I thank the joint committee for giving me the opportunity to address it.
I was honoured to have been nominated by the Tánaiste and then Minister for Justice and Equality, Deputy Frances Fitzgerald, as chairperson designate of the Valuation Tribunal. I will assume the role of chairperson following the expiration of the term of appointment of the current chairperson, Ms Sasha Gayer, SC, on 30 July.
The chairperson of the tribunal must have a good knowledge of areas of law beyond property valuation. In particular, it is important to be familiar with the principles of statutory interpretation; natural and constitutional justice, including the requirements of fairness, judicial review of administrative decisions and also the usual practice and procedure issues which arise in appeal hearings before the tribunal. In that regard, I have the appropriate legal expertise. I have been practising at the Bar since 1990 and I am a well regarded barrister with a wealth of experience in administrative law. I practise mainly in local government law, with specialist experience in the areas of housing, planning and waste management, as well as property and landlord and tenant law. I regularly act for local authorities in an advisory capacity and have a good track record in successfully resisting challenges by way of judicial review to the decisions of local authorities on the grounds of illegality, irrationality or failure to observe procedural rules or rights guaranteed by the Constitution and the European Convention on Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms. Throughout my career I have successfully applied sound judgment, offered strategic and practical advice and given valuable guidance to clients to assist them in understanding the law and their legal obligations.
I was appointed as an ordinary member of the tribunal in June 2013 and it has been a great privilege to serve on it for the past four years. During that time I have sat in a variety of hearings of approximately 60 appeals, both quantum and legal. I have sat in hearings related to cost applications and dealt with orders for discovery. I have drafted many of the judgments on these appeals. I have also been involved in the hearing of global appeals. The Valuation Act 2001, as amended, provides for utilities to be valued on a global basis, with the resulting valuations apportioned across rating authorities. I am familiar with the role of chairperson of the tribunal and have worked closely with the current chairperson in recent years. The chairperson recently invited me to participate in a sub-committee tasked with drafting new appeal rules for the tribunal on foot of the Valuation (Amendment) Act 2015.
By way of background, the tribunal is an independent statutory body initially established under the Valuation Act 1988 and continued by the Valuation Act 2001 to hear appeals against decisions of the Commissioner of Valuation on the valuation and revaluation of commercial properties for rating purposes. The tribunal also hears appeals made by owners of derelict sites against the determination by local authorities of the market value of these sites under the Derelict Sites Act 1990. Subject to a right of appeal to the High Court by way of a case stated on a point of law, the decision of the tribunal is final. The tribunal is a separate body independent of the Commissioner of Valuation and the Valuation Office.
The tribunal comprises a chairperson, eight deputy chairpersons and 15 ordinary members, including me. Members are appointed for a term of up to five years by the Minister for Justice and Equality and drawn mainly from the legal and property valuation professions. Members of the tribunal receive administrative support from the registrar and a small team of staff at the tribunal offices in Holbrook House.
The principal challenge for the tribunal in 2017 and beyond is the anticipated large influx of revaluation appeals on foot of the Valuation Office revaluation programme for 2017. That project is a major undertaking by the Valuation Office and proceeding apace. It involves a revaluation of all commercial and industrial properties in ten rating authority areas, including south County Dublin, and will give rise to a greater number of appeals to the tribunal from September 2017 onwards. Since the passing of the Valuation (Amendment) Act 2015 there is no longer a right of appeal to the Commissioner of Valuation and all appeals will, therefore, be made directly to the tribunal.
This influx of revaluation appeals will be in addition to revision and derelict site appeals, which are a constant feature in terms of their continual receipt by the tribunal and which have to be processed and prepared for hearing in the same way as revaluation appeals. Furthermore, the Valuation Office is establishing a dedicated revision unit to support the revision of valuations for certain commercial properties in local authority areas. The commissioner intends to deploy more resources to address the backlog of cases which the Valuation Office has on hand. The establishment of the revision unit will undoubtedly lead to a further increase in the workload of the tribunal.
In light of these developments the tribunal has recently secured the appointment of one new deputy chairperson and three new members to ensure that it can deal efficiently and effectively with the increased number of appeals. The tribunal is also making improvements to its website and working towards implementing an online appeals process and the electronic payment of appeal fees, which will improve our procedures and increase efficiencies.
As the committee is undoubtedly aware, as part of a programme of rationalisation of State bodies, the Government is proceeding with a merger of Ordnance Survey Ireland, the Property Registration Authority and the Valuation Office. It is proposed that the new organisation arising from the merger, Tailte Éireann, will be responsible for ensuring that the tribunal carries out its functions. To that end, the tribunal will ensure it keeps itself informed of all developments arising from the merger.
I look forward to the opportunities and challenges that will arise for the tribunal in ensuring that we deliver a high-quality and impartial service to all parties in the tribunal appeals process. I thank the members for their attention. If they have any questions I will be happy to endeavour to answer them.