It is true that there are more informal hearings in the tribunals then in courts; in addition, most cases are heard in private. The procedure is also relatively flexible (one reason because there is no set precedent to follow) and the tribunals are not bound by strict rules of evidence. However, for individuals presenting their own cases the venue can be unfamiliar and the procedure can be confusing. Where applicants are not represented, the chairman is expected to take an inquisitorial role and help to establish the points that the applicant wishes to raise. This is not always achieved as the Leggatt report established.
This was also shown by research carried out by Baldwin, Wikely and Young in their study, judging Social Security. They found that out of the hearings they attended, the Chairman's handling of the case could be described as good or excellent in 57% of cases and adequate in a further quarter of cases. However in one-sixth of cases the chairman's conduct was open to serious criticisms. Rosie Winter, Parliamentary Secretary in the LCD gave a keynote speech at a Council on Tribunals conference stating: "To improve accessibility it would mean helping users get through support they need to understand their rights and to represent themselves.
It means creating a service which is responsive to the needs of users and communicates in a way that is convenient and appropriate for them. " Ms Winters also suggested on the second point of efficiency, that to be efficient it would mean making the best use of tribunal resources and to take full advantage if the economies of scale offered by a system that handles over one million cases a year. Speedy hearings were one of the advantages of tribunals but due to the vast increase of tribunal usage, this is not the case anymore as the Leggatt report points out.
Reports by the Council on tribunals have highlighted delays, due to the vast volume of work that tribunals now face. An extreme example of this delay comes from the case of Alison Halford who brought proceedings for sex discrimination against Police Authorities. The case lasted 39 days, spread over a period of several months and it was more than 2 years from the date of her original application to the conclusion of the case. Ms Winter added, in respect of the issue on delays and in the light of Sir Andrew's Report that, "to be effective, the independence of tribunals should be highlighted.
Cases should also be heard as quickly as possible and delays should be tackled. " How this was supposed to be achieved was not a topic in her speech. A substantial number of recommendations were made by Sir Andrew in his report. They have – on the Lord Chancellor's instructions – not been fully costed. What the review does is set out the principles for modernizing administrative justice. So what were the basic principles that Sir Andrew Leggatt has established in his report. What element lies within this report which links his considerable number of proposed reforms?
In more detail, The Review was critical of the relationship some tribunal systems had with their sponsoring departments. However, scrupulous people in tribunals were in ensuring that they were not affected by their contacts with departments, it was hard to avoid the impression that, "every game was an away game. " Leggatt's thought that, in principle, tribunals should be moved away from individual sponsoring departments. Leggatt's response to lack coherence is a "Tribunal System," administered by a unified "Tribunal Service" under the overall direction of the Lord Chancellor.
The Tribunal System would consist of a first level tier whose primary function would be hearing first instance appeals against official decisions; and an appellate tier, to hear appeals from first tier tribunals. The first tier would comprise existing tribunals, grouped into Divisions to reflect their subject matter. The appellate division would bring together tribunals that currently have appellate functions, such as Social Security Commissioners supplemented by new jurisdiction for tribunal without a second tier appeal. This may well sound like a complex issue but it will be must more coherent.
One of the objectives of the Review was to see how pressure on the courts, in particular administrative courts and the Court of Appeal, might be reduced. One obvious way pointed out was to provide additional levels of Appeal within the tribunal system instead of enabling appellants to appeal to or seek judicial review from the courts. The Leggatt framework was designed to be flexible and robust, to accommodate change, as proposals for change emerged, rather than to rely on the present "hand-to-mouth system. " Another issue in respect of the "user-perspective," advocated by Leggatt raised a number of distinct issues.
First was on representation. He did not envisage a great increase in the use of legal representations – funded by legal aid – for those appearing before Tribunals (although representation, wither legal or lay would not be prohibited). He hoped the Legal Services Commission would promote quality advice services that research indicates is an essential pre-requisite to an appeal. Secondly, Leggatt endorsed the view developed by the Social Security Tribunals. That tribunals should embrace the "enabling role," allowing the citizen to appear before the tribunal without the need for additional representation.
To achieve this, Leggatt insisted on the importance of training, not only in substantive law but also particularly for tribunal chairs, in the skills of running tribunals, analogues to the chairmanship training for lay magistrates. Furthermore to this issue, Leggatt argued that it was essential that tribunal members, in particular part-time members, sat regularly to ensure they developed good judicial skills. He also indicated in his report that it would be n advantage in giving chairs and members experience in more then one type of jurisdiction.
Leggatt also recommends that the make-up of tribunals should be approached on a flexible basis, and reflect the needs of the tribunal. According to him, in no case was it desirable to have more then three members on any particular hearing. These aspects above would be enhanced by the creation of the tribunal system. Sir Andrew Leggatt's report also mentions reform in respect of the use of IT in the tribunal system. The use of appropriate Information Technologies was seen as a key factor in the modernization of administrative justice.
He stated that IT should be used to facilitate administration, providing information to the public through the internet (which has already seen many websites on tribunals being formed), enabling direct contact between citizen and the tribunal, by allowing the downloading, completion and return of appeal forms on-line. Such recommendations are always easier to make that implement, but the Review was clear that investment in IT was crucial. Leggatt argued that the Council on Tribunals should be "the hub of the wheel" of the administrative justice system.
It should have a key role in ensuring that tribunals developed the standards and approaches necessary to the delivery of the user-focused service tat Leggatt envisages. This would mean providing more feedback on its visit to tribunals, advising the Judicial Studies Board on training and meeting with tribunal user groups as well as with departmental officials and tribunal Presidents to hear how the tribunal system was functioning on the ground. Lord Newton, the current Chairman of the Council is very supportive with these views and it is likely that initiatives will soon start to emerge from the Council.
On 11th of March 2003 a new unified Tribunal Service was announced by Lord Irvine, the Lord Chancellor, as part of the Government's programme to modernize the justice system and improve the delivery of legal services to the customers. This proposal was recognized to be the biggest change to the tribunal system in over 40 years. This was a step forward in improving the English Tribunal System. The Governments announcement of this proposal formed the foundation for policy proposals which would be outlined in a White Paper.
Lord Irvine voiced: "I want to ensure that the three great pillars of the justice system are reformed and the reforms are brought into effect successfully and efficiently… a unified tribunal service will have at its core the top 10 non-developed tribunals which currently exists throughout departments in Whitehall. By combining the administration we will deliver a more efficient and effective service to the users of tribunals. " Lord Newton expressed that this was a major step forward underpinning tribunals' independence and paving the way for further improvements in standards following Sir Andrew Leggatt's review of tribunals.
Leggatt offers a "blueprint" for restructuring the administration of Tribunals in England and Wales. It is far too early to know exactly what will happen and how far the Government will go in carrying out the proposed reforms. If reform is to go ahead, it will require determination to resist those who see no need for change as well as a great deal of hard work to put the new structure in place. I personally feel that the Review Sir Andrew has put forward offers a sound basis for developing a tribunal structure which increases accessibility to tribunals, raises customer service standards and improves administration.