Adrian Stokes has been a member of the Council on Tribunals for two years. An international expert in the application of ICT for healthcare, he talks to Adjust about his years of voluntary work with organisations supporting people with disabilities and his hopes that a new unified Tribunals Service will take more account of the individual needs of appellants.
Adrian's qualifications for appointment were obvious: a member of the Disability Appeals Tribunal for 10 years, since its inception in 1992 and a member of the Social Security Advisory Committee for 21 years, until 2002. He was a non-executive director of the National Clinical Assessment Authority throughout its entire existence (2001-2005) and is still a non-executive director of Barnet Primary Care Trust and a special trustee of the Royal National Orthopaedic Hospital in Stanmore, Middlesex. As a Council member, Adrian leads on social security matters for the Council's social affairs committee.
However, Adrian's 'day job' seems a far cry from his role as an advocate of administrative justice. Qualifying in chemistry at University College London, he went on to specialise in computing science. One of his claims to fame is that he is one of the founders of the Internet. In 1973 Adrian was part of a small group of academics who linked the UK to the experimental computer network of the US Department of Defence, ARPANET (his main responsibility included the first implementation of email in the UK). ARPANET joined a number of other networks and became the Internet in the mid-1970s. His name is inscribed on a plaque unveiled recently at Stanford University in the USA commemorating the birth of the Internet, along with a handful of other early collaborators.
He still inhabits the world of ICT, and after over 20 years as a computer specialist in the NHS, set himself up as a consultant in health informatics (the application of ICT in healthcare), developing networking standards for health systems around the world. Adrian often represents the UK in this field and regularly travels across Europe, North America, Asia and the Far East.
He says, "Despite all the travelling I like nothing better than to come home to be greeted by my two cats, who demand my full attention, especially when they feel neglected by me. Ironically, considering all my travelling, I still live only a quarter of a mile from where I was born".
Adrian has been disabled since birth, as a result of spina bifida, and has been involved with many organisations for disabled people such as the Royal Association for Disability and Rehabilitation (RADAR) of which he is now a Vice-President, PHAB (physically handicapped and able bodied) and the Association for Spina Bifida and Hydrocephalus (ASBAH). He is still actively involved with the Disabled Drivers Motor Club (of which he has been chairman for three terms) and is also a founder governor of Motability, the car leasing scheme for disabled people.
"One of the most important things for me is making sure that people receive what they are entitled to. And I don't just mean in terms of money, but also in services, ensuring that they get the right equipment or adaptations to their home to make it easier to get about.
"It really irritates me that there is no joined up approach when it comes to assessing disabled people's needs. We need a much more holistic approach to benefits. For example, with the introduction of mobility allowance in the late 1970s, disabled people were given a flat rate of £4 a week, but this was useless if what they really needed was the use of a car. We need to find better ways of finding out what people actually need in their daily lives," he says.
The creation of Motability, whereby people could commute their weekly allowance into a capital sum to buy a vehicle is a perfect example of the approach he feels is necessary.
Adrian hopes that the unified Tribunals Service will actually lead to users being having access to the most appropriate method of resolving their disputes, rather than just automatically going to tribunal even when it is obvious this is neither the best nor most appropriate remedy.
He says, "I'm hopeful that the new service will promote the spread of good practice. We need better co-ordination at the centre to ensure that time isn't wasted with unnecessary tribunals where other, less stressful means of dispute resolution could be found."
Adrian is conscious that it is often the little things that can make a tremendous difference to the experience of the users going through the administrative justice system.
"Accessible venues, having papers that are easy to follow and other simple administrative improvements will make the user's experience so much better. The Council has done a great deal of work addressing some of these issues and promoting and developing best practice. The guidance produced by the Council in association with the Disability Rights Commission is an excellent example of what can be done. And I think it is in this area of promoting good practice, where the Council can continue to have an influence. I am looking forward to the future and optimistic that users' experiences of the Tribunals Service will be better and more appropriate to their needs," Adrian concludes.