About Administrative Tribunals
This page provides a series of questions and answers about the administrative justice system and how tribunals, that are part of that system, conduct their work. To view the answers to these questions, you can use the highlighted questions as electronic links.
What are administrative tribunals?
Administrative tribunals are specialized bodies established to resolve disputes or determine rights within a specific area, such as human rights or environmental matters. For a list of tribunals established by the B.C. government and the types of matters those tribunals deal with, see Administrative Tribunals in British Columbia.
This page provides some general information about tribunals. If you are involved in a dispute or a claim before a tribunal, you will need to confirm that tribunal’s specific requirements. Some information about how to contact various B.C. tribunals can be found at the above link.
How are administrative tribunals established?
Administrative tribunals are usually established by federal or the provincial governmentlegislation or by a local government bylaws. Tribunals may also be used by others, such as professional associations to resolve disputes about qualifications or to determine discipline matters.
Why are administrative tribunals used to resolve disputes or determine rights instead of the courts?
Administrative tribunals are intended to be less formal, less costly and quicker to resolve matters than the courts. The people appointed as members of a tribunal usually have in-depth experience and specialized knowledge of the technical matters, policy and law in the specific area that the tribunal is required to consider, unlike judges, who are expected to have a broad knowledge in many, and often vastly different, areas of the law and without any pre-existing technical expertise.
Tribunal processes (the steps to be taken to get a matter resolved) are set by the tribunal and are generally expected to be:
- less complicated and less formal than court processes, so that the parties can represent themselves, without needing to consult a lawyer;
- proportionate to the issues, so the steps to be taken and the efforts required reflect the complexity of the matter and the impacts of the outcome for the parties — for example, many tribunals require parties to participate in mediation or settlement conferences to try to resolve matters;
- timely, so matters are resolved within a set time frame (unlike the court rules which, for the most part, leave the timing of the various steps up to the parties); also, the right to appeal or for a court review of a tribunal decision is usually more limited than the right to an appeal of a court decision, which means matters are resolved earlier (see: What can a party do if they are dissatisfied with a tribunal decision?); and
- like the courts, tribunals are required to make decisions fairly and in accordance with applicable legislation and impartially and independent of government or any party to the dispute.
What kinds of matters do tribunals consider?
While a given tribunal is typically limited in what matters it may consider, the range of matters considered by tribunals generally is very broad. The matters may be private (for example, between individuals or corporations) or may have a public element. Somematters that may be considered by established British Columbia tribunals include:
- labour and employment disputes;
- human rights and environmental issues;
- economic, health, and safety licensing or regulation; and
- entitlement to government benefits.
What are some of the more significant differences among tribunals? And what are the impacts of those differences?
Nature of the decision: Some tribunals consider matters for the first time (for example, a decision to issue a license). A hearing leading to this type of decision is sometimes called a de novo hearing. Other tribunals review (or hear appeals of) decisions already taken. The nature of the decision affects the range of things a tribunal can consider. While de novo hearings usually permit a broader range of issues and evidence to be raised, appeals are often limited to the issues and evidence that were before the first decision- maker. For example, the Employment and Assistance Appeal Tribunal hears appeals of reconsideration decisions made under the Employment and Assistance Act. Under the act, this tribunal may only consider the materials that were before the original decision-maker when the decision was made, as well as oral and written testimony in support of this information.
Filing requirements — the right to have a matter considered by a tribunal may be subject to time limits. The specific time limits will vary from tribunal to tribunal, so it is very important to check with the tribunal as soon as possible. In some cases, if the time limit is missed, there may be no ability to extend it, as time limits are generally set by legislation rather than by the tribunals.
Time frame for decision — some tribunals are required by law to issue their decisions within a specified period of time. Other tribunals are not subject to a time limit, but are expected to complete the process as quickly as possible.
How can I find out more information about a tribunal?
The focus of this website is tribunals established by the Government of British Columbia. For a list of those tribunals and the types of matters they deal with, see Administrative Tribunals in British Columbia. Many professional associations also have websites that provide information about their tribunals.