How effective are Tribunals?

Sir Andrew Leggatt’s review of the tribunal system concluded: “We do not believe that the current arrangements meet what the modern user needs and expects from an appeal system running in parallel to the courts” (Sir Andrew Leggatt Tribunals for users: one system, one service (2001), para. 1.4). This article looks at whether the reforms contained in the Tribunals, Courts and Enforcement Act 2007 has effectively modernise the tribunal system?

Sir Andrew Leggatt carried out a review of tribunals for the Lord Chancellor’s Department.  In his report, Tribunals for Users – One System, One Service’ he painted a picture of an incoherent and inefficient set of institutions which provided a service to the public which was well short of what people are entitled to expect.  Do you agree with Sir Andrew Leggatt, and if so, how do you think the tribunal system should be reformed?

There are, as an alternative to the court system, a large number of tribunals which have been set up under various Acts of Parliament to rule on the operation of the particular schemes established under those Acts. This system has been criticised for being a patchwork of different institutions with diverse functions and procedures. Sir Leggatt’s review is important step toward rationalising this area.

There are almost 70 different types of administrative tribunals, and within each type there are hundreds of individuals tribunals operating locally all over the country. Almost one million cases are dealt with by tribunals each year, and as the Royal Commission on Legal Services pointed out in 1979, the number of cases being heard by tribunals was six times higher that the number of contested civil cases dealt with by the High Court and county court. Therefore, the tribunals are of major significance as alternatives to the traditional courts in dealing with disputes.

 In 2007, the Tribunals Court and Enforcement Act received Royal Assent following a consultation paper published in 2003. The government adopted the majority of the LEggatt report’s recommendation and made it clear that the Act is meant to provide a radical reshaping of the tribunals system. TCEA 2007 s.1 ensures that the independence of tribunals is preserved by granting members immunity. The organisational structure of tribunals broadly follow the Leggatt report in creating 1st Instance, Upper Tribunals with possible judicial review of decisions. Furthermore, Chambers are created which are to deal with particular functions under Chamber Presidents, and the overall supervision of the Senior President. Generally, the explanatory notes to the Act provide that the aim to adopt as many of the Leggatt findings as possible with a view for further changes.

 In conclusion, it seems that these proposals implemented by the Act create a much more transparent and independent tribunals structure. Therefore, it is likely that the public will find the tribunals service much more accessible, user-friendly and impartial. Nevertheless, it seems that one of the major problems remains that the tribunal’s service is relatively unknown to the general public. Perhaps there should be more publicity by the government make people more willing to use the tribunals service rather than the court service.

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