in-person examinations in June. We are developing a well-considered operational and booking model prior to commencement
There will be seven consultation rooms (five standard and two large) and these have been designed according to the Australasian Health Facilities Guidelines.
Given the current environment and the substantial number of medical assessments that have been delayed due to the COVID-19 pandemic we will continue to hold psychiatric assessments online. Our initial assessments in the medical suites will be supporting our management of this backlog and we will be focussed on providing the most in-demand assessments.
We will be writing to Medical Assessors with details about the suites and our operational plans in the coming week.
Like all facets of our work at the Commission, the safety of everyone we engage with is our top priority. To ensure a high standard of safety is met to protect our staff, service providers and external parties involved in all medical assessments, we have set policies and procedures for all medical assessments as detailed in Procedural Direction PIC 11 which include:
- Medical Assessors and any participants in an assessment must have proof of double vaccination.
- Claimants, workers, and any attendees must conduct a Rapid Antigen Test onsite prior to their assessment. Tests are provided by the Commission.
- All participants are required to wear masks (except when removal is required for the purpose of the examination).
- All participants must be asymptomatic on the day of the assessment.
From 1 June 2022, we will allow people with medical exemptions evidenced by an Australian Immunisation Register form to attend in-person appointments with appropriate controls.
Federal Jurisdiction Frequently Asked Questions Published on the Commission Website
Over recent months, I have provided detailed information about federal jurisdiction and how it affects our applications. As you are aware, under the Commonwealth Constitution the High Court has the jurisdiction to hear disputes between residents of different states or between a state and a resident of another state. The Personal Injury Commission itself was not established as a court of record, and Division 3.2 of the Personal Injury Commission Act 2020 (the Act) specifically vests the District Court with the power to determine whether a matter is a federal proceeding or not.
To further assist practitioners to deal with matters that are potentially federally impacted, we have added a Frequently Asked Questions resource to the Commission’s website. This dedicated information section on federal jurisdiction matters also has a copy of the District Court form you need to file to obtain your determination under section 26 of the Act and some relevant authorities such as Ritchie v the Nominal Defendant, Attorney General for New South Wales v Gatsby and an opinion issued by one of our members in Ritson v State of New South Wales. I hope you find these resources useful.
Teleconferences in the Motor Accidents Division
Since 31 January 2022, applicable matters lodged in the Motor Accidents Division are allocated to a member for a teleconference within 28 days. Parties are required to file their reply within 21 days of the lodgement of the application. The prior practice from the Dispute Resolution Service where the passage of the matter would be delayed pending the filing of a reply, will no longer be applied in the Commission.
If a reply is not filed within 21 days, the Member at the time of the 28-day teleconference may make orders in the absence of the reply. Applications can be made to file a reply under the late documents rule (Rule 67).
If a party makes an application for an extension of time to lodge their reply under Rule 69, this application will be referred to the Member to deal with at the teleconference.
Further, if the application or reply that has been filed is incomplete or otherwise not ready, the Member, in the exercise of their discretion, may dismiss the matter.
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