Updates on the Tribunal Modernisation Project

Some GMWRAG member organisations may have received a letter from the Ministry of Justice inviting you to subscribe to a mailing list in order to receive updates on the Social Security & Child Support (SSCS) Tribunal Modernisation Project.

For those of you who don’t know what this is… last September the Lord Chancellor, Lord Chief Justice and Senior President of Tribunals published “Transforming Our Justice System” setting out a “… vision for transforming justice through the use of new technologies and innovative approaches to how cases are progressed and decided.

GMWRAG is not clear as to why using technology or alternative dispute resolution is considered as a use of either anything “new” or “innovative” but bear with us. “New” and “innovative” have different meanings in the Ministry of Justice compared to the general population. We’re prepared to suspend disbelief and embrace change as soon as we see them recycling those fax machines and introducing genetically modified judges.

In the meantime brace yourselves for the 14 year old technology of Skype; a further reduction in days available for hearings and video links resembling an episode of Phoenix Nights. “Cuts!” we hear you scream. “Cynics!” we respond (possibly).

The Social Security and Child Support Tribunal are the first of the tribunals to explore the above approaches and it is now proposed to email subscriber updates every 3 to 4 months. This may also involve user involvement.

GMWRAG members will all have had experience of the administration of appeals over the decades and it would not be unreasonable to suspect that not all members have received such a letter. Therefore, if you would like to subscribe to the updates please email SSCS_Tribunal_Proj@hmcts.gsi.gov.uk and ask to be added. We wouldn’t want you to miss out.

URGENT: Dangerous times for social security appeal tribunal users – online consultation now live. Radical change ahoy.

The rather bland title chosen by the Ministry of Justice – “Transforming our courts and tribunals: consultation” – hides some serious issues for all tribunal users. We’ve known these have been brewing for some time but now they’re coming to the boil and it’s important all GMWRAG members are aware of this and respond quickly, clearly and robustly to what appears to be an online only consultation. “Transformation” is of course a word which will strike fear into the hearts of most local authority welfare rights workers and there appears to be no reason to fear it any less in this context.

The MoJ blandly state

“The justice system in England and Wales is internationally revered as one of the finest in the world; our strong and independent judiciary, world-class legal profession and adherence to the rule of law are the basis of a civilized society and strong economy. The Government is investing over £700m in the courts and tribunals and more than £270m in the criminal justice system, a sign of our commitment to building on our strengths and maintaining our international reputation. The world is moving on and our justice system must keep up to meet the changing needs and expectations of everyone who uses our courts and tribunals.

This document outlines what the Ministry of Justice is doing to achieve reform of the justice system, and invites the public and interested stakeholders to give their views on certain specific measures. Where required, we will bring forward legislation in due course.”

This of course begs the question as to what the “changing needs and expectations of everyone who uses our courts and tribunals” might be and how they have been measured thusfar? As a representative, have you been asked? Have any of your appellants been asked? Thought not.

You can find more where that came from and a link to the online survey itself at https://consult.justice.gov.uk/digital-communications/transforming-our-courts-and-tribunals

Note especially the two questions on panel composition, which start from as assumption that single person tribunals are both happening and a good thing! GMWRAG remains to be convinced on both fronts.

  • Do you agree that the SPT should be able to determine panel composition based on the changing needs of people using the tribunal system?
  • 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.

If you want the future to be Skype tribunals and think there’s no downsides to that you may want to look at a thread running on Rightsnet at http://www.rightsnet.org.uk/forums/viewthread/10233. As it has been memorably been described there, getting all the tech. working did not auger well and was like

“… Norman Collier meets the Chuckle Brothers on the Starship Enterprise.”

There’s a long read on this on The Guardian web site which is also well worth a look.

The consultation runs from the 15th of September 2016 to the 27th of October 2016 and the intended audience apparently doesn’t include lay representatives so you’ll need to decide if you’re responding as a “legal professional” or perhaps a “citizen”! 😦