Tribunal Procedures Effectiveness To Justice

Tribunals are a branch of the court system established by Act of Parliament to deal with disputes between the citizen and the state or between two individuals. Tribunals are composed of a legally trained chairperson along with two lay persons who are experts and specialize in their field. They are generally distinguished from the courts by their less formal procedures and by the fact that they operate in specialized areas, also the decisions of tribunals are mainly concerned with the laws of a particular organization delivering administrative justice where the courts dispenses justice via an independent judiciary. There are administrative tribunals such as the social security, rent and employment tribunals, and domestic tribunals which deal with disputes within a particular profession as trade unions, medical and legal. Tribunals are a very important division of the courts in dispensing justice; there are seventy (70) tribunals today that deal with over a million cases each year all with a view of making justice accessible to citizens.

History of Tribunals

Tribunals have been in existence since the 18th century but the growth of tribunals are really attributed to the formation of the welfare state from the 1900’s with the introduction of several Acts of legislation by government [1] .

Although these Acts of government were necessary in the development of the state it gave rise to a large number of disputes which the courts were unable to handle due to the complexity of the legislation, the specialized areas in question and the vast workload. This resulted in the growth of tribunals as an alternative means of settling disputes and making justice available to citizens.

Tribunal Procedures effectiveness to Justice

In the analysis of tribunals and their role in access to justice we must analyse the procedure and philosophy that shaped the tribunal system. The Lord Chancellor in 1957 appointed Sir Oliver Frank to head a Committee to review the workings of tribunals. The committee reported that tribunals would become an increasingly important part of the legal system and if the tribunal system is to be effective in its execution of justice it must be marked by Openness, Fairness and Impartiality, which are the criteria in which the Franks committee believed that under these conditions justice and access to justice would best be served. The Franks Committee findings and recommendations were implemented by government in the Tribunals and Enquires Act 1958 which was replaced by the Tribunals and Enquiries Act 1971, followed by the Tribunals and Enquiries Act 1992.

These foundations of tribunals were upheld and reinforced by Sir Andrew Leggatt a retired Lord Justice of Appeal who was commissioned in 2000 by the Lord Chancellor to undertake a systematic review of whether fair, timely, proportionate, and effective arrangements were in place for handling tribunal disputes and if they encouraged the systematic development and coherent structure for the delivery of administrative justice. This review also included the independence and impartiality of tribunals compared to the European Convention on Human Rights [2] .

Openness required that hearings be done in public and clear reasons behind decisions, making obvious to the citizen their reception of justice.

Fairness aided in parties knowing their rights, understanding the case against them, and being able to present their case full through clear procedures.

Impartiality meant that tribunals needed to be free from government influence as many of the cases being brought before tribunals involved issues against ministerial departments.

Accessibility of Tribunals to Justice

In Sir Andrew Leggatt review of the tribunal he produced a report in 2001 Tribunals for Users: One System, One Service which outlined the pitfalls of tribunals and their inadequacies in providing consist and effect service to the public. This was followed by the White Paper [3] and succeeded by the Tribunals Courts and Enforcement Act 2007. He noted that there were 70 tribunals out of which only twenty (20) heard more than 500 cases per year. Sir Leggatt outlined that tribunals were not accessible or user friendly, which is crucial in the access of justice by the public, since the public may not be aware of the existence of tribunals and their rights to use them. Further thought needed to be given to make tribunals known to the public. The system was not user friendly to the public as many tribunals became increasingly like courts which defeated the initial purpose of tribunals as an outlet for citizens to easily access justice. This adoption of the court like system of the tribunal made it difficult for claimants to achieve results without professional legal aid. Tribunals lacked consistency as they were for the most part self contained bodies operating separately from each other, giving rise to tribunals having different procedures and practices which lacked coherence and uniformity. Tribunals were heavily dependent on government ministries for expenses, paying fees and laying down tribunal procedures. This would be viewed negatively and would neither appear to be independent or impartial as the administration and responsibility for tribunals should not lie with those whose policies tribunal were to consider. This left tribunals open to legal challenge under Art. 6 of the European Convention on Human Rights.

These factors made tribunals a daunting experience for claimants; Sir A. Leggatt made proposals to combat the faults in the tribunal system by proposing, there be a single Tribunal service established that would be held responsible for the administration of all tribunals. This would allow efficiency in the systems’ consistency and self-governing, which would uphold the purpose of tribunal in being fair, open and impartial, improving the public view and perception of tribunals. It would also assist in accessibility of justice as there would be a single point of contact for the public and citizens wishing to apply to a tribunal only needed to submit a claim to the tribunal service and the claim would be allocated to the respective tribunal.

Strengths and Weaknesses of Tribunals

Tribunals hold many valuable assets in aiding the justice system. They are cost effective as tribunals do not charge a fee, and each party pays their own costs compared to the courts where the loser pays for the legal fees of the winning party. Another way that tribunals are cost effective is the fact that there is no need for a specialized court house for cases to be heard. Tribunals are also less expense because members sitting on tribunal panels are cheaper to employ compared to judges and there is no need for legal representation.

Another attraction of tribunals is the speed at which disputes can be resolved. Unlike the court system tribunals have specified dates that are not subjected to variances of the ordinary court system. Due to the speed in which disputes are resolved the cost is reduced on the public funds and is one of the contributors in keeping the cost at a minimum.

The procedures of tribunal are simpler than the court system therefore legal representation is not necessary, and parties are encouraged to represent themselves. In addition there is the Community Legal Service that offers counsel and aids the citizens in preparing the drafting of legal documents.

The absence of complex formal proceeding allow for claimants to represent themselves making cases less intimidating than full court cases. This informality is one the initial purpose of tribunals; to be accessible by making the system simplified and user friendly. Strict rules of evidence are not binding in tribunal proceedings. Also tribunals take an inquisitorial approach rather than an adversarial as shown in Kerr v Department for Social Development (Northern Ireland) 2004. [4] 

Tribunal service would be supervised by the Queen’s Bench division of the High Courts as tribunals are deemed inferior as in the Peach Grey & Co. v Summers (1995), case. They have extensive experience in managing courts, all with the purpose of ensuring that tribunals act within their power or jurisdiction and with the view of improving corporate image and fairness in tribunal service.

Another shortcoming of the tribunal was that they had no formal appeal system. Appeal could be done through the ordinary courts but this was an expensive procedure. Due to Sir Andrew Leggatt review the government issued the Tribunal Courts and Enforcement Act 2007 which created two generic tribunals; The First tier Tribunal and the Upper Tribunals, with the Upper Tribunal acting as an appellate tribunal.

Proceedings are informal and the strict rule of evidence is relaxed. Wigs are not worn to aid in having an unintimidating atmosphere and the use of lawyers is not encouraged even though lawyers may sit as the legally trained chairperson, who is expected to take an inquisitorial approach instead of an adversarial position.

. Time wasting is minimized because tribunals can appoint exact dates and times of cases and many cases can be resolved within a day.

Due to the composition of the tribunal whereby experts in relevant fields sit as members of the tribunal there is a depth of knowledge in specialized areas and policies that an ordinary court judge would not match. Various tribunals hear over a million cases per year. Without these tribunals the current court system would be overloaded. Cases are heard in private so individuals would have intimate information broadcast in the general public.