Martin Partington: Spotlight on the Justice System

Keeping the English Legal System under review

Archive for the ‘chapter 6’ Category

Employment Tribunal fees: back to the drawing board

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Until the coming into force of the Employment Tribunals and the Employment Appeal Tribunal Fees Order 2013,  a claimant could bring and pursue proceedings in an Employment Tribunal (ET) and appeal to the Employment Appeal Tribunal (EAT) without paying any fee.
The Order created a somewhat complex fee tariff in which different fees were paid, depending on the type of action being brought before the tribunal. In addition, a fee had to be paid at the start of proceedings, another when the case went to a hearing. Poor claimants who fell below defined income and capital limits could get their fees remitted.
The Government’s objective in imposing the fees were said to be
(i) Financial: to transfer a proportion of the costs of the ETs to users (where they
can afford to pay);
(ii) Behavioural: to encourage people to use alternative services to help resolve
their disputes; and
(iii) Justice: to protect access to justice.getting a better balance between what the taxpayer funds and what the litigant funds.

An official review of the impact of the fee changes, published in January 2017 concluded that, broadly, these objectives had been achieved. (See this blog, February 2017)

The Supreme Court has, however, come to a quite different conclusion. In R (on the application of UNISON) (Appellant) v Lord Chancellor (Respondent) [2017] UKSC 51, the Court concluded unanimously that the Fees Order was ultra vires (that is to say that the Lord Chancellor did not have the power to make the order) and so quashed it.

There are at least three reasons why the judgements in this case are particularly interesting.

First, in most cases where the validity of a Statutory Instrument is challenged in the courts, the argument turns on fairly precise questions of statutory interpretation – were the rule-making powers in an Act of Parliament sufficient to give the relevant Minister the power to make the order being challenged?

In this case a much broader, constitutional approach was adopted. The essence of the argument was that the impact of the Order was so dramatic (the numbers of cases coming to both the ET and the EAT had fallen dramatically since the introduction of the fees) that they had the effect of denying potential claimants access to justice.Lord Reed, in the principal judgement, refers back to a number of historic legal texts, including Magna Carta, to conclude that it is a constitutional principle recognised in common law, that people should have access to justice.

Second, the judgement relies heavily on a number of empirical studies to show that the effect of impact of the fees rules was quite disproportionate. Using hypothetical examples, the Justices conclude that ordinary people on average earnings would have to forgo weeks if not months of expenditure on anything other than the most basic necessities to save the money needed to pay the relevant fees. The Court decided that the fees thus imposed a quite disproportionate burden on those who might have an arguable case to take to the ET or EAT. Certainly the cosy conclusions of the impact review, mentioned at the start of this note, were totally rejected by the Supreme Court

Finally, Lord Reed makes a number of  interesting and important observations about the rule of law and the functions of courts and tribunals in supporting the rule of law. (See in particular paras 66-85 of the judgement). Here I set out brief extracts from the judgement:

The importance of the rule of law is not always understood. Indications of a lack
of understanding include the assumption that the administration of justice is merely a public service like any other, that courts and tribunals are providers of services to
the “users” who appear before them, and that the provision of those services is of
value only to the users themselves and to those who are remunerated for their
participation in the proceedings. [There is an] assumption that the consumption of ET and EAT services without full cost recovery results in a loss to society, since “ET and EAT use does not lead to gains to society that exceed the sum of the gains to
consumers and producers of these services”.
[However] …the idea that bringing a claim before a court or a tribunal is a purely private activity, and the related idea that such claims provide no broader social benefit, are demonstrably untenable….
Courts exist in order to ensure that the laws made by Parliament, and the common law created by the courts themselves, are applied and enforced. That role includes ensuring that the executive branch of government carries out its functions in accordance with the law. In order for the courts to perform that role, people must in principle have unimpeded access to them. Without such access, laws are liable to become a dead letter, the work done by Parliament may be rendered nugatory, and the democratic election of Members of Parliament may become a meaningless charade. That is why the courts do not merely provide a public service like any other.
Every day in the courts and tribunals of this country, the names of people who brought cases in the past live on as shorthand for the legal rules and principles which their cases established. Their cases form the basis of the advice given to those whose cases are now before the courts, or who need to be advised as to the basis on which their claim might fairly be settled, or who need to be advised that their case is hopeless. The written case lodged on behalf of the Lord Chancellor in this appeal itself cites over 60 cases, each of which bears the name of the individual involved, and each of which is relied on as establishing a legal proposition. The Lord Chancellor’s own use of these materials refutes the idea that taxpayers derive no benefit from the cases brought by other people….
But the value to society of the right of access to the courts is not confined to cases in which the courts decide questions of general importance. People and businesses need to know, on the one hand, that they will be able to enforce their rights if they have to do so, and, on the other hand, that if they fail to meet their obligations, there is likely to be a remedy against them. It is that knowledge which underpins everyday economic and social relations….
When Parliament passes laws creating employment rights, for example, it does so not merely in order to confer benefits on individual employees, but because it has decided that it is in the public interest that those rights should be given effect. It does not envisage that every case of a breach of those rights will result in a claim before an ET. But the possibility of claims being brought by employees whose rights are infringed must exist, if employment relationships are to be based on respect for those rights. Equally, although it is often desirable that claims arising out of alleged
breaches of employment rights should be resolved by negotiation or mediation,
those procedures can only work fairly and properly if they are backed up by the
knowledge on both sides that a fair and just system of adjudication will be available
if they fail. Otherwise, the party in the stronger bargaining position will always prevail….
The Justices accepted that a system of fees that had the objectives set out above – of reducing the cost to the tax payer, encouraging settlement and deterring weak cases – were quite lawful. But they concluded that in this case the fees structure had gone too far. In addition they noted that the practical outcome of the fees imposed by the order was to result in a significant reduction in the money being paid into the system by parties to proceedings. In short, the price for access being charged was too high for the Government to be able to achieve its principal objective of increasing revenue into the court/tribunal system.
It seems clear to me that the Government will not abandon its fees policy – either in relation to ETs and EATs, or indeed to other parts of the courts and tribunals system where fees are imposed. But those devising future schemes will have to take into account considerations that go well beyond those that were initially taken into accounts by Ministers and their civil servant advisers.
The full text of the judgement is at https://www.supremecourt.uk/cases/docs/uksc-2015-0233-judgment.pdf
The press summary is at https://www.supremecourt.uk/cases/docs/uksc-2015-0233-press-summary.pdf
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Administrative Justice in Wales and Comparative Perspectives

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Written by lwtmp

September 23, 2017 at 11:22 am

New journal article published: Mapping current issues in administrative justice: austerity and the ‘more bureaucratic rationality’ approach

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Written by lwtmp

September 19, 2017 at 9:24 am

Queen’s Speech 2017 and the Parliamentary session: 2017-2019

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The  draft legislation relating to the exit of the UK from the European Union is going to be extremely complicated – both in terms of the technical content of the proposed measures, and in terms of the political controversies that the legislation will attract, arising from the fact that Mrs May is leading a minority Government in the House of Commons and that there is a great deal of opposition to Brexit in the House of Lords.

The Government has therefore decided that, exceptionally, the current Parliament should last for two years rather than more normal one. Thus the next Queens Speech, following that  delivered in June 2017, will not be made until May 2019.

In addition to the raft of measures required to deal with different aspect of Brexit, the 2017 speech contained annoucements about two measures that will have specific impact on the English legal system.

  1. “Legislation will  be introduced to modernise the courts system and to help reduce motor insurance premiums.” This will not actually be wholly new. The measures relating to court reform and insurance premiums were originally contained in the Prisons and Courts Bill 2017, which fell when the 2017 General Election was called. The revised version of the new Bill has not yet been published but may be anticipated in Autumn 2017.
  2. “To support victims, my government will take forward measures to introduce an independent public advocate, who will act for bereaved families after a public disaster and support them at public inquests.” This is a reform that has long been called for. The details of this measure are not yet available.The Queen’s speech may be read at https://www.gov.uk/government/speeches/queens-speech-2017

 

 

 

 

 

Keeping the administrative justice system under review

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When the first major step was taken in the creation of what we would today recognise as a modern administrative justice system – the passing of the Tribunals and Inquiries Act 1958 – the Government of the day decided to create a statutory body – the Council on Tribunals – to keep the work of tribunals under review.

It was a body whose influence waxed and waned over subsequent years, but its reports were influential, particularly in promoting the need for training of tribunal personnel, ensuring that procedures would enable unrepresented parties to have the chance to be heard.

The Leggatt Review of Tribunals (of which I was a member) started with the view that the time had come to abolish the Council – but during discussion, it changed its mind, not least because of the powerful advocacy of its then Chair, the late Lord Tony Newton. Leggatt ended up recommending retention of the body that came to be known as the Administrative Justice and Tribunals Council (AJTC).

In the so-called bonfire of the quangos launched by the Cameron-Clegg Coalition Government in 2010, the AJTC was once again back in the firing line. The truth is that civil servants had long wanted to get rid of a body which they felt added to their administrative burdens without offering much in return.

Notwithstanding the fact that in its final years, the AJTC did extremely valuable work looking at some of the principles and broad strategic issues affecting the administrative justice system, the axe finally fell on the AJTC in 2013.

This was not however the end of the story. An Administrative Justice Advisory Group was created in 2012. In 2013 it became the Administrative Justice Forum (AJF). It was given a specific remit to keep under review the strategic programme of work being undertaken with regard to the administrative justice system – in particular tribunals – work now being taken forward under the Transforming Our Justice System programme.

In March 2017, the Government published the final report of the AJF, summarising some of the issues on which the Ministry of Justice had been working since 2013. Although the work is still ongoing, the AJF has been shut down.

Interestingly, its functions have not entirely disappeared. Arrangements are being put in place (the full details are not yet finalised) for JUSTICE, the Human Rights Group that has been engaged in a major programme of work relating to aspects of the development of the justice system, to host a new advisory group which will continue to have input to the Ministry of Justice.

The key topics on which the AJF reported were, in fact, issues which the former AJTC had done much to promote – for example,

  • the importance of ensuring that practice and procedure take users of tribunals fully into account;
  • the importance of Government departments learning from the outcomes of tribunal decisions, particularly where the may indicate operational practices that may need changing;
  • the importance of enduring that there was no excessive delay in arranging and delivering decisions.

What the AJF did not do was consider broader questions about how different parts of the administrative justice system – tribunals, ombudsmen, complaints procedures – might interact more efficiently.

From my perspective what the latest development shows is that trying to keep a clear overview of the whole of the administrative justice landscape is a daunting prospect, particularly at a time when the bulk of civil service resources have to be devoted to the modernisation programme currently under way. This overview has to come from outside government, led by those who can take a holistic view and who are not locked into any specific aspect of the system.

For the final report of the Administrative Justice Forum see https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/administrative-justice-and-tribunals-final-progress-report

 

 

 

 

Written by lwtmp

July 10, 2017 at 11:19 am

Immigration appeals and delays: On the verge of a crisis?

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This links to a short blog article written by Robert Thomas, the leading academic authority on the work of Immigration Tribunals. Analysing recent (December 2016) reports from the Public Accounts Committee and the Justice Select Committee (among others), the note provides evidence that while the number of appeals are declining, the numbers of appeals already in the system awaiting a decision is actually increasing. This seems to be largely the consequence of an over-zealous reduction in the number of Tribunal Judges.

The announcement that the Human Rights Group JUSTICE is embarking on a review of immigration appeals is therefore particularly welcome.

Source: Immigration appeals and delays: On the verge of a crisis?.

Written by lwtmp

May 18, 2017 at 9:24 am

Transforming the Justice System: the Prisons and Courts Bill 2017

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Enromous changes to the ways in which courts – both criminal and civil – and tribunals operate have already been foreshadowed in a number of policy documents published during 2016. Parts 2 to 4 of the Prisons and Courts Bill contain provisions that will give statutory authority to the changes that have been proposed.

The headline provisions may be set out as follows:

Part 2 creates new procedures in civil, family, tribunal and criminal matters.

It makes changes to court procedures in the Crown Court and magistrates’ courts to make processes and case management more efficient.

It allows some offenders charged with summary-only, non-imprisonable offences to be convicted and given standard penalties using a new online procedure.

It extends the use of live audio and video links, and ‘virtual’ hearings where no parties are present in the court room but attend by telephone or video conferencing facilities.

It makes provision which will apply across the civil, criminal and tribunal jurisdictions to ensure public participation in proceedings which are heard virtually (by the streaming of hearings), including the creation of new criminal offences to guard against abuse, for example by recording such stramed hearings.

It creates a new online procedure rules committee that will be able to create new online procedure rules in relation to the civil, tribunal and family jurisdictions.

It bans cross-examination of vulnerable witnesses  – in particular those who have been the subject of domestic abuse – in certain family cases.

It confers the power to make procedure rules for employment tribunals and the Employment Appeal Tribunal on the Tribunal Procedure Committee and extends the membership of the Committee to include an employment law practitioner and judge or non-legal member.

 

Part 3 contains measures relating to the organisation and functions of courts and tribunals.

It extends the role of court and tribunal staff authorised to exercise judicial functions giving the relevant procedure rules committees the power to authorise functions in their respective jurisdictions.

It abolishes local justice areas, enabling magistrates to be appointed on a national basis, not just to a specific local justice area.

It replaces statutory declarations with statements of truth in certain traffic and air quality enforcement proceedings.

It makes reforms to the arrangements for the composition of employment tribunals and the Employment Appeal Tribunal.

It enables the High Court to make attachment of earnings orders for the recovery of money due under a judgment debt, as far as practicable, on the same basis as in the County Court.

Part 4 contains measures relating to the judiciary and the Judicial Appointments Commission.

It enables more flexible deployment of judges by enabling them to sit in different jurisdictions.

It brings the arrangements for the remuneration of judges and members of employment tribunals – currently undertaken by the Secretary of State for Employment – under the remit of the Lord Chancellor.

It rationlises the roles of  judges in leadership positions who will support a reformed courts and tribunals system. (This includes provision to abolish the statutory post of Justice Clerk; this role will continue, but those qualified to be Clerks will also be able to undertake analogous work in other court/tribunal contexts.)

It  gives the Judicial Appointments Commission the power to carry out more work (not directly related to judicials appointments) on a cost-recovery basis.

Source, Explanatory Notes to the Prisons and Courts Bill 2017, available at https://www.publications.parliament.uk/pa/bills/cbill/2016-2017/0145/en/17145en02.htm