The experience of appealing to a first tier appeal tribunal.

Our friends at Rightsnet are reporting that Alex Homer, a reporter for the BBC website in Birmingham, is hoping to speak to someone who has challenged their benefits award at First-tier tribunal. He’s hoping to find out what the experience was like for them and also to find out if there were any common causes of complaint before people reached that far in the process. GMWRAG thinks we know the answer to all those questions. Our members will and we won’t be short of claimants either. It’s unclear whether this request is confined to Birmingham.

His contact details are alex.homer@bbc.co.uk and 0121 567 6299 for those who would be happy to talk to him.

GMWRAG suggests you email as we can see him being overwhelmed by phone calls!

Right hand. Meet left hand! Wring in despair.

HMCTS have recently upped the ante as regards tribunal modernisation and in particular COR (Continuous Online Resolution). By “upped the ante” we do of course mean that they have finally started to engage with the outside world or at least broadcast to them, which is of course as “consulty” as HMCTS tend to get.

For those of you who have no idea what we’re talking about full (ish) details can be found on an excellent thread on Rightsnet. Why are we writing this now then? Very simple.

First of all a consultation has been launched on the Courts and Tribunals (Online Procedure) Bill.

The Public Bill Committee welcomes views from anyone with relevant expertise and experience or a special interest in the Bill (that would be you GMWRAG members) which has three main effects –

  • it confers regulation-making powers on Ministers, subject to the affirmative procedure – appropriate ministers can designate certain types of court or tribunal proceedings as ones which may or must be conducted by electronic means, subject to the Online Procedure Rules (OPRs);
  • it establishes the Online Procedure Rule Committee (OPRC) and defines that body’s powers to make OPRs; and
  • it determines the membership rules and appointments process for the OPRC.

While the deadline for evidence is expected to be 5pm on Thursday 25 July 2019, the Committee highlights that it is no longer able to receive written evidence once it concludes its consideration of the Bill which may be earlier than that deadline.

Having started in the House of Lords, the Bill was debated and read for the second time in the House of Commons yesterday, during which Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Justice Paul Maynard – responding to concerns about ‘digitisation by default’ – stated that –

‘I have said at least twice in the debate already that the alternative methods must be protected at all times. People can seek telephone advice, for example. We are also piloting face-to-face advice in at least 25 areas. At any point, people can opt out of the online procedure, and the paper-based alternative will always be available. Either side in a case can opt out of an online procedure to ensure that it does not occur online.’

GMWRAG members can submit evidence via have your say on the Courts and Tribunals (Online Procedure) Bill.

This brings us neatly to the second aspect of this.

The Infrastructure and Projects Authority annual report 2019 has concluded that successful delivery of the HM Courts and Tribunals Service (HMCTS) Reform Programme is in doubt for the sixth year running. Yes, you really did read that correctly!

The IPA assessed 133 projects included in its GMPP programme this year, including 43 ‘transformation and service delivery projects’, providing each with a ‘Delivery Confidence Assessment’ of green (successful delivery probable) through amber (successful delivery feasible but significant issues exist) to red (successful delivery appears unachievable).

Anyone familiar with the mystery of disappearing online appeals will of course be wondering out loud at this point what realistic chance there is that any of the more complex stuff like COR is ever delivered. On the other hand disappearing online appeals could be described as a fairly efficient way of reducing the backlog which sees people in some areas waiting more than a year for a hearing date.

In relation to the HMCTS Reform Programme, the IPA gives a rating of amber/red – as it has done for the five previous years – defined as –

‘Successful delivery of the project is in doubt, with major risks or issues apparent in a number of key areas. Urgent action is needed to address these problems and/or assess whether resolution is feasible’

NB – data from the Ministry of Justice to support the IPA report advises that –

‘The programme continues to deliver new services to users and has now launched a new service in every jurisdiction. Over 140,000 users have now used these services and the average satisfaction rate remains high, at above 80 per cent. As part of the business case refresh the programme timeline has been extended by one year and will now expect to close in 2023. Learning from the services that we have already delivered and the feedback received, including from the Public Accounts Committee and the National Audit Office, we have decided to re-order aspects of the programme. This will allow more time to develop some of the shared systems that sit behind our next set of online services.’

Elsewhere, the IPA reports that the DWP’s People and Locations Programme has left the GMPP after successfully delivering savings from a ‘rationalised’ DWP estate (although last year’s annual report rated the Programme as amber/red), the Universal Credit Programme is rated amber (as it was last year) and GOV.UK Verify is rated red (compared to an amber rating last year).

GMWRAG rather thinks these things speak for themselves.

NOT a job advert and twice as funny.

GMWRAG was, remarkably, getting a tad bored with posting up job adverts all the time. How quickly we become blasé at the extraordinary! We’ll soon alleviate our boredom by chasing up (well, invoicing) all those organisations who need to pay us for those adverts but in the meantime you can have the same amount of fun we did filling in this exciting “communication survey” from our friends at HMCTS.

The gist of this appears to be that they don’t want to know anything helpful or detailed. Consider it of the ilk of those emails you get every now again from Costa Coffee or Cineworld asking about your experience and which then ignore everything you say when you tell them you nearly died of food poisoning or were hideously over-charged.

It says here that

“Today, HM Courts and Tribunals Service has launched a survey of users and those working within courts and tribunals to inform and improve how it communicates with users. The deadline for completing the survey is the 10th of May 2019.

https://www.gov.uk/government/news/hm-courts-and-tribunals-service-launch-communications-survey

Our guess is that not many “users” who are also claimants will have got this link. Feel free to forward it on.

GMWRAG is sort of expecting to receive a letter back advising us that our response is out of time and asking for us an explanation. You can probably insert your own HMCTS and communication joke at this point.

Her Mightily Confused Tribunals Service. What could possibly be going wrong?

Which address?Here’s a quick follow up from our post announcing the redacted minutes of the first Manchester Tribunal User Group in 18 months. GMWRAG is relieved but utterly bewildered to discover our observation that HMCTS have not sent out minutes to anyone not in attendance may not be accurate. One of our member organisations has now received no less than three copies of said redacted minutes.

So, instead of receiving 7 pages they have received 21. Our member has only ever signed up using individual names and yet all 3 addresses are no longer addressed to those individuals. The 1st and 3rd of the 3 addresses above haven’t existed for 3.5 years. The 2nd is the same address but apparently in Manchester. GMWRAG probably doesn’t need to tell our members the perils of suggesting that any part of Salford is either “in Manchester”; “just Manchester” or “Manchester really”.

More to the point, staff at said service (long located within the Civic Centre in Salford) to the best of our knowledge continue to represent appellants and receive correctly addressed papers from Liverpool on a daily basis.

HMCTS and liaison. What could possibly be going wrong?!

GMWRAG would be very interested to know whether any other members have had similar issues. No TUG minutes at all or an excess? Please let us know.

Tidying up October. The housekeeping email and a short notice invite from PLP.

GMWRAG would like to thank all those involved in the organisation of the recent meeting in Trafford which can officially be designated the best attended in our history. On that basis we’d also like to thank those who attended and participated for the whole day. The minutes of the meeting have already been received and, as anyone who attended could imagine, there is a lot of detail to take in. GMWRAG is conscious that we may have missed some questions to Neil Couling and some answers so before publication of the final minutes we’re asking members to send in any notes you took on the day. So this doesn’t run on for too long please email us at GMWRAG at Hotmail dot co dot UK no later than Friday the 9th of November 2018.

Preparations for the January 2019 meeting in Tameside/central Manchester are at an advanced stage and we’ll publicise those as soon as we can. Rumours that Esther McVey will be in attendance can (largely) be discounted. We’re saving her for Stockport 🙂

In the meantime, could any GMWRAG members who attended the recent Manchester Tribunal User Group meeting please email any notes taken as regards who attended from HMCTS and details of any questions and answers.

This leads us on neatly to a short notice but really important invitation from the Public Law Project.

Previous GMWRAG speaker (and the first person to be streamed live from a GMWRAG meeting) Matthew Ahluwalia would like to invite a GMWRAG member to a presentation, debate and discussion on online courts and tribunals and HMCTS’ digitalisation programme. PLP is organising the event.

PLP will provide some reading material in advance and make a presentation to start the discussion. They will then invite questions, comments and concerns inviting those present to share their views, and discuss their own work that may involve or be affected by the digitalisation programme.

If there are particular issues about online courts and the reform programme you would like discussed, please let them know and we will try to allocate some time on the agenda.

Time, date and location: 2.30pm to 4.30pm, Friday 9th November, at Herbert Smith Freehills, Exchange House, Primrose Street, London EC2A 2EG.

This event will be free of charge. Please note however that there is the offer of just the one place for one GMWRAG member.

Please could you RSVP by 2nd November so that we can confirm numbers with the venue. In order to keep this manageable we suggest you email GMWRAG or DM us via @GMWRAGTweets and we’ll pass on the details of the first contact we have to Matt.

A tug on the heartstrings.

It has come to GMWRAGs attention that the next meeting of the Manchester Tribunal User Group has finally been scheduled for Friday the 26th of October 2018 at 10am. This will be held at Manchester Crown Court Building, Ground Floor, Crown Square off Bridge Street, Manchester M3 3FL. The formal invitation, in case you haven’t received one, can be viewed here. Please note that the 2nd page of the invitation is the means by which you can raise questions in advance.

Such is the infrequency and poor communication around these occasions nowadays that GMWRAG had to have a quick debate about whether it should be catagorised as a meeting or an event! Some of us recall when there were supposed to be 4 TUGs a year and have protested for at least a decade at the reduction to 1 inevitably meaningless meeting per annum. Now it would appear we are down to 1 every 18 months, although that rather assumes that the next 1 will be 18 months away and there appear to be no guarantees on that.

For those of you who need reminding, here is a copy of the minutes of the last meeting and here is a copy of the GMWRAG notes on same. The former took a massive 2 months to produce by which time most of the issues raised had been forgotten. The former took less than 1 day! Granted the former is faster than the speed many statements of reasons and record of proceedings requests are dealt with but it does rather sum up our dilemma with HMCTS Local. On the one hand we would always want to be involved in meaningful liaison. On the other hand it’s inevitable that something which no longer has any recent history of meaningful liaison is now nothing more than a localised broadcast. The less the frequency the more that is true.

This also has to be seen in the context of recent but separate communications from HMCTS belatedly asking WR advisers and their clients to get involved in real world testing of

  • online service design review sessions at your location with clients and /or welfare rights officers, reps, advisors and case workers;
  • Attending workshops to feedback on service design.
  • Identifying appellants who have used the new online ‘Appeal a benefit decision’ service and are willing to provide feedback on it.

What could better sum up the usefulness of our local TUG than the statement in the notes that

“The judiciary already have a forum re: practical issues around digitisation held in the Crown Court. We could feed back into that but TS appeared to welcome the idea of more regular meetings with parties interested in this in order that TS could then feedback issues and suggestions nationally.”

The minutes record that this suggestion would be forwarded “… to the relevant people”. 18 months later and nothing has happened at all in consequence.

Actually, there is 1 thing which could better sum up the current position with HMCTS. The 1st tribunal in 18 months has been listed for a week which is the half term holiday for most schools in the North West of England! GMWRAG would ordinarily be minded to protest but fears that we may never see a TUG in Manchester again were we to do so.

ESA Income Related backdating Appeals; Section 27 – your cases needed.

DWP is applying to strike out appeals against their decisions that backdating of the Income Related element of ESA should be limited to October 2014 in IB to ESA conversion cases.

HM Courts & Tribunals Service hope to deal with these applications en masse.

City of Wolverhampton Council Welfare Rights Service has been told that their case is now the lead case. They have been asked to collate as many examples of DWP applications to strike-out similar cases as possible and forward the details to HMCTS.

If you have a case the DWP is attempting to strike out please forward the appeal reference number to dan.manville@wolverhampton.gov.uk. NAWRA expect case management directions in due course.

These cases should not be struck out at present, as depending on what is decided in an ongoing case R(DS) v SSWP in the Upper Tribunal it may be that there is merit in these appeals. We need to alert the First-tier Tribunal to as many relevant cases as possible and seek to persuade them that the appropriate use of its powers under the Tribunal Procedure Rules is to stay similar cases pending the outcome of R(DS) v SSWP.

Fit for the future: Transforming the court and tribunal estate.

This has been circulating the outer ring roads of the GMWRAG brain for a little while so it’s time to put the car into gear and… well,  we may have overstretched our analogy.

This HMCTS consultation sets out the proposed future strategy for HM Courts & Tribunals Service in its approach to court and tribunal estate reform.

The consultation document sets a number of proposals within the wider context of the modernisation work underway in HMCTS and discusses proposals for evaluating how the estate should change as a result. The consultation is aimed at court and tribunal users, legal professionals and bodies, the judiciary and magistracy and all other individuals with an interest in the court and tribunal estate in England and Wales.

That’ll be GMWRAG members then!

The consultation documents can be found at https://consult.justice.gov.uk/digital-communications/transforming-court-tribunal-estate but for the lazy amongst you (us) we have included them below.

The consultation document itself.

Putting aside the main proposals, this is a useful document in terms of seeing how HMCTS sees itself in the immediate future re: modernisation; video links and virtual hearings; flexible operating hours (yes, you read that right)  and digital service delivery.

The Welsh version.

Because Wales is an independent and powerful state in Black Panther (amongst many other slightly more solid reasons) 🙂

The map of the HMCTS estate by region and country.

The latter is a useful document regardless of the consultation.

The consultation itself appears to be online only at https://consult.justice.gov.uk/digital-communications/transforming-court-tribunal-estate/consultation/intro, which is not great but we’d urge GMWRAG members to complete it asap.

For those of you thinking there’s nothing here for you…

  • the consultation includes a proposed “benchmark” (not even a promise or guarantee) that “…  nearly all users should be able to attend a hearing on time and return within a day, by public transport if necessary?”. What then happens to those who fall short of the benchmark?
  • the consultation includes a change in the way in which travel time is calculated when venues are consolidated closed. GMWRAG strongly feels this lacks detail and the commitment to obtain local knowledge appears half-hearted with no accompanying commitment to talking to local tribunal users for example.

IMPORTANT: The world turned upside down. Twice over.

You may recall GMWRAG expressing serious concern recently about a government consultation titled “Transforming our courts and tribunals.” We wrote about it at length and it’s worth reading again to remind yourselves that this wasn’t just about reducing the number of people who form a tribunal panel. It was also about the end of oral hearings (although it was hidden away in the original document). There’s also lots of the original post which bears repeating about the background to this.

You (well, we) would expect that at the point DWP are putting up such a consultation they would of course have decided what they wanted and know what they were doing. It is bemusing therefore to have to report that one consultation has now become two and has even acquired not one, but two, separate closing dates.

So, those of you (like us) who were busy writing your responses for the 27th of this month may want to take a deep breath and take a look at the following.

The “Transforming Our Justice System” consultation, which had a closing date of the 27th of October 2016 has been superseded by two separate consultations:

Transforming Our Justice System: Assisted Digital Strategy, Online Conviction and Statutory Fixed Fines – This has a closing date of the 10th of November 2016.

Transforming Our Justice System: Panel Composition in Tribunals This has a closing date of the 24th of November 2016.

With no irony whatsoever, this was due to an administrative error where two documents (the Online Convictions/Statutory Fixed Fine Impact Assessment & Equalities Statement, and the Panel Composition Equalities Statement) were not uploaded correctly when the consultation launched on the 15th of September 2016.

So, to summarise!!! Government can mess up an electronic consultation through a simple failure to upload documents correctly and wants to introduce an appeals system involving, amongst other things… uploading of documents!!!

GMWRAG has no words other than to wonder why our members would need further encouragement to respond to both of the above.

The relevant page can be found at https://consult.justice.gov.uk/digital-communications/transforming-our-courts-and-tribunals. It includes seven associated documents. On current evidence we cannot confirm whether you’ll be able to open them 🙂 or whether there’s more to come. However, the links to the two specific consultations can be found at

Responses already written on the basis of the original consultation, or already written and submitted will be accepted and taken into account.

In the meantime if anyone wants to start a petition for there to be a (paper) consultation about whether government is capable enough to hold online consultations…

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