How To Read Tribunal Rulings

Whenever I write articles on Administrative Appeals Tribunal (AAT) cases I always find myself concluding with the same message:

“Read the rulings. They are like really important. Seriously guys! You won’t get bored, I promise. Not sure if I have mentioned this, but they are actually quite important!”

But I will be real with you for a moment, I get why people don’t often read them. The last case I read was 96 pages long. In the real world:  

Moving image; woman saying “ain’t nobody got time for that”

So I have put together some tips to help you get the most out of the rulings, without needing to give up years of your life.

 

1. Know where to find them

 To read AAT rulings, you need to know where to find them. This is the embarrassing hurdle nobody is quite willing to admit they stumbled on. The AAT website does include summaries, but they do not cover all cases and can take longer to publish than the NDIA takes to do Plan Reviews. The best way to access rulings is by searching on AustLII- an Australian legal catalogue. I keep a bookmarked search that you can find here.

 

2. Format

Not a day goes by when I don’t wish that every AAT ruling followed the same format.  It would just make it so much easier to search for the information you need. Yet unfortunately, the format just depends on the sitting member and whatever the hell they feel like doing. However, they generally do follow some basic patterns that you can look out for.  

The very beginning of the ruling will usually quickly list the issues of contention and the result of the hearing. After that there is usually some context, evidence and discussion of the relevant legislation. But the real juicy bit is the discussion. It is usually formatted either by exploring each of the points of legislation (such every one of the the access or reasonable and necessary criteria) or each support the Participant has requested one-by-one. Use the information at the beginning of the ruling and your knowledge of the criteria to figure out where the debate is likely to be centred. Then once you have figured out how the ruling is formatted, you can easily skip to that bit.  

 

3. Knowing what to skip

In a perfect world, you would read the whole ruling. But, as we have already established, we don’t live in a bizarre paradise where everybody has time to sit around reading legal decision. So you need to know what to skip. This is what I give the flick with I am in a rush:

  • Legislative Framework- they always list the relevant pieces of legislation to the case, including past rulings and operational guidelines. If you don’t know the legislation well, read this. But otherwise, just give it a quick scan and get on with your day.  

  • Evidence- the evidence presented to the hearing is technically important, but all the elements that actually inform the decision come out in the discussion anyway.

  • Jurisdiction- there is literally nothing more boring than when AAT rulings discuss jurisdiction. It usually a deliberation on whether the ruling should apply to future Plans or just the one that has been appealed (which has often expired by time things get to the Tribunal anyway). Very important to the Participant, breath takingly boring for the rest of us.

 

4. Look for the context

 I cannot stress this enough, but context is everything in these rulings. The Tribunal does not decree on what supports should go on a top-secret reasonable & necessary list, or what disabilities can access the Scheme. They examine the applicant’s individual circumstances and consider how it relates to the relevant legislation. For example, the Tribunal recently affirmed a decision to reject an applicant with post-traumatic stress disorder, anxiety disorder and a major depressive disorder from the Scheme, because they felt there was not enough evidence that he would have these conditions permanently. It would be easy to conclude from this that the AAT had ruled that these were not permanent conditions. But if you read the details buried in the case, you see it was because he had not been to a psychiatrist and explored medication. This not-so-irrelevant fact was buried in a middle paragraph of that section. So while I know how frustrating long these documents are, these are not the sort of short cuts you can take.  

Of course, the Tribunal does set precedents that can apply to other cases. Otherwise, why would we even bother! But those precedents exist inside of a context.  

 

5. Get somebody else to read it for you

Obviously, getting somebody else to read the rulings for you will save you a whole lot of bother. As someone who makes a fair share of her living summarising AAT cases, I ain’t here to tell you there is anything wrong with that. You can find DSC’s articles select Tribunal cases here. La Trobe University and Brotherhood of St Lawrence have also published a Quarterly Readers Digest of AAT cases. There has only been one issue so far, but hopefully we will see more coming soon.  

The only risk when relying on others is that you could miss out on cases that are important to your work but don’t have broad appeal. So maybe it is worth setting up a work reading roster? That could be a good way of covering all your bases.  

 

Seeing a 96-page document is bloody intimidating and it is easy to be like ‘no way Jose.” But, honestly, it does not have to be that bad. I feel genuine disappointment when I click on my bookmarked search page and there are no new cases. That’s how fun they can be! (Or am I just boring?) So I implore you to give it ago. The time you spend on this could give you the information you need to change a Participant’s life. And for that, it becomes worth it.