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

5  Conclusion

53. Our concern is with the quality and standard of administration within the civil service, and the need to ensure that citizens can access the support, advice and redress to which they are entitled. We wholeheartedly endorse the case, put by both the AJTC and the Parliamentary and Health Service Ombudsman,[59] for Government to get its decisions 'right first time', but this is a goal which is currently missed far too often. When it is missed, robust systems are necessary to ensure that those individuals affected have the opportunity to put things right.

54. The Government acknowledges that its decision to abolish the AJTC should "not reflect on the quality of the work [it] has done"[60] and recognises the need "to retain the best of what the AJTC has to offer".[61] The judgment for the House when the draft Order is laid is not just whether the AJTC should be abolished, but also whether sufficient and appropriate provision has been made for the continued performance of any necessary functions previously carried out by the AJTC. If it is retained or a successor body established, then it will be necessary to review its functions in order to improve its effectiveness. Either way, the Government's objective must be to achieve substantial improvements in both administrative justice and savings in public expenditure. This can only come from reducing the number of administrative decisions wrongly made in the first place.

55. As a government department, the MoJ's thinking and decisions will inevitably be constrained by the need to reflect Government policy and budgetary constraints. The AJTC has provided an independent overview of the administrative justice system from outside these constraints. One key question for the House is whether this independent overview continues to be required. Its characteristics include:

  • ·  A user-centred perspective on the administrative justice system
  • ·  Independent scrutiny and observation of tribunal/inquiry hearings
  • ·  The ability to report publicly, in an independent and fearless way, on issues affecting the administrative justice system, and Government proposals affecting it.

The MoJ, as a part of Government, cannot replace these functions. If these are functions worth preserving, the Government will need to revisit its plans.

56. The MoJ's current interest in the administrative justice system does not cover the full breadth of the AJTC's remit. We have also heard concerns about the MoJ's staffing complement, turnover and expertise. The other key question for the House is whether the MoJ is therefore adequately resourced to provide the policy functions currently carried out by the AJTC, in particular:

·  Provision to Ministers of detailed technical advice by experienced practitioners on the operation of all parts of the administrative justice system, including those which fall outside the MoJ's responsibilities

·  Oversight of the administrative justice system as a whole including ombudsmen, tribunals outside HMCTS, and alternative dispute resolution mechanisms, across England, Wales and Scotland.

57. If the decision is taken to abolish the AJTC, we recommend that, in the interests of continuing transparency, the MoJ report annually to Parliament on the operation of the administrative justice system, including:

·  Details of the resourcing of the Department's administrative justice function

·  Actions taken by Ministers and officials to improve the operation of the system

·  Details of how the views of users of the administrative justice system have been sought and addressed

·  Details of work undertaken with other Departments, devolved administrations and local government, to improve administrative justice for the citizen.

59   Administrative Justice and Tribunals Council Right first time (June 2011) and Parliamentary and Health Service Ombudsman Responsive and Accountable?: The Ombudsman's review of complaint handling by government departments and public bodies 2010-11 (October 2011) Back

60   Ev 37 Back

61   Q 58 Back

previous page contents next page

© Parliamentary copyright 2012
Prepared 8 March 2012