The department does have its own procedures for dealing with prisoners property claims; however a prisoner is able to lodge a claim with the Disputes Tribunal at any time.
To make a claim, the applicant fills out a claim form, pays a fee and lodges the claim with the Tribunal.
The Disputes Tribunal is an informal hearing, where:
a referee settles a dispute without having to take the matter to Court
the referee assists the parties to find a negotiated settlement, or he / she determines the dispute
there are no lawyers or Judges in the Tribunal.
the ruling of the Tribunal is binding and will, if necessary, be enforced by the District Court
the Tribunal can deal with a variety of disputes including:
whether work has been done properly
whether goods purchased were what was asked for
the amount charged for work done
damage to property
loss of property.
The most common claims the Department deals with are loss or damage to property.
When a claim is lodged against the Department, a notice (copy of the form completed by the claimant) will be sent to the prison involved, informing it of the claim and when the Tribunal will hear it.
Settling prior to hearing date
Following receipt of the notice of the claim, the prison can attempt to settle it prior to the hearing.
The offer for settlement must be approved by the appropriate person, dependent on the amount, before being offered to the prisoner / former prisoner.
Preparation for Disputes Hearing
Prison director must assign a staff member to represent the prison at the disputes hearing.
Staff assigned to represent the prison should discuss the issues of the case and what, if any, settlement would be acceptable to the prison director / regional commissioner.
If the assigned staff (or prison director) have any questions about the content of this document or its application in a particular case, they are to contact the Legal Section at National Office.
The prison does not need to respond to the tribunal before the hearing date unless the notified hearing date and place are not suitable.
If the date is unacceptable (e.g. a staff representative is not available), the prison must arrange an alternative date and time.
Before the hearing, the attending staff should write down what he or she is going to say, and ensure that the facts have been confirmed, as well as obtaining any supporting documents.
Before the hearing, the staff attending the hearing must ensure he or she is completely familiar with the facts surrounding the claim.
The attending staff must ensure that they obtain copies of any documents that are relevant to the claim and that the staff may rely on at the hearing.
If it is a property claim, attending staff must:
obtain the prisoner's property records (this report should detail all the property the prisoner had), and
valuation estimates for the property that is the subject of the dispute. The referee may ask for a valuation to confirm the valuation given by the prisoner. However, the final decision on any final valuation rests with the referee.
The prison may call prison witnesses at the hearing who can support the Department's defence. Staff need to arrange for these people to attend the hearing. They need to talk to a prison witness before the hearing so that he or she understands what happens at a hearing and knows about its informal procedures.
Attendance by telephone conference
The prison can request that their representative attend the tribunal by way of telephone conference if the prison is more than 100 km from where the claim is being heard.
The prison must arrange for a telephone hearing immediately after receiving the notice of claim and hearing details.
If the hearing is via telephone, the prison must ensure that copies of all the documents the prison will rely on are forwarded to the Tribunal well before the hearing date.
Transfer of Disputes Tribunal Hearing to prison
The prison must make application to the Disputes Tribunal requesting that the hearing occur within the prison if:
the claim requires one or several prisoners to attend the hearing, and
the prisoner and or witnesses have either a high or maximum security classification.
The Disputes Hearing
At the hearing each party will have the opportunity to tell their side of the dispute. The Tribunal is an informal setting.
The parties and the referee usually sit around a table to discuss the case.
There is no requirement to stand when presenting the case.
There are no formalities like those required in a Court setting.
Witnesses give their evidence at the hearing, and can then be questioned by the other party and the referee.
There is no ability to appeal a decision of the Tribunal if one party does not agree with the referee's decision or interpretation of the facts.
The Disputes Hearing Appeal
The only grounds of appeal are procedural. If one party feels that the referee conducted the hearing in a way that was unfair or prejudicial to their case, there is an option to file an appeal against the decision.
If the attending staff thinks there may be grounds for an appeal, the prison must contact the PS Legal Section in National Office for advice.
A District Court Judge will decide whether or not there are grounds for an appeal.