Report on the Administrative Justice Council Academic Panel’s Pop-up event, 12 February 2019
By Margaret Doyle
Administrative justice met The Apprentice at a pop-up event organised by the Academic Panel of the Administrative Justice Council earlier this month. At what was badged a ‘speed-dating’ event for researchers, representatives of organisations interested in research pitched ideas and offered access to data to an audience of academic researchers. Over lunch, participants had a chance to network and have one-to-one conversations.
Cris Coxon, Principal Analyst, Access to Justice Analytical Services from the Ministry of Justice (MoJ), explained that the department wants to be more innovative and is interested in improving data as part of the justice reforms. He recommended that participants read the MoJ’s Areas of Research Interest document, which was published last year and sets out in more detail the particular areas the department would like to develop with researchers. He also noted that the stage 1 of the LASPO review was accompanied by a Legal Support Strategy, which has a strong research element offering opportunities for researchers.
Kate Eisenstein, Assistant Director of Insight and Public Affairs at the Parliamentary and Health Services Ombudsman (PHSO), described the ombud’s interest in assessing its impact on improving frontline decision-making. There are a number of tools the PHSO has developed, including a good practice framework in the health sector, and the ombud is willing to make these available to researchers and to provide access to data. In particular, the PHSO is interested in a literature and practice review on models and powers of Complaint Standards Authority – how it is structured, how it is used, what works well. This is a power the PHSO does not yet have but has argued for including in the public services ombud reform.
Judge John Aitken, Social Entitlement Chamber President, discussed what he considers to be the ‘holy grail’ of administrative justice reform – continuous online hearings, currently being piloted in the Traffic Penalty Tribunal and Social Security Tribunal. He believes this is a quicker and less expensive inquisitorial process that provides better feedback to departments on improving decision-making behaviour. It should have been rolled out years ago, but it hasn’t been. He would like to see research on this process in order to obtain evidence to support its wider use in the tribunals system.
Luc Altmann, Deputy Head of Insight of HMCTS, discussed the user experience survey carried out last year and the dataset of 1,000 court and tribunal users that will be available to researchers over the next 6-9 months. This has rich insights, including socioeconomic status, and although initially it will be published at aggregate level, it may be possible to publish data at case level. Also, digital data arising from the online process as part of the reform, such as the SSCS online hearings, will be available. He will also share the evaluation plan of the randomised trial of the continuous online hearings.
Diane Sechi, pro-bono lawyer at Simmons & Simmons, discussed her concerns about digital exclusion of vulnerable clients with challenges to decisions on PIP, ESA and Universal Credit benefits. She is conducting a survey of frontline advice agencies to determine their ability to cope with assisting clients with digital processes. She would like help from researchers on analysing the survey findings.
Joe Tomlinson of King’s College London and the Public Law Project (PLP) described PLP’s multidisciplinary research team and the five priority areas it is focusing on: Brexit and administrative justice, benefit sanctions, online courts and tribunals, legal aid, and access to judicial review. Among the projects currently being undertaken are work on automated processes in Brexit-related decision-making, mapping court closures, and the role of evidence in judicial review.
Lindsey Poole, Director of Advice Services Alliance, noted how little research has been done on the role of the advice sector. The priorities of the Advice Panel of the Administrative Justice council are tribunals and access to representation, lesson learning, assisted digital and access to specialist early legal advice. The advice sector is interested to understand the impact of advice – what it is advisers do, and how to do it more effectively. Advisers also need to understand better how to use evidence more effectively. Lyndsey offered to help with contacts and introductions for researchers wanting to work with advice agencies.
Discussion and comment
In discussion, the question of timescales was raised – how much of the research is short term and how much long term, and how to reflect the fact that academics (and funders) tend to work more in the long term, which can make it difficult to have policy impact. It was also suggested that research priorities were set out in the Research Roadmap of the UK Administrative Justice Institute (UKAJI), published last year after a year-long consultation with a range of stakeholders in administrative justice across the UK. There is a risk that research will focus on what organisations or government want done, what data are available, or what funders are interested in, rather than on a consensus view of what is needed in the way of administrative justice research.
Both Ministry of Justice and HMCTS are interested in working collaboratively with researchers and to have input on what data should be collected in evaluation work. It is noteworthy, however, that the event did not reflect developments in administrative justice in devolved nations, particularly in Scotland and Wales, where there appears to be an appetite for embedding human rights principles into administrative justice (see, for example, Sarah Nason, ‘Administrative justice can make countries fairer and more equal – if it is implemented properly’, The Conversation, 13 Dec 2018). Future pop-up events could usefully take a broader view of administrative justice in devolved nations and also expand the range of government departments involved, such as those involved in education, housing and health, as well as local authorities, which are important data holders and are increasingly the place where administrative justice happens every day.
More details of the Administrative Justice Council are available at https://ajc-justice.co.uk.
About the author:
Margaret Doyle is a Visiting Research Fellow at the University of Essex School of Law and a member of the Academic Panel of the Administrative Justice Council.