Friday, 15 October 2010
Tribunals: the loss of the AJTC
Administrative Justice and Tribunals Council is one of the public bodies to be axed under the goverment's reforms. Tribunals are a major part of the justice system - for more information see Lawobserver - Tribunals. The AJTC (and its predecessor - the Council on Tribunals) has played an important role in ensuring that Tribunals operate to proper standards of procedural fairness.
Richard Thomas, Chairman of the AJTC, said - “Government bodies and local authorities are taking tens of thousands of decisions every day which are of real importance to individuals and their families. This year there will be about a million appeals to tribunals. Although - as the independent voice of the user - we will no longer be able to oversee the administrative justice system, it will remain essential to ensure that users’ needs are central. Much remains to be done to maximise customer satisfaction and access to justice and minimise cost, delay and complexity.”
The AJTC's predecessor was the Council on Tribunals which was created following the Franks Report of 1957 (Cmnd. 218). Franks itself arose from serious concern about the standards of due process used in the tribunals of the day. The Franks Report led to the Tribunals and Inquiries Act 1958 which was later replaced by the Tribunals and Inquiries Act 1992. It is under these Acts that the AJTC has played an important role in the supervision of Tribunals and a key element in this supervision related to the procedural rules.
The tribunal structure has been going through major revision as a result of the Tribunals, Courts and Enforcement Act 2007. This Act seeks to bring all tribunals into a unified tribunal system under judicial control. Thus, many of the previously separate tribunals (many linked to various government departments) have now been brought within either the First Tier Tribunal (with its six "Chambers") or into the Upper Tribunal (with four "Chambers").
The exact reasoning why the AJTC is no longer considered to be necessary is not clear but it may be that it is seen as unnecessary in the light of the new tribunal structure. It ought to be incumbent on government to at least justify publicly each individual "cut" being made as part of an exercise which is, according to the Ministry of Justice, aimed at improved "accountability" as well as financial savings.
There is also a Tribunals Service – an executive agency of the Ministry of Justice – which provides administrative support to certain tribunals. This service is to merge, from 1st April 2011, with Her Majesty's Court Service.