The importance of story-telling and narrative in tribunal decision-making

Bernard McCabe1

1Administrative Appeals Tribunal, Sydney

Conventional wisdom has it that a tribunal member should write reasons for the losing party which explain the reasons for the loss. Recent studies of the ways in which people process facts that run counter to established narratives suggest the need for a more nuanced approach. Tribunal members must get better at explaining their reasons for decision to a variety of different audiences. That objective is particularly important in organisations like the Administrative Appeals Tribunal which aim for a normative effect.

This presentation discusses recent reports and studies dealing with the challenge of explaining reasons and facts in the modern environment. It considers the difficulties associated with modern communication methods and practical improvements that should be made to enhance public confidence in tribunal decisions. The presentation focuses in particular on the need for individual tribunal members to become superior story-tellers as an antidote to ‘alternative facts’.


Deputy President Bernard McCabe is Division Head of the Taxation and Commercial and Small Business Taxation Divisions of the Administrative Appeals Tribunal. He was appointed as a Deputy President on 25 March 2016. Mr McCabe was first appointed as a part-time Member of the AAT in 2001 and later as a full-time Senior Member in 2003. He was previously an Associate Professor of Law at Bond University. He was also a member of the Legal Committee of the Companies and Securities Advisory Committee between 1998 and 2001.


The COAT is intended to facilitate liaison and discussion between the heads of tribunals. It will support the development of best practice models and model procedural rules, standards of behaviour and conduct for members and increased capacity for training and support for members.