Britain has always had a fairly weak system for correcting public administration injustices when compared to many other countries, where there are much more formal systems. More than half a million complaints have to be addressed every year through a myriad of different systems. The only body that has oversight of this lumbering edifice is the Administrative Justice and Tribunals Council (AJTC). The government now intends to abolish it, saving a tiny sum (if anything) and transferring its functions into the Ministry of Justice.
This decision – from a government supposedly committed to increasing “people power” in public services – has been opposed by the Public Administration Select Committee in Parliament in a report issues today – for details see below.
PASC CHALLENGES GOVERNMENT OVER PLANS TO ABOLISH ADMINISTRATIVE JUSTICE AND TRIBUNALS COUNCIL (AJTC)
In a report released today, the Public Administration Select Committee (PASC) has found that there is a “fundamental difference of view” between the Government and others over whether there is a continuing need for the functions performed by the Administrative Justice and Tribunals Council (AJTC). PASC also doubted the level of cost savings that the Government estimates will be achieved by the abolition of the AJTC, and called for Ministers to provide further details to support its estimate.
“Administrative justice” includes the procedures used by public authorities for making decisions in relation to individual people, the law that regulates decision-making, and the systems (such as the various tribunals and ombudsmen) that enable people to challenge these decisions. There are around 650,000 administrative justice hearings each year—more than three times the number of criminal justice hearings—and it is estimated that resolving citizen’s complaints costs central government over £500 million per year.
The functions of the AJTC include keeping the whole administrative system under review and considering ways to make the system accessible, fair and efficient. The Government proposes to abolish the AJTC using powers in the Public Bodies Act 2011, and to give its functions to the Ministry of Justice. It is expected to bring forward the necessary secondary legislation later this year.
The Committee found that the Government’s rationale for winding up the AJTC was questionable, and that the Ministry of Justice may not have either the resources or the expertise to take on its functions. PASC also recommended that the House of Commons Justice Committee take its findings from this inquiry into account when it considers the Government’s proposed legislation.
Bernard Jenkin MP, Chair of the Committee said:
“The AJTC should be part of the machinery to help government get decisions ‘right first time’. Instead, over half a million decisions have to be reviewed each year, at great cost and considerable injustice and inconvenience to citizens. If the AJTC is abolished, what will take its place, and how will Government do better?”
Link to the Report:http://www.publications.parliament.uk/pa/cm201012/cmselect/cmpubadm/1621/1621.pdf
One thought on “The Price of Administrative Justice – too much for our government, apparently”
Since 1958 the Council on Tribunals has had the task of overseeing the work of tribunals that determine appeals against administrative decisions. In a 2007 Act of Parliament, the Council was transformed into the Administrative Justice and Tribunals Council which has a wider-role including that of overseeing the whole of the administrative justice system, which is defined not as just tribunals but also the overall system by which decisions of an administrative or executive nature are made in relation to particular persons, including— (a) the procedures for making such decisions, (b) the law under which such decisions are made, and (c) the systems for resolving disputes and airing grievances in relation to such decisions. However, the Council has long been seen as a largely ineffectual body. It members work on a part-time basis; it is under-resourced (for instance, under the 2007 Act the Council can only recommend topics for research – it can’t commission its own research because it doesn’t have the necessary funds); and its reports don’t make the headlines. To be sure, the Council has recently put much effort into its “right first time” agenda – trying to ensure that government saves public money by getting decisions right first time round rather than requiring dissatisfied people to pursue lengthy and costly appeals to “put it right”. But government itself must take plenty of responsibility here for the AJTC’s low-profile. The Council’s reports are largely overlooked or ignored by government. The basic problem is that “adminitrative justice” just doesn’t have the same degree of recognition in the government’s or the public’s consciousness as either “criminal justice” or “civil justice”. The two largest areas of administrative justice – social security and immigration appeals systems – are not high-profile political issues. Yet, administrative justice handles many more cases per year than both the criminal and civil justice systems put together. Personally, I was surprised at the tone of the PASC’s report partly because Richard Thomas, the AJTC’s chair, come in for some tough questioning by the Committee at the Committee’s evidence session. Perhaps the AJTC’s abolition will provide a good opportunity for MPs to remind themselves of a few basic important things: (1) why administrative justice is such an important part of the legal system; (2) why Parliament expanded the role of the Council in the 2007 Act; and (3) why it is important to have an independent oversight body to provide advice government and to promote the idea of “right first time”.