Martin Partington: Spotlight on the Justice System

Keeping the English Legal System under review

Administrative Justice under threat?

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In (probably) its  dying days, the Administrative Justice and Tribunals Council – earmarked by the Coalition Government for abolition – has decided to go down, all guns blazing. In its latest report, Securing Fairness and Redress: Administrative Justice at Risk?, published on 21 Oct 2011,  it gives a stark warning that principles of fairness and the right to challenge decisions perceived not to be fair or lawful – which have been a hallmark of public administration for decades – are currently under serious threat.

In the words of the report:  ‘ In an age where so much emphasis is rightly placed on empowering people, on improving public services and on upholding the Rule of Law, it is astonishing that there is so little focus on the system for ensuring that the State gets it right in its dealings with individuals and families.’ Complaining that administrative justice is the ‘Cinderella service’ of the justice system, the Council warns that the current programme of austerity will reduce the quality of much administrative decision-taking, while at the same time make it much harder for those adversely affected by bad decisions to challenge them.

This latest report – which presents an overview of the current position – notes that three times as many cases are decided by tribunals each year as go before the criminal courts; yet all the focus of policy making is on the criminal justice system. This despite the fact that the administrative justice system deals with key questions affecting the individual – liberty, employment, housing and even, in asylum cases, with matters of life and death.

The Council acknowledges that there is no reason why new ways of deciding cases should not be tried – cutting public expenditure can be an opportunity for developing new and possibly better procedures. But it argues that at just the time when the Council’s expertise would be most useful, its voice is going to be silenced under the quango cutting programme.

The report sets out an agenda for long-term strategic change  the administrative justice system:

  • better and more stable laws and regulations, especially in the areas of welfare benefits and immigration;
  • a ‘Right First Time’ culture in government decision-making;
  • proper access to help, advice and representation for citizens pursuing redress against government decisions;
  • further reforms to ensure coherent access to administrative justice across the whole of the UK;
  • new and proportionate models for resolving disputes faster and in more user-friendly ways.

The full text of their excellent report is at http://www.justice.gov.uk/ajtc/docs/AJTC_at_risk_%2810.11%29_web.pdf

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Written by lwtmp

October 25, 2011 at 1:43 pm

Posted in Chapter 4, chapter 6

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