‘Legal trailblazer’ appointed new boss of NCAT

It would be nice to be able to take credit for a shake-up at the NSW Civil and Administrative Tribunal (NCAT), but rest assured our reporting of the latest weirdness at the Tribunal and the announcement of a new NCAT president are purely coincidental.

Attorney General Mark Speakman today announced the appointment of Lea Armstrong as a Supreme Court judge and as President of NCAT. Ms Armstrong faces an interesting time as NCAT faces a series of tricky issues before and after the new Airbnb laws come in, at the same time as the Tribunal is coming under increasing criticism for decisions made in the tribunal itself.

However, the state government is certain it’s chosen the right woman for the job.

“Ms Armstrong is an exceptional lawyer, a trailblazer and a proven leader who has served with distinction over the past three years as the state’s first female Crown Solicitor,” Mr Speakman said.

“She has more than a quarter of century of experience in government and commercial law and is well equipped to lead the State’s super tribunal, NCAT.”

Prior to becoming Crown Solicitor, Ms Armstrong worked as NSW Treasury’s first General Counsel. She advised the government on the development of laws that enabled the partial lease of NSW’s electricity network.

Earlier in her career, Ms Armstrong served in a range of other senior roles in the Crown Solicitor’s Office, including as General Counsel and as an Assistant Crown Solicitor in commercial law and in administrative law.

Ms Armstrong holds a Masters of Law from the University of NSW, and a Bachelor of Laws (Honours) and a Bachelor of Arts (Honours) from the Australian National University.

A press release from the A-G’s office claims that “NCAT is a gateway for almost all tribunal services in NSW. In 2013, it integrated 23 of the State’s tribunals and bodies and now operates four specialist divisions: Consumer and Commercial; Guardianship; Administrative and Equal Opportunity; and Occupational.

As usual, strata doesn’t even merit a separate mention even though NCAT is supposed to be our principal platform for adjudications. (FYI: We come under Consumer and Commercial.)

The press release goes on to say that in 2016-17, NCAT conducted more than 78,000 hearings in over 70 venues across NSW, with a focus on delivering outcomes efficiently, fairly and cost effectively.

That last part will raise a wry smile for those among us who have gone to NCAT, for instance, to have our by-laws enforced, only to find that there is a whole other set of criteria, specifically the Members’ personal bias and, too often, complete lack of experience of living in strata or the importance of having rules that have to be observed.

Ms Armstrong will be sworn in as a Supreme Court judge on  October 31, when she will also begin her five-year term as NCAT President. She replaces Justice Robertson Wright who will now serve in the Common Law Division of the Supreme Court of NSW.

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