Future oversight of administrative justice: the proposed abolition of the Adminstrative Justice and Tribunals Council - Public Administration Committee Contents

3  Proposal to abolish the AJTC

19. The Public Bodies Act 2011 received Royal Assent on 14 December 2011. It contains provisions giving the Government the power to abolish, merge or change the functions of certain public bodies by secondary legislation. The AJTC is listed in Schedule 1 to the Act as a body which Ministers may, by Order, abolish.

20. In preparing the lists of bodies to be included in the Schedules to the Act, the Government carried out an extensive review of existing public bodies, "underpinned by the principle that it is up to departments to carry out policy, and this should not be duplicated elsewhere".[18] As the Minister has explained:

    In reviewing the Ministry of Justice's public bodies, we looked at the functions those bodies undertook, whether the functions needed to continue and if so, who should carry them out. […] As part of that review three tests were applied to each body to assess whether it, as a public body, remain[ed] the right delivery mechanism:
  • ·  Is the body needed in order to perform a technical function?
  • ·  Does the body need to be politically impartial?
  • ·  Is the body needed to act independently in order to establish facts?

    The AJTC did not meet any of the tests. Administrative justice policy is the function of the Ministry of Justice, and the oversight and development of administrative justice should stay with the Department.[19]

21. As required by the Act, the MoJ ran a 12-week public consultation on the future of the public bodies it sponsors, including the proposal to abolish the AJTC. The public consultation closed on October 11 2011, and the Government published its response on 15 December. The Ministry received 41 responses in relation to the AJTC.

22. A majority of the respondents, including the Parliamentary and Health Service Ombudsman, opposed the abolition. Responses drew particular attention to the AJTC's strength as "an independent organisation that exercises a UK wide overview of the administrative justice system", its role as a forum for bringing together disparate parts of the administrative justice system, and its function of representing the interests of users of the system.[20] A majority were also concerned that functions of the AJTC could not be adequately covered by the Ministry.

23. Four responses were "not opposed" to the abolition, of which one actively supported the proposal as a "logical step" after the formation of the combined Courts and Tribunals Service.[21]

24. The Scottish Government was content with the proposed abolition. The Welsh Government (which is currently engaged in a programme of tribunal reforms) expressed a preference for "for the AJTC to continue, in respect of the functions it exercises in Wales, until such time its programme of tribunal reform is at a sufficiently advanced stage".[22]

25. The MoJ disagreed with the concerns expressed by respondents to its consultation, and has decided to proceed with the abolition of the AJTC, stating:

    The AJTC is an advisory body whose functions are either no longer required or - in the case of its policy functions - are more properly performed by Government itself … The AJTC's functions are no longer required due to the establishment of a unified tribunal system within HMCTS [Her Majesty's Courts and Tribunals Service] which is committed to providing timely and effective access to justice to users. The department itself is capable of providing the required oversight of the administrative justice system and its officials can provide Ministers with the impartial, balanced, objective and expert advice necessary to develop effective policy in this area.[23]

    The Government remains committed to abolishing the AJTC by an order under the Public Bodies Bill. It believes that an advisory body is no longer required in the field of administrative justice as robust governance and oversight arrangements [are] now in place with regard to tribunals and the development of administrative justice policy is properly a function of Government [...] The abolition of the AJTC will have no direct impact on judicial independence or judicial decision-making; the AJTC is not a tribunal or any other form of judicial body. Nor does it have any inspectorate functions.

    The Government is committed to ensuring that it exercises effective oversight of the administrative justice system in a way that best serves users. It will seek to develop, maintain and enhance a UK perspective of the system as well as enhancing its links with stakeholders. The Government will ensure that there are channels by which best practice can be shared and collaborative working developed.[24

26. We understand that the Government intends to lay the draft Order abolishing the AJTC before Parliament in Spring 2012.[25] It is expected to come into force in Summer 2012.[26]

27. The Government has argued that the AJTC fails to meet its three criteria for deciding whether to retain a public body. But it could be, and has been, argued that the AJTC in fact meets all three of them: that it is "needed in order to perform a technical function"; that it benefits from being "politically impartial"; and that it is "needed to act independently in order to establish facts" about the administrative justice system.

18   Ev 36 Back

19   Ibid. Back

20   Response to consultation on reforms proposed in the Public Bodies Bill, Ministry of Justice, December 2011, page 10 Back

21   As above, page 11 Back

22   Response to consultation on reforms proposed in the Public Bodies Bill, Ministry of Justice, December 2011, page 1 Back

23   As above, page 15 Back

24   As above, page 18 Back

25   HC Deb 10 October 2011 c155W Back

26   Ev 32 Back

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Prepared 8 March 2012