Select Committee Inquiry – Decision making and appeals in the benefits system
The AJTC's Social Affairs Committee also recently met with Suzy Brain England, Chair of the DWP Standards Committee, primarily to discuss the Standards Committee's role in monitoring decision making standards across DWP agencies as well as the AJTC's focus on getting decisions right first time.
Four new jurisdictions to join the General Regulatory Chamber
In the September edition of Adjust we reported the launch of the General Regulatory Chamber as part of the First-tier Tribunal, and the transfer of four jurisdictions into the GRC – Charity; Estate Agents; Consumer Credit and some functions of the Transport Tribunal.
Further changes are due in January 2010 when the work of the Adjudication Panel for England is transferred into the GRC along with that of four other jurisdictions; the Claims Management Services Tribunal; the Gambling Appeals Tribunal; the Immigration Services Tribunal; and part of the Information Tribunal.
The Ministry of Justice has launched a free legal advice service in England and Wales available to people who rely on benefits or are on low incomes. The new Community Legal Advice helpline will provide advice on debt, housing, employment and family issues and will operate out of Swansea.
This plan follows the publication earlier this year of a study on the impact of legal aid reform and the recession on the provision of local legal advice. The implementation plan sets out how the nine recommendations of the study will be carried out.
Paul Daniels, Chair of the Employment Lawyers' Association (ELA) Pro Bono Committee, used National Pro Bono Week 2009 to update delegates on the ELA's new project to match up the needs of unrepresented parties at employment tribunals, and lawyers who wish to improve their advocacy skills. Under the project, due to be launched in December 2009, ELA members will be asked to offer a day or more of pro bono assistance, with the aim of obtaining at least 100 days of pro bono assistance in the next calendar year.
Health Act 2009 and Welfare Reform Act 2009: Royal Assent received
On 12 November both the Health Act 2009 and the Welfare Reform Act 2009 received Royal Assent. The Health Act included an extension of the Local Government Ombudsman's remit to enable him to consider complaints from people who arrange their own adult social care. This change will have the effect of putting users in a position similar to those adults whose social care is arranged or funded by Local Authorities.
In March the AJTC wrote to the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions to raise concerns about provisions in the Welfare Reform Bill which now form part of the Act. These provisions transfer responsibility from the courts to the Child Maintenance and Enforcement Commission, to make orders to disqualify a person from holding a driving licence or a passport. Although the Act does provide a right of appeal against the making of such an order, this appeal must be made to the magistrates' or sheriff court rather than the First-tier Tribunal. In our letter to the Secretary of State, the AJTC observed that this has the effect of downgrading the level of decision making from a court to junior administrator. We also noted that an appellant will have to pay costs in order to bring an appeal to a magistrate (appeals to the First-tier Tribunal carry no such cost), meaning that the appeal mechanism is less accessible than other social security and child support appeals.
Coroners and Justice Act Receives Royal Assent
The Coroners and Justice Act received Royal Assent on 12 November. The Act includes provisions that will enable regulation of damages based agreements, to protect vulnerable claimants in employment tribunals against unfair agreements.
Damages based agreements, also known as contingency fee agreements, are private funding arrangements most commonly used in employment tribunals, whereby representatives are not paid fees if they lose a case and a fee based on the percentage of damages recovered if they win.
A consultation will commence shortly on regulations to ensure claimants are protected against agreements with unreasonable or unfair terms and conditions.
AIT transfer to two-tier structure update
An Order transferring the functions of the Asylum and Immigration tribunal into the First-tier and Upper Tribunals has been laid in Parliament. Subject to Parliamentary approval, the AIT is due to transfer to the two-tier structure on 15 February 2010. Following the transfer, appeals against decisions of the Home Office or Entry Clearance Officer will be made to a dedicated Asylum and Immigration Chamber of the First-tier tribunal. Onward appeals against a First-tier Tribunal decision will be made to a dedicated chamber of the Upper Tribunal.
The Government has published a draft Immigration Bill continuing the programme of work to simplify immigration legislation. This follows the UKBA's publication of a Green Paper in February 2008 outlining plans for reform, and the enactment of the Borders, Citizenship and Immigration Act in 2009.
The UKBA has also launched a public consultation on the future framework of the draft Immigration Rules, which runs until 3 February 2010.
Following publication of the draft Immigration Bill, the UK Borders Agency is running a consultation exercise on the powers relating to asylum support contained in the draft Bill. The consultation period runs until 4 February 2010.
Mr Justice Blake has been appointed as the President of the Immigration and Asylum Chamber of the Upper Tribunal with effect from 15 February 2010.
The Tribunals Service has launched a 6-month initiative in which some ET claims will be heard in early evening sessions. Some of the more straight forward hearings will take place from around 6-8pm for one or two evenings a week. Claims which need to be heard before a judge but do not require a tribunal panel or full day's hearing will be included in the pilot.
The 2008/09 statistics for the Employment Tribunal and the Employment Appeal Tribunal have been released and are available to download from the Tribunals Service website. The 2008/09 figures show an overall decrease in the number of claims and an increase in the number of disposals.
Employment Appeal Tribunal ruling; national security and private hearings in the Employment Tribunal
The EAT has ruled that organisations such as the Ministry of Defence and Foreign Office can no longer automatically rely on national security arguments to hold employment tribunal hearings in private, following a recent decision of Mr Justice Underhill in the case of AB v Ministry of Defence.
Employment Tribunals (Scotland)
Shona Simon has been appointed as President of Employment Tribunals in Scotland. Shona is a solicitor who was appointed as a part-time chairman of the Employment Tribunals in 2000 before becoming a full-time chairman in 2002. She was appointed as Vice-President in 2004.
The Parliamentary and Health Service Ombudsman has published this report, bringing together a number of cases which illustrate the disproportionate impact that administrative mistakes made by public bodies can have on users.
In April 2008 the Local Government Ombudsman's jurisdiction was extended to deal with complaints about commercial and contract matters. This first report by an LGO in England on the new area deals with complaints about Liverpool City Council's tendering process for a large contract.
The thirteenth annual Digest of the Local Government Ombudsman is now available. Failure to take into account the needs of users and ignorance of, or failure to follow, policies and guidance were some of the common themes in the cases chosen for this Digest.
Dr Jane Martin has been named as the preferred candidate for the Local Government Ombudsman, following the retirement of Jerry White.
Evaluation of PDR Pilots: Reports due in December
Evaluation reports of the Ministry of Justice's PDR pilots of early neutral evaluation in the Social Security and Child Support Tribunal, and judicial mediation in the Employment Tribunal, are due to be published in December 2009.
The National Institute for Adult Continuing Education has produced this report for Plenet, which follows on from earlier work looking at the relationship between public legal education and financial capability.
New research has been published by the Advice Services Alliance on why, how and when community groups refer their users to advice agencies, solicitors, and other organisations for support.
On 4 November, the AJTC's Scottish Committee presented its special report on the operation of Valuation Appeal Committees in Scotland to John Swinney, the Cabinet Secretary for Finance and Sustainable Growth.
The Report outlined the Scottish Committee's observations of this appeal system and asked the Scottish Government to consider the recommendations which are aimed at providing a more equitable, independent and consistent approach.
The report of Lord Cullen's review of fatal accident inquiry legislation has now been published.
The AJTC's Scottish Committee considered the Scottish Government's consultation paper on the Review of the above Act and provided a response.
The report of the Scottish Civil Courts Review, headed by the Lord Justice Clerk, Lord Gill, has now been published. The review which began in April 2007 was undertaken with a view to making recommendations for changes to improve access to civil justice, promote early resolution of disputes, and ensure proportionate handling of cases.
The Australian Administrative Review Council has launched this revised Guide, updated to reflect the evolving role of tribunals in Australia.
|Advancing Administrative Justice||ADJUST DECEMBER 2009|