Monday, October 06, 2008

Tribunal system which lacks independence from Government and legal establishment must be overhauled

The Tribunal system in Scotland must be overhauled because it is too complex, and laughably, not independent enough of Government.

We here at SLC might add to that lack of independence in suggesting the Tribunal system is not independent enough of the legal profession either …

The Herald reports :

Overhaul of ‘too-complex’ tribunal set-up urged

CHRIS WATT October 06 2008

A major reform of a key part of the Scottish legal system is expected after a report criticised the current framework as being "too complex and fragmented".

Concerns have been raised that the tribunal system was not independent enough of government, and that the current set-up was failing Scots.

The study, carried out by consumer body the Administrative Justice Steering Group (AJSG), calls for an overhaul of the tribunal system - a means by which people can appeal against decisions of the government - amid fears that the present framework is too open to political influence.

It stated: "There is a clear argument that many Scottish tribunals are not sufficiently independent of the Scottish Government."

The report warns that unless ministers step back from appointing members of tribunals, the rights of citizens to enjoy a fair and independent hearing may be compromised.

Lord Philip, the Scottish judge who chaired the AJSG, was concerned that people were in danger because of the lack of a coherent, integrated system in Scotland. He said that the discrepancy between pre and post-devolution bodies was a problem for users of the legal system.

He said: "We have become concerned that the principle that tribunals should be independent and impartial and their services delivered by an independent and skilled judiciary cannot be seen to have been met while the Scottish Government appoints people to tribunals and, often, pays directly for their administration.

"Tribunals often deal with appeals against the decisions of government and, as such, should not allow themselves to be open to the perception of being anything other then independent of government."

The report was welcomed by the Scottish Government, which said it would take the findings into account. Fergus Ewing, Minister for Community Safety, said he would act on the recommendations.

He said: "I welcome this report, which is a very useful contribution to the work considering the future administration of tribunals in Scotland announced by the First Minister at the start of this year. The distinctiveness of the Scottish legal system means that it makes much more sense for all these bodies to be administered in the future from within Scotland, rather than from London."

Alistair McLeary, chair of the Scottish Committee of the Administrative Justice and Tribunal Council, said: "Reform of the system in Scotland is necessary, at least to secure the independence and impartiality of tribunals, and should lead to greater clarity and efficiency with consequential benefits to users of our administrative justice system."

More than half of the tribunals in Scotland deal with matters reserved to Westminster, such as the Asylum and Immigration Tribunal, but there are also a number of Scottish tribunals, such as the Lands Tribunal for Scotland and the Children's Hearings, which existed before devolution.

These mainly deal with devolved issues and the Scottish Government has responsibility for these, with members of most Scottish tribunals appointed by Holyrood ministers.

In addition, three tribunals have been set up since devolution - the Additional Support Needs Tribunals for Scotland, the Mental Health Tribunal for Scotland and the Scottish Charities Appeals Panel.

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