Tribunals are an essential part of the British Legal System and are see as part of the popular Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR). Their main purpose was to give the public a means of settling disputes regarding their scial rights and various other areas such as employment law. For example if a person felt they were incorrectly dismissed from their employment, they would use a tribunal as means of settling the issue rather than a criminal court.
Tribunals, more often than not, are attended by one legally qualified person and two people that have no specialized legal training but expertise in the relevant subject area. These people are known throughout the tribunal as Lay Persons. These are the main types of tribunal; Administrative- involving social and welfare rights. Domestic- involving disputes within a private body e. g. a non-government funded organization. Employment- dealing with disputes between employers and current or ex employees.
Tribunals offer a more cost effective method of settling disputes as each party pays their own costs. This makes it a cheaper alternative than a day in court. Parties are also encouraged to take their own cases without representation, hence, there are less costs on lawyers or solicitors. They also offer a far quick means of resolving these disputes as courts usually have long delays.
Most tribunals are usually dealt with in one day, this is because the tribunal judge has a duty to take on case management i. e. they are able to impose strict timetables. As tribunals will usually have at least one expert in the relevant field, this eases time as there is no need to explain complexities to a judge in court. The expert will have a broad understanding of the relevant subject, giving parties the ability to cut straight to the facts rather than explaining them. This will give comfort and security to both parties involved as the relevant expert will have an understanding of each situation.
Although not the most informal of methods of ADR, tribunals are much less informal than a court hearing. Legal experts do not wear wigs and strict rules of evidence do not apply. Both parties benefit from a private hearing meaning that the individuals will not have their private details aired in public; however some may argue that this contradicts the principles of natural justice. Another role of the tribunal is simply to ease the burden on the ordinary courts. To remove the use of tribunals would mean the system will be overloaded.
The involvement of the Judical Appointments Commission means that the tribunal system is far more transparent and impartial and offers an unbiased and possibly holistic view on proceedings. The unified procedures and rules set out to tribunal judges means that there are very few inconsistencies between tribunals. The Reforms of Tribunals Tribunals have been subject to any a reform over the course of their existence. For example, the largest was possibly The Franks Report 1957. This report was set up to ensure there was openness, fairness and impartiality within the system.
It ensured the set up of the Council on Tribunals in 1958 to supervise and to provide a method of moderation. It was also tasked with dealing with complaints and submitting recommendations for methods of improvement. The Council on Tribunals was viewed by many as a “watchdog with no teeth” implying that it had very little power to make and implement changes. This however was replaced in 2011 by Her Majesty Courts and Tribunal Service. The next major reform to the tribunal system came in the year 2000 where Sir Andrew Leggatt published a report titled “Tribunals for Users- One System.
One Service. ” This report marked a radical reform of the tribunal system, since Leggatt reported that tribunals lacked independence, coherence and were not user friendly. Leggatt recommended that a single tribunal service to be responsible for the administration of ll tribunals. This meant that the tribunal service was independent of its relevant government department and the support that the service gives to tribunals is unified both in procedures and administration. Another one of Leggatts recommendations were that tribunals be organized into divisions, grouping together similar tribunals.
This also meant that the divisions created were; education, financial, health and social services, immigration, land and valuation, social security and pensions, transport, regulatory and employment. Each division is headed by a registrar who takes on case management duties in line with the Civil Procedure Rules. Thirdly, he recommended that the system should be user friendly meaning that users are encouraged to bring their own cases without legal representation; written judgments should be given in plain English, information about procedures, venues etc should be made freely available.
Finally, he concludes with the single route of appeal. This means there is a single route of appeal, with each division having a corresponding appeal tribunal, and only then will there be a redress to the court of appeal. In 2007 a new report published called the “Tribunals, Courts and Enforcement Act”. This act formalized and implemented most of Leggatts reforms and contributed to the mot radical shake up of the tribunal system seen since the Franks report in 1957.
This act implemented many of Leggatts reforms, and of particular note is part 1, which established a tribunal services than unified all the procedures and created a new stricture that addressed many of Leggatts concerns. There are now only two tribunals; The First Tier Tribunal and the Upper Tribunal, within which are chambers, or groups of tribunals with similar jurisdictions. For the first time ever, the upper tribunal will have the power to conduct a judicial review of a case which has been heard it the first tier tribunals, this means minimizing the need for the courts to get involved in the case.
All members or judges working in the new system will be appointed by the Judicial Appointments commission, and are a recognized as judges, which increases the status of tribunals. Further appeal from the Upper Tribunals available to the Court of Appeal, but this is very rarely used because of the well structured system. The whole system is headed by Senior President of Tribunals who is responsible for assigning judges to the chambers, looking after their general welfare and helping with any issues that may arise.
The president has the power to issue practice directions in order to help tribunal judges maintain a unified procedure across every chamber. The council on tribunals has since been replaced by her majesties courts and tribunals service. This body is much more powerful than the previous system I terms of reviewing the system, keeping it under control and advising the government on future reforms of the tribunal service. To conclude, I think that the tribunal service is a very popular and successful method of resolving smaller issues that did not involve criminal activity or the suspect of it.
I do however feel that with more and more complex cases being passed through the system it may need a thorough review with regards to what kinds of cases its designed to handle in long term. The reform of the original system over the years has improved the service very much and has given the pubic more of an input with regards to improvements going forward. I also think that there is far more confidence in the system than in the past, however, having not been directly linked to any one that has been involved in a tribunal this is only an opinion.