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News : May 2007

MHRT England – Stakeholder Satisfaction at 18%

In February 2007 ORC International published the findings of the latest Stakeholder Satisfaction Survey conducted for the Mental Health Review Tribunal in England. The findings of the survey show a decline in overall stakeholder satisfaction, from an already unsatisfactory level of 19% in 2005 to 18% in 2006. This compares unfavourably with an overall stakeholder satisfaction rate of 87% across Government departments and agencies.

The main areas for continued action and improvement were reported to be in the areas of:

  • Timeliness and efficiency of processes
  • Ease of making contact and communication being actioned
  • Office staff competency and skills
  • Strategic direction and feedback
  • Organisation and process

The Council published a Special Report in 2000 expressing its concerns about the operation of the MHRT at that time. Since then it has continued to press MHRT administrators to take action to improve the efficiency and responsiveness of the processes underpinning the tribunal's work.

In the light of this most recent survey, Lord Newton of Braintree has repeated the Council's concerns to the Chief Executive of the Tribunals Service, Peter Handcock CBE. He recognised the efforts that have been made for improvement so far, but emphasised the need for further urgent action to reverse the continuing dissatisfaction.

Jack Fargher, Head of the MHRT Secretariat, spoke to Adjust in February about the MHRT Modernisation programme. Read his comments here.


Major Programme of Changes for Tribunals Service

The Tribunals Service has embarked on a major programme of change to centralise its services. A new single management structure is planned with two regions and six administrative areas, creating a common culture and values. It also aims to establish six multi-jurisdictional administrative support centres to aid the delivery of hearings in a 'complementary hearings network'. The hearing centre network will include three types of hearing centres: core, permanent and casual. Core hearing centres will be located in main UK centres. Permanent hearing centres will provide full time satellite venues within reasonable travelling distance and casual hearing centres will be used as necessary to supplement coverage.

Consultation on the Review of Tribunals' Judiciary Remuneration

The Senior Salaries Review Body (SSRB) is undertaking a Review of the Remuneration of Tribunals' Judiciary, as part of the Review of Tribunals' Judiciary Terms and Conditions.

Name change for Patent Office

The Patent Office has changed its name to the 'United Kingdom Intellectual Property Office' (UK-IPO). The change was recommended in the Gowers Review of Intellectual Property – a review on a wide range of policy issues surrounding copyright, patents, enforcement and the fight against intellectual property crime. The report redefines the role of the UK-IPO both in the UK and abroad.

The tribunal functions of the Comptroller General and his authorised staff are under the supervision of the Council on Tribunals, which must be consulted on procedural rules for Patents, Trade Marks and Designs hearings. There is currently a public consultation on modernisation and consolidation of the Patents Rules.

Patents Rules: Modernisation and Consolidation (UK-IPO)

The UK Intellectual Property Office have launched a consultation on an amended version of the Patents Rules 1995 (S.I. 1995/2093) which set out procedural and administrative requirements that apply to patents and patent applications. This consultation paper proposes a fully modernised and consolidated draft of the Rules and seeks comments on some specific changes to certain rules. The deadline is June 5 2007.

New Consumer Credit Legislation

The Consumer Credit Act 2006, which was passed in March 2006, updates the framework under which consumer credit activities are carried out and regulated in the UK. The new legislation includes a requirement for businesses with a consumer credit licence to have formal complaints-handling procedures, which will come under the jurisdiction of the Financial Ombudsman Service (FOS) from April 2007. The Act also established a new Consumer Credit Appeals Tribunal to hear appeals from decisions of the Office of Fair Trading about consumer credit licences.

The FOS consulted widely on its new role and the draft rules for handling consumer-credit complaints last year and has now published new Consumer Credit Rules which came into force on April 6 2007.

Pensions Institutional Review Consultation (DWP)
(now closed)

Following the Government's announcement of Paul Thornton's independent Review of the Pensions Institutions, a consultation paper was issued seeking contributions by the end of March 2007. The purpose of the Review was to examine how the functions of the Pension Protection Fund, the Pensions Regulator, and other institutions involved in the regulation and protection of work-based pensions, fit with the Government's existing pension policies. The Review also extended to organisations involved in advice provision, mediation and dispute resolution. This consultation is now closed.

New Tribunal: Claims Management Services Tribunal

The Claims Management Services Tribunal (CMST) was launched in February 2007. It forms one of five tribunals within the Finance & Tax Tribunals and will hear appeals from businesses and individuals providing claims management services in areas such as personal injury, endowment mis-selling, employment and housing.

Changes to the Criminal Injuries Compensation Scheme:
Consultation with the Council on Tribunals

The Office for Criminal Justice Reform are consulting the Council on Tribunals on proposed changes to the rules of the Criminal Injuries Compensation Scheme which relate to the appeals provisions of the Scheme. The procedural rules are exercised by adjudicators in CICAP (Criminal Injuries Compensation Appeals Panel).

White Paper on the regulation of Health Professionals:

"Trust, Assurance and Safety – The Regulation of Health Professionals in the 21st Century"

The Department of Health has published a White Paper setting out proposals for improving the regulation of health professionals and ensuring patient safety. The publication followed an earlier report by the Chief Medical Officer 'Good doctors, safer patients', a report on the reform of medical regulation.

The White Paper signals a move towards a more robust regulatory system. The main proposals in the paper are:

  • Measures to make professional regulators independent of Government
  • Measures to ensure healthcare professionals are objectively revalidated throughout their career and remain up to date with clinical best practice
  • The creation of GMC Affiliates to manage more cases concerning doctors at a local level and to ensure independent oversight of revalidation
  • Moving from the criminal standard of proof to the civil standard used in fitness to practise cases with a sliding scale.
  • New body to adjudicate fitness to practise cases

JSB DVD: "Supporting the Judiciary – The Mentoring Process"

The Judicial Studies Board has produced a new training DVD entitled, 'Supporting the Judiciary – The Mentoring Process', which has been created principally to aid mentoring involving those who are new to a particular judicial role. The DVD is intended to demonstrate good practice and to encourage discussion of how a mentor and mentee can work together successfully. It includes training notes and written materials to provide an independent learning package for both the mentor and the mentee. The DVD will be circulated to all tribunals from May 2007.

Resolving disputes in the workplace: DTI Consultation

Following the recommendations of the Gibbons Review of employment dispute resolution, the DTI has published a consultation paper seeking views on a package of measures to help solve employment disputes successfully in the workplace. Specific measures being consulted on include repealing the current statutory dispute resolution procedures; providing better help and guidance to resolve at an earlier stage; and improving how employment tribunals work. The consultation deadline is 20 June 2007.

Managing Conflict at Work: CIPD Survey

The Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD) has produced a report 'Managing Conflict at Work' which has surveyed the impact of the statutory disciplinary and grievance procedures introduced in October 2004. Based on the responses of 798 organisations, the report finds that the new dispute resolution procedures (implemented under the Employment Act 2002 (Dispute Resolution) Regulations 2004) have made managing conflict at work more complex and failed to reduce the burden on the employment tribunal system.

Ombudsman finds parents were denied rights over school places

The Local Government Ombudsman, Tony Redmond, has recently published a report of his investigation against the governing body and admission appeals panel of Lady Margaret School, a Voluntary-Aided school in Parsons Green. His report identifies serious flaws in the way the school admissions procedures were operated, which he describes as "some of the most extensive problems and flaws with school admissions criteria that I have ever seen".

In particular, the Ombudsman found that the school's system of "banding" admission applications was flawed and that the results of the September 2006 admissions round did not indicate that the banding arrangements were actually followed. Furthermore, the school's admissions process was so dependent on a subjective assessment of applications and third party information that any independent appeal panel would have been unable to decide whether or not the admissions arrangements had been correctly applied.

The Ombudsman recommended that the school should undertake a fundamental review of its admission arrangements, offer places to the children in question and make a payment of £500 compensation to each of the complaints. Since this ruling the voluntary-aided Church of England school has decided to allocate some places by lottery, allocating 50 places to regular church-goers and 40 by lottery. The new guidelines on school admissions state that random allocation of places is an acceptable method of dealing with over-subscription.

These findings highlight failings that the Council has brought to the attention of the Department for Education and Skills over a considerable period of time, with particular regard to the arrangements for admission appeals. The Council has consistently urged that there should be a national admission appeals system, or failing that, that appeals should be managed on a regional basis. The Council has also recommended that in the interests of justice admission appeals for foundation and voluntary-aided schools should be managed and run by LEAs rather than by clerks and panels constituted by the schools themselves.

Consultation on Revised Exclusions Guidance (DfES)

This consultation seeks views on specific aspects of the Secretary of State's guidance on exclusion, Improving Behaviour and Attendance: Guidance on Exclusion from Schools and Pupil Referral Units. The revision of the guidance is driven by recommendations in 'Learning Behaviour', the report of the Practitioners' Group on School Behaviour and Discipline. The deadline for responses is 18 May 2007.

Principles for Remedy: Parliamentary and Health Service Ombudsman Consultation

The Parliamentary and Health Service Ombudsman, Ann Abraham, has launched a new consultation to develop Principles for Remedy. The Principles follow on from the Principles of Good Administration which the Ombudsman consulted on last year and published at the end of March 2007. The draft Principles outline the Ombudsman's views on the framework to use when considering remedies for injustice or hardship resulting from maladministration or poor service. The deadline for responses is 19 June 2007.

Parliamentary Ombudsman: Withstanding the test of time

The Office of the Parliamentary Ombudsman celebrated its 40th anniversary in April 2007. To observe this landmark occasion, it has published a report 'The Parliamentary Ombudsman: Withstanding the test of time', which comprises an article by Dr Richard Kirkham, Lecturer in the School of Law at Sheffield University. The paper discusses the origins of the Office and its creation through the Parliamentary Commissioner Act 1967 as well as its existing and future role in the changing landscape of the administrative justice world.

Mediation UK in voluntary liquidation

Mediation UK was the national umbrella body for community mediation, with more than 120 member services as well as individual mediator members. However, in October 2006 Mediation UK went into voluntary creditors' liquidation.

Mediation UK managed the Disability Conciliation Service (DCS) funded by the Disability Rights Commission (DRC) and offered accredited community mediator training through the National Open College Network. It also operated the competent mediator scheme, which accredited individual mediators. At the moment no decisions have been made on whether funding is available to establish a new umbrella body.

Planning Appeals: Film Released

The Planning Inspectorate has released a film about the processing of planning appeals. The film aims to highlight to local planning authorities and developers the progress that has been made over the last year in halving the period within which inquiry and hearings dates are arranged. The Inspectorate is also up to date with the registration of new appeals and is on track to meet Ministerial targets for the current year.

Research into the Administrative Justice System in Scotland

Being aware of the differences in the implementation of administrative justice in Scotland, and the likely effects of the Tribunals, Courts and Enforcement Bill 2006, the Scottish Committee of the Council together with the Scottish Parliamentary Ombudsman proposed an appraisal of the framework of administrative justice in Scotland. Meetings took place with the Justice Department (Scottish Executive) and an Administrative Justice Steering Group was set up, comprised of representatives of those with a direct interest in administrative justice, and chaired by Lord Philip – a Judge in the Court of Session. The Group will report with recommendations to Scottish Ministers in the summer.

In the light of a need for research into the current system identified by the Steering Group, the Justice Department of the Scottish Executive have, following a competitive tender exercise, awarded a contract to Dr Richard Whitecross, ESRC Research Fellow in Socio-Legal Studies, and Professor Michael Adler, Professor of Socio-Legal Studies, both of the University of Edinburgh, to undertake a literature review of the current system of administrative justice in Scotland in order to identify its strengths and weaknesses as well as options for further research. The aim will be to determine what combination of redress mechanisms and what set of institutional arrangements are most likely to promote administrative justice in Scotland. The Steering Group will be a member of the Research Advisory Group for this work.

The specific research objectives are:

  • Mapping the current framework of administrative justice in Scotland and providing a covering description of all current Scottish and UK wide tribunals;
  • Writing a description of the role of the different institutions of administrative justice;
  • Analysing the strengths and weaknesses of the current institutions;
  • Examining how well the existing institutions work as a coherent system;
  • Identifying case studies to illustrate problems and issues in the current system of administrative justice in Scotland;
  • Assessing the potential impact of the Tribunals, Courts and Enforcement Bill 2006 on the Scottish system;
  • Identifying options that may address the weaknesses and meet the needs of Scottish citizens.

The work will be carried out on the basis of an appraisal of relevant published research supplemented by a series of interviews with key administrative and judicial stakeholders.

It is anticipated that a final report will be available in June 2007.

Interested persons should contact Richard Whitecross.

DTI Overseas Study: Consumer Advice

The DTI has commissioned a study to look at how four other countries (France, Germany, Netherlands and Sweden) provide information and advice on consumer and social issues. This study has been commissioned as part of the Comprehensive Spending Review, in which the DTI will carry out a review of the support it gives to Citizens Advice and Citizens Advice Scotland, considering the role that those organisations play in the provision of information and advice.

ESRC Seminar Series: Administrative Justice

The final seminar in the Economic and Social Research Council series on Administrative Justice will be held at the University of Edinburgh on 5 and 6 June 2007. The first day will be devoted to a substantive discussion of administrative justice in the UK and the second day will focus on developing a research agenda, involving four panels: user/practitioners, stakeholders, academics and funders.

For further details, contact Richard Whitecross.

The Nuffield Foundation:
New Funding Initiative on Administrative Justice – call for applications

Following a series of consultations, the Nuffield Foundation has launched a new initiative on Administrative Justice, the administrative decisions by public authorities that affect individual citizens and the mechanisms available for the provision of redress.

With the Tribunals, Courts and Enforcement Bill before Parliament and forthcoming developments such as the new Administrative Justice and Tribunals Council, the time is ripe for a broader initiative in this area. As an independent funder, the Foundation wants to consider the interests of citizens and bring empirical evidence to bear on discussions of policy and practice in this area.

The Foundation will be seeking to fund work that is squarely in the context of administrative justice, with all its complex links to initial claims, complaints and decision-making. It will consider four strands of work: initial handling/filtering selection of cases; feedback to front-line decision-makers; work starting from questions about the choice of redress mechanism; and questions about quality.