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Courts, Events, Judicial review, Judiciary, Ombuds and reviewers, Tribunals

Half a Century of Administrative Justice

The Right Honourable Sir Jeremy Sullivan, former Senior President of Tribunals

On 26 November 2015, Sir Jeremy Sullivan delivered a lecture hosted by the University of Essex School of Law, Clifford Chance and the UK Administrative Justice Institute. The event was tweeted using the hashtag #adminjustice50, and a recording of the speech is available


FullSizeRender.jpgNoting that 50 years ago tribunals were not regarded as part of the legal system, Sir Jeremy described the ‘tsunami’-like growth of administrative law in the space of one generation. The principal theme of the lecture was to argue, as a devil’s advocate, that while the development and expansion of administrative law is applauded as being one of the greatest achievements of the judiciary over the past half century, it is now necessary to question whether the influence of lawyers has become too great and whether law extends too far into areas of administrative wrongdoing that are better dealt with by institutions other than the courts. As in health care, where some have argued there has been too much ‘medicalisation’, has there been too much ‘lawyerisation’ of administrative decision-making? ‘There is now’, he said, ‘no administrative nook or cranny that is safe from administrative lawyers.’

Sir Jeremy argued, for example, that principles of legality applied in judicial review proceedings now extend to administrative wrongdoing – or maladministration – in a way unheard of 50 years ago. Challenges of maladministration should be handled not by the courts but by ombudsman schemes, which have the expertise and procedural flexibility, including the ability to use investigative procedures to get to the root of the problem and to provide proportionate redress to those affected. Tribunals also offer a more expert forum than does the Administrative Court for resolving many disputes involving public bodies.

‘Fairness’ has eclipsed natural justice, he said, and has become the golden thread now running through administrative law. Is our present adversarial process the best way of deciding what is ‘fair’ in public law? Urging increased use of inquisitorial approach (while noting that such a call might ‘frighten the horses’), he called for more active case management and more use of the tribunal’s expertise.

Sir Jeremy renewed the call for taking a holistic approach to administrative justice, which recognises that new forms of redress, including use of online dispute resolution, offer opportunities for achieving administrative justice that could not have been anticipated a half a century ago.

The full recording of the lecture is available here.



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