Public Administration CommitteeSupplementary written evidence submitted by AJTC (OAJ 10)

Many thanks for your letter of 22 November. I am writing to follow up briefly on a few points which arose during our oral evidence to your Committee.

AJTC Strategic Plan 201013

As promised I enclose the AJTC’s current Strategic Plan, which pre-dates the present government’s ALB review. The section on “Measuring our Effectiveness” referred to at the evidence session is on page 17. We gave a short account of our actual output since the plan was published in our original submission to the inquiry. We had envisaged improving our KPI’s during 2011 but this work was not taken forward in view of our prospective abolition. We have, however, adopted formal project management techniques for all our recent reports to ensure that we deliver the commitments we make.

Impact

You and your colleagues rightly asked questions about our effectiveness in practice. There was not time to give you a comprehensive answer, but I would like to share some further examples with you.

Under the chairmanship of Lord Newton of Braintree, the Council on Tribunals played an absolutely key role in the reform and transformation of the tribunal system, culminating in implementation of the provisions of the Tribunals, Courts and Enforcement Act 2007. Since then the AJTC’s contribution has continued—as the only voice of the user—with the development of both the Tribunals Service and HMCTS, including for example:

participation in the key committees devising and implementing reforms;

publishing a Guide to Drafting Tribunal Rules;

participation in the Tribunal Procedure Committee, which plays a significant role in simplifying and streamlining procedural rules;

membership of the Programme Boards for the Tribunals Service and the Courts & Tribunals Integration Programme;

membership of the Tribunals Presidents’ Group;

observer status at Tribunals Service Board, able to challenge performance data; and

attendance at TS Customer Service Board, advising on customer satisfaction measures after the demise of the annual survey.

On the wider stage, AJTC can point to concrete achievements beyond those mentioned in answer to Questions 6, 8 and 16. In the last couple of years, these have included:

persuading the General Medical Council to develop more robust and independent arrangements for Fitness to Practice cases;

supporting the Traffic Commissioners and the Parking Adjudicator to assert their independence from, respectively, the Department for Transport and local authorities;

convening and chairing the Mental Health Advisory Group, which regularly brings together all the main judicial, professional, medical, advocacy and administrative participants in mental health appeals;

performing a similar role for the War Pensions & Armed Forces Compensation Stakeholder Group;

(via our Scottish Committee) taking a leading role in the development of the Scottish Tribunal Service;

(via our Welsh Committee) persuading the First Minister to create an Administrative Justice Unit to start coordinating fragmented activity; and

hosting a series of conferences and consultative events, enabling administrative justice participants to meet in neutral space.

The Cost of the AJTC

I would also like to clarify the likely actual savings from the abolition of the AJTC as far as I am able. Our allocation was £1,318,000 for 201011 but this is in practice a theoretical figure as our discretion to spend is severely limited by a number of controls – for example on recruitment. The actual cost of the AJTC in 201011 was £1,010,000 and is projected to be £907,000 for 201112. We accept the MoJ estimate that the one-off costs of closure will be around £600,000.

We estimate that the actual saving achieved by abolition over the period ending 31 March 2015, based on current annual expenditure of £907,000 and a realistic view of the legislative timetable, is less than £2 million. MoJ has quoted a savings estimate of £4.3m for this same period. We do not understand how this is calculated, and we question the assumed savings of £1.4 million (rounded up for inflation) for each of the next three years. Moreover, if the “dedicated team” devoted to administrative justice is now to be 12 civil servants, the costs savings (if any) are likely to be substantially less than originally claimed.

HM Courts & Tribunals Service: Benefits to Tribunals

It has been asserted that tribunals will derive considerable benefits from joint administration alongside the courts by HMCTS. We acknowledge that there are some potential benefits, but we believe there are considerable risks too. Under the previous arrangement a dedicated executive agency, the Tribunals Service, was solely responsible for tribunals and the Chief Executive and senior management team were well focussed on the needs of tribunal users. A unified structure is likely to reinforce the Cinderella status of tribunals as the courts have much higher profile and influence. We also believe that merger could lead to a “one size fits all” approach to administration that takes insufficient account of the diversity of jurisdiction types and user needs. We are already seeing evidence for this as criminal court buildings are beginning to be used for tribunal hearings.

Tribunals deal for the most part, although not exclusively, with citizen versus state rather than party and party disputes. They are part of a wider administrative justice system with close links to the process of decision making in Government, local government and other agencies. The remit of the Tribunals Service recognised this and it had begun some valuable early work to explore alternative approaches to dispute resolution and to collaborate with government departments with a view to getting more decisions right first time. We are concerned that this work will not receive the attention it previously did in the Tribunals Service and that the consequential savings will not be achieved.

December 2011

Prepared 7th March 2012