Robert Thomas, School of Law, University of Manchester
A while ago, I published a blog on trends in tribunals. I have now written up a paper that examines and tries to make sense of current developments in UK tribunals and the challenges posed for administrative justice. This paper can be accessed here. It will be of interest to academics and researchers in administrative justice and practitioners working in tribunals.
The paper maps out the general contours of the next likely evolutionary change in tribunals. I’ve been interested in tribunals for some years. It has always seemed to me that they do not attract the degree of attention and scholarly focus that they deserve. Many times more challenges are resolved by way of tribunals than through judicial review. But the tribunals system is fragmented and it is difficult to generalise about tribunals. There are also significant gaps in our knowledge. That’s why the recent report by the Scottish Tribunals and Administrative Justice Advisory Committee (STAJAC) is important.
My paper argues that we are witnessing a gradual shift in the nature of tribunals from an old to a new model of tribunals. The old model of tribunals was based upon dispute resolution whereas the new model incorporates dispute containment and avoidance. There are other major differences created by the following developments: restrictions on legal aid; the move toward internal review as a de facto compulsory step prior to tribunals (or in immigration internal review will largely replace tribunals altogether); the envisaged use of online dispute resolution methods; and a greater focus upon improving initial decision-making.
The paper critically assesses the likely impact of these developments on access to administrative justice. While the overall thrust of recent developments is on restricting access to justice, the possible use of online dispute resolution and getting it right first time could enhance the role of tribunals, but it remains to be seen whether these promised gains are in reality achieved. Online dispute resolution seems to have lots of potential, but will government be able to introduce it effectively? Likewise, for many years, it has been argued that initial decision-makers ought to get it right first time. Nonetheless, a high proportion of appellants succeed before tribunals. The concern is that access to tribunals has been restricted.
I would be grateful for any comments. My email is: Robert.Thomas@manchester.ac.uk