Matters in the Fair Work Commission are conducted in court rooms or conference rooms, for the purposes of this information we refer to them as 'hearing rooms'.
Having a hearing at the Commission can be daunting when you don’t know who is in the hearing room, or what each person does.
This video will give you a tour of the hearing room and explain who is there, what each person does and where everyone sits.
The Member of the Commission is the person who will be deciding the case. They sit at the front of the room, facing out toward the other people.
As a sign of respect everyone stands and bows as the Member enters and leaves the hearing room. You should also stand when speaking or when asking a witness questions. If you need to leave the room while the hearing is in session you should bow to the Member as you leave and re-enter and avoid turning your back to them.
It is important that you address the Member by their correct title. Different Members have different titles – you can find out the title of the Member hearing your matter from the Associate.
The Associate is the Member’s assistant. The Associate sits directly in front of the Member and helps them conduct the hearing.
The Associate handles administration and paperwork, and swears in witnesses to give evidence. They can also tell you the correct title to use when addressing the Member.
The Associate will enter the hearing room prior to the scheduled start time, and you should introduce yourself to them as soon as you arrive so they can take down your name. The Associate can answer any questions you might have about the procedures for your hearing.
The large table at the front of the hearing room is called the bar table. This is where legal representatives for the employee and employer will sit.
If a party is unrepresented they will sit at the bar table themselves. But if they are represented they can sit at the bar table or in the public gallery immediately behind their representative.
As you face the front, toward the Member, the applicant (usually the employee in unfair dismissal matters), or their representative, sits to the right hand side of the bar table. The respondent (usually the employer in unfair dismissal matters), or their representative, sits to the left hand side of the bar table.
At the back of the hearing room there are chairs in what is called the public gallery. This is where people can sit to observe the proceedings.
The public gallery is where the employee’s and employer’s family members or support people will sit. It is also open to the media, members of the public or people with a hearing coming up who want to watch a proceeding and get a better understanding of the process.
Conferences are usually held in private session, so the gallery will be empty. Although your support person can generally attend a conference.
During a hearing witnesses give their evidence and answer questions from the witness box.
When they enter the witness box, the Associate will 'swear them in' – this means they promise to tell the truth. There are two methods of swearing in.
An oath is a promise to tell the truth made on a religious text, such as the Bible or Koran. The Commission is able to swear an oath for all major religions. Please make the Associate aware of your requirements before the hearing commences.
An affirmation is a promise to tell the truth that does not refer to any religious belief.
The Associate will guide you through the oath or affirmation by reading each line, which you then repeat. TV screens on the wall are used when the witnesses or Members are in different states.
When everyone is in the hearing room the Associate will knock on the back door, call for silence and announce that the hearing is in session as the Member enters the room. The Member proceeds to their chair, faces the room and bows and everyone in the room bows to the Member. The Member then sits – once they are seated everyone else in the room can sit down.
During the hearing witnesses will be called to the witness box to give evidence and be cross-examined. A hearing can take anywhere from several hours to several days, depending on the number of witnesses and range of issues to be examined.
At the end of the hearing the Member will leave the hearing room. Their decision will usually not be given on the same day as the hearing. It is generally 'reserved', which means it will be delivered at a later time.