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General election 2015

General Election 2015: focus on administrative justice

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In this blog post, UKAJI’s Margaret Doyle, Andrew Le Sueur and Joanna Dawson take an A-to-Z look at the party manifestos and what they say about administrative justice.

Coverage of the General Election 2015 has been saturated with the big-ticket issues of taxation and spending, deficit reduction, the fairness of austerity and rival ideas about management of the economy. This post leaves those to one side to see what the parties are saying about more specific issues about or related to administrative justice – including the legal framework for government decisions, individual decision-making, how grievances against government are handled, and accountability in the administrative justice system.

Manifestos are political documents, not detailed white papers, so we started with modest expectations as to what we would find. We focus on the principal parties with candidates in Great Britain.

Advice and support

The Liberal Democrats promise a strategy to deliver advice and legal support to help people with everyday problems like debt and social welfare and involving not-for-profit advice agencies. The Greens would ensure access to legal advice for immigrants and asylum seekers. UKIP promise to fund and train 800 advisers to work in food banks to advise people on debt, employment, family breakdown and other problems.

ADR

Only one party mentions alternative dispute resolution (ADR). The Liberal Democrats say they will support the expansion of ADR procedures. Given the vagueness of this statement and the fact that this is likely to occur anyway as part of the EU ADR Directive to be implemented in July 2015 whichever party is in power, this is not very illuminating.

Benefits

The Conservatives are committed to saving a further £12bn from the welfare budget. Specific policies include reducing the household benefit cap from £26,000 to £23,000; freezing working age benefits for two years; replacing jobseeker’s allowance for 18-21 year olds with a time limited ‘youth allowance’; maintenance of current pensioner benefits; and restricting the availability of certain benefits to EU migrants. They would consider reducing benefits for those with treatable conditions who refuse treatment.

Both Labour and the Liberal Democrats would retain the benefits cap. Labour would review universal credit and would make no cuts to tax credits and would guarantee a paid to job to young people who have been out of work for more than a year, or two years for those over 25. Winter fuel payments would be cut for the richest 5% of pensioners and child benefit rises would be capped for two years and ended for those whose children live abroad. Migrants would be unable to claim benefits for at least two years after entering the UK. Labour would also introduce a Home Rule Bill to give Scotland extra powers over tax, welfare and jobs.

The Liberal Democrats would complete the introduction of universal credit. They would withdraw eligibility for the winter fuel allowance from pensioners who pay tax at the higher rate and introduce a 1% cap on working age benefits until the budget is balanced. They would also review sanctions procedures used in Jobcentres.

UKIP would lower the benefit cap but keep housing benefit for 18-25-year-olds, as would the Greens. UKIP would also introduce a five-year restriction on benefits for migrants and stop child benefit being paid to children who don’t live in the UK.

The Greens would increase the budget for Disability Living Allowance / Personal Independence Payments by £1 billion per year and would retain the Independent Living Fund. They would also increase the Carer’s Allowance by 50%. More radically, the Green Party manifesto pledges to scrap most existing benefits, excluding disability benefits and housing benefit, and to pay everyone legally resident in the UK a ‘Basic Income’ – a guaranteed, non-means tested income to cover basic needs.

The SNP would demand “an urgent review of the conditionality and sanctions regime, in order to deliver an overhaul of the current, deeply ineffective arrangements, which impact on some of the most vulnerable in our society”.

For pledges on the bedroom tax, see below under ‘Housing and homelessness’.

Education

The Conservatives promise to turn every ‘failing and coasting ‘ schools into an Academy. The Liberal Democrats promise to implement the Children’s Commissioner’s report ‘They go the extra mile’ on positive alternatives to school exclusions. UKIP would have an independent body investigate complaints about Ofsted inspections and would remove Ofsted’s ‘right to investigate itself’.

EU

The Conservatives promise to continue their policy of renegotiating EU membership, focusing on free movement, and to hold a referendum on membership by the end of 2017.

The Labour manifesto refers to specific EU reforms, including immigration issues, and promises a referendum on membership if there is a further transfer of powers from the UK to the EU.

The Liberal Democrats also promise an in-out referendum if there is a further transfer of powers. UKIP propose a referendum, to be held as soon as possible, followed by a negotiated withdrawal. The Greens favour continued membership of the EU, but would like to see reform and a referendum.

Government

The Conservatives would devolve far-reaching powers over economic development, transport and social care to large cities which choose to have elected mayors; and devolve further planning powers to the Mayor of London. They would also ‘save you time, hassle and money by moving more services online, while actively tackling digital exclusion’.

UKIP pledges to abolish government departments ‘when their essential powers and functions can be merged into other departments’ and reducing the number of ministers. House of Commons Select Committees will conduct confirmation hearings with powers to veto appointment of any new minister, senior civil servant or senior diplomat before they get the job. In local government, UKIP will oppose the ‘cabinet’ system of governance, preferring a committee system, and will ‘undertake a full review of all statutory duties national government places on local government, with a view to reducing the burden on councils’.

Housing and homelessness

The Conservative manifesto makes no mention of either renting or homelessness; the entire focus is on increasing home ownership through, for example, its headline policy to give social housing tenants the right to buy. Labour would guarantee three-year tenancies with a ceiling in excessive rent increases. The Liberal Democrats would review the help single people get under homelessness legislation.

The Greens would introduce a ‘living rent’ tenancy, including five-year fixed tenancies and annual rent increase caps.

UKIP’s manifesto is critical of the lack of clear national statistics on how many people are homeless; they would establish a National Homeless Register to improve access to welfare entitlements and services and place a statutory duty on local authorities to include in their planning and housing strategies a commitment to bringing empty properties back into use and would charge 50% more council tax for homes empty for more than two years. They would build veterans’ hostels.

Labour, the Greens, Plaid Cymru, SNP and UKIP would all abolish the bedroom tax. The Liberal Democrats would reform the bedroom tax to ensure that disabled people who need a spare room are not sanctioned.

Human rights and equality

The Conservatives promise to repeal the Human Rights Act and break the link between the European Court of Human Rights and the British courts. They would introduce a British Bill of Rights.

Labour, the Liberal Democrats, the Greens, Plaid Cymru and SNP support the Human Rights Act and the continuing jurisdiction of the European Court of Human Rights as the final court of appeal for human rights cases. The Liberal Democrats consider rebranding the Human Rights Act as a Bill of Rights to improve awareness and promise to pass a Freedoms Act to protect citizens from excessive state powers.

The SNP would ‘seek to maintain the protections provided by the Equality Act 2010 and will ask the government to engage with key stakeholders on potential improvements’. Moreover ‘Scotland should have the opportunity to establish its own constitutional framework, including human rights, equalities and the place of local government’.

Immigration and asylum

The Conservatives promise that a ‘Deport first, appeal later’ policy for foreign national offenders will be extended to all immigration appeals and judicial reviews, including where a right to family life is invoked – apart from asylum claims. Landlords will be required to check the immigration status of tenants. Every public-sector customer-facing worker must speak fluent English. The Liberal Democrats promise to end indefinite detention for immigration purposes. The Conservatives promise they would ensure that migrants cannot claim benefits until they have been here for four years. For Labour, that period would be two years.

The Greens would review the Nationality, Immigration and Asylum Act 2002 and would reintroduce legal aid to ensure access to legal advice and subsistence. The SNP would introduce what they call a ‘sensible’ immigration policy. UKIP would require new migrants to pay tax and National Insurance for five years before they can access benefits or non-urgent NHS services; a fast-track deportation programme would be put in place to remove convicted foreign criminals and police would be given power to take and retain DNA samples.

Judicial Review

Labour promises to repair the damage done to the vital safeguard offered by judicial review. The Liberal Democrats would review judicial review so that those of modest means can apply for it.

Legal aid

All the manifestos give little space to the issue of legal aid – not surprising, given the focus of the campaign on the economy and the NHS. A recent YouGov poll reported in the Guardian found that more people said that access to justice is a fundamental right than said the same for free health care – but that poll has been criticised for being commissioned by lawyers but also asking the wrong question – it didn’t identify whether access to justice, like health care, should be free.

The Greens and Plaid Cymru promise to reverse the cuts to legal aid, and price this at £700 million per year. The Conservatives say they will continue to review the legal aid system so they can ‘continue to provide access to justice in an efficient way’.

The Liberal Democrats’ manifesto is the only one with a dedicated section on access to justice. They promise to review civil legal aid, judicial review, and court fees to ensure legal aid is available to all who need it, that those of modest means can apply for judicial review, and that court and tribunal fees will not put justice beyond the reach of those who seek it.

Labour’s only reference to legal aid is a promise ‘to widen access to legal aid for victims of domestic violence’. There is a general commitment to make sure access to legal representation is available to those who need it. There is no mention of court fees, but it does say they will reverse the ‘no permission, no payment’ regulations for legal aid for judicial review.

Ombudsmen

Only one party mentions ombudsmen – the Liberal Democrats, who support reforms to the current ombudsman system (see below under Public Services).

Planning and environment

The Conservatives have an eye to proportionate dispute resolution and enforcement, saying ‘Building on our introduction of a five pence charge on single-use plastic bags, we will review the case for higher Fixed Penalty Notices for littering and allow councils to tackle small-scale fly-tipping through Fixed Penalties rather than costly prosecutions’.

The Liberal Democrats promise to create a Community Right of Appeal in cases where planning decisions go against the approved local plan. They would also restrict planning appeals by developers.

UKIP would replace the current National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF) and introduce fresh national planning guidelines that prioritizing brownfield sites. They promise greater localism, including the right through local referendums to stop large-scale developments.

Public services

The privatisation and outsourcing of public services features strongly in the Greens’ manifesto introduction. Specific promises to address this include ending the use of private contractors to carry out fit for work assessments. The Liberal Democrats would review complaints handling process ion pubic services, ‘exploring the options of mirroring the private sector “super complaint” system in the public sector and reforms to the current system of ombudsmen. They would also ensure that prisons and immigration detention are run by public servants rather than commercial organisations.

Road transport

UKIP would restrict use of speed cameras, end toll roads and stop ‘pay-as-you-go’ plans.

Social care

UKIP would introduce a legally binding ‘Dignity Code’ to improve standards of professional care and abolish the annual assessment process for continuing healthcare funding in respect of those suffering from degenerative, terminal illnesses.

Tribunals and court fees

Only a few parties specifically mention the increase in court fees and the introduction of fees in tribunals, and those are mentioned in limited ways. The Greens promise to reduce employment tribunal fees.

Labour will go further in abolishing the employment tribunals fee system ad part of wider reforms. The Liberal Democrats promise to review employment tribunal fees and to reverse recent rises in upfront court fees. Plaid Cymru would review the current level of employment tribunal fees.

Zero hours contracts

The Greens and Labour would end zero-hours contracts. The Liberal Democrats would create a formal right to request a fixed contract. SNP would support tough action to end zero hours contracts, with a time-limited consultation.

Margaret Doyle is senior research officer for the UKAJI project. Joanna Dawson is a researcher; she produces UKAJI’s ‘What’s new in administrative justice’ updates. Andrew Le Sueur is a co-investigator on the UKAJI project; he is Professor of Constitutional Justice at the University of Essex.

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