Ministry of Justice, 'Transforming our justice system' (consultation from 15/9/16 to 27/10/16)
The main proposal relevant to the MHT is an amendment (a) providing that a tribunal panel in the First-tier Tribunal is to consist of a single member unless otherwise determined by the Senior President of Tribunals, and (b) removing the existing requirement to consider the arrangements that were in place before the tribunal transferred into the unified system.
The following three principles and aims are taken from the first, overview chapter. (1) Proportionate: (a) More use of case officers for routine tasks, (b) More decisions made 'on the papers', (c) More virtual hearings, (d) More cases resolved out of court. (2) Accessible: (a) Putting probate applications online, (b) Managing divorce online, (c) Digitising applications for Lasting Powers of Attorney. (3) Just: (a) Provide a system that works for everyone, (b) Continue to ensure open justice. In relation to LPAs, it states: "Allowing people to make arrangements for a time in the future when they may not be able to make decisions by themselves is a helpful but often emotionally stressful process. Applications have been partially digitised since 2014, resulting in fewer application forms being returned because of errors. We will build on this by making the system fully digital to deliver a quicker service."
Chapters 2-5 relate to Criminal, Civil, Family, and Tribunals. The following are the aims in relation to tribunals: (a) Streamlining procedures and encouraging a balanced approach, (b) Digitising the Social Security and Child Support Tribunal, (c) Simplifying panel composition, (d) Reforming employment tribunals. In relation to panel composition it states: "Another factor in taking a balanced, tailored approach to tribunal cases is making sure the panels that make decisions in tribunals are designed to best suit the circumstances of the case. Most tribunals currently reflect historic arrangements that may be out of date and do not tailor the expertise of the panel according to the case. We propose to revise the current arrangements for setting panel composition to make sure that that appropriate expertise is focussed on those cases that need it. We would welcome views on how best to achieve this – more details are available later in Chapter 7.3."
Chapter 6 states that views are invited on three specific elements: (a) Assisted digital facilities, (b) Online conviction and statutory fixed fine, and (c) Panel composition in the tribunals.
The following are extracts from chapter 7.3: "As we streamline the tribunals system, we need to be more tailored and flexible in the way that non legal members are used. Panel composition will remain a matter for the Senior President of Tribunals (SPT), but we want to move away from a blanket approach of using non-legal members regardless of whether their specialist expertise and knowledge is relevant or required. Instead, they should only be part of the panel where their presence is relevant to the case. ... The terms of the First-tier Tribunal and Upper Tribunal (Composition of Tribunal) Order 2008 allow the SPT to set the composition of tribunal panels in the unified system via Practice Statements. ... Some change has already been introduced by way of revised Practice Statements, and has not been shown to have any negative effects on decisions. ... We therefore propose to amend the First-tier Tribunal and Upper Tribunal (Composition of Tribunal) Order 2008 to give the SPT greater freedom to adopt a more proportionate and flexible approach to panel composition, by: (a) Providing that a tribunal panel in the First-tier Tribunal is to consist of a single member unless otherwise determined by the SPT, and (b) Removing the existing requirement to consider the arrangements that were in place before the tribunal transferred into the unified system. ... The use of multiple panel members in the unified tribunals currently costs the taxpayer around £21m per year in fees alone, with daily fees for each member ranging from £200 - £500, plus additional costs for travel and subsistence, training, appraisal and general administration. By using NLMs in a more tailored, flexible way, we can make sure that more people in the tribunals will benefit from their specialist expertise and knowledge, while delivering better value for the taxpayer."
The questions in chapter 7.3 in relation to the last element are: (a) "Question 7: Do you agree that the SPT should be able to determine panel composition based on the changing needs of people using the tribunal system? Please state your reasons." (b) "Question 8: In order to assist the SPT to make sure that appropriate expertise is provided following the proposed reform, which factors do you think should be considered to determine whether multiple specialists are needed to hear individual cases? Please state your reasons and specify the jurisdictions and/or types of case to which these factors refer."
In the consultation document it was proposed to amend the First-tier Tribunal and Upper Tribunal (Composition of Tribunal) Order 2008 to give the Senior President of Tribunals (SPT) "greater freedom to adopt a more proportionate and flexible approach to panel composition", by (a) providing that a tribunal panel in the First-tier Tribunal is to consist of a single member unless otherwise determined by the SPT; and (b) removing the existing requirement to consider the arrangements that were in place before the tribunal transferred into the unified system.
Following the consultation, the government will proceed with proposal (b) as the existing requirement is "an unnecessary restriction to the SPT to base decisions on what is the most appropriate and proportionate approach", but will not proceed with proposal (a) because of concerns arising from "the assumption that this will apply in all cases" (although it appears that this concession is not intended to make any difference in practice). To this end, the Order will be amended so that that "the SPT may provide that a panel should consist of one, two or three members, as required, in order to determine the matters before the tribunal justly and fairly". The consultation response envisages that the SPT will consult with both the tribunal judiciary and wider stakeholders before making any changes to panel composition.
- Ministry of Justice, 'Transforming our justice system: summary of reforms and consultation' (15/9/16)†. Consultation document