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

Conclusions and recommendations

Role of the AJTC

1.  PASC regards the high level of successful appeals and complaints against decisions by government departments as an indication of widespread administrative failure. Government should aim to produce decisions which are right first time and command a high degree of confidence. The scale of the injustice and the cost to the taxpayer caused by this poor decision-making are wholly unacceptable. We expect the Government to echo this view in their response. We also therefore regard the role of the AJTC as one of vital national importance, overseeing a system that protects the rights of millions of citizens every year. (Paragraph 18)

Proposal to abolish the AJTC

2.  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. (Paragraph 27)

Consequences of abolishing the AJTC

3.  We recommend that the Government provide further information on its proposals for the membership and operation of this group of experts and key stakeholders. (Paragraph 28)

Resources and expertise

4.  Alongside the draft Order to abolish the AJTC, the Ministry of Justice must make available further information about the number, turnover and expertise of the civil servants who would become responsible for taking on the AJTC's functions, and provide verifiable assurances about staffing plans in this area for the foreseeable future. (Paragraph 35)

Independence and oversight of the administrative justice system

5.   We agree that responsibility for the development of government policy in relation to administrative justice properly lies with the MoJ (although we do not share the MoJ's view that this is a function currently duplicated by the AJTC). We also accept that the creation of the new Courts and Tribunals Service means that many of the specific functions of the AJTC, in particular in relation to tribunals, have been taken over by the Tribunals Service. If the AJTC is retained, its functions will need to be reviewed and may need to be revised. (Paragraph 44)

6.  It is clear that there is a fundamental difference of view between the Government and others from whom we have heard on both the need for independent oversight of the administrative justice system, and the extent to which the AJTC has been performing such a function. We accept that this task may be undertaken in more than one way, but consider that oversight by an entity independent from Government is valuable and should be continued in some form. This should be a key consideration in deciding whether or not the AJTC should be abolished. (Paragraph 45)

Cost savings

7.  The Government estimates that abolition of the AJTC could save approximately £4.6 million by 2015, but this assumes that the AJTC would not be required to reduce costs and improve efficiency like other public bodies . We also suspect that the full cost of carrying out these functions within the MoJ has been underestimated. We therefore doubt this estimate. The Government should provide a more detailed estimate, which addresses these points before asking Parliament to approve an abolition Order. (Paragraph 51)

8.  The proposal to abolish the AJTC makes it all the more clear that the Government's priority should be to improve its own decision-making and redress systems. We recommend that the Government set out plans to achieve this improvement. This is an area into which we will inquire in depth during this Parliament. (Paragraph 52)


9.  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. (Paragraph 54)

10.  The MoJ, as a part of Government, cannot replace the AJTC's functions in providing an independent overview of the administrative justice system. If these are functions worth preserving, the Government will need to revisit its plans. (Paragraph 55)

11.  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. (Paragraph 56)

12.  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. (Paragraph 57)

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Prepared 8 March 2012