GMWRAG being a little dim.

GMWRAG has always thought the evidence in favour of oral social security hearings was overwhelming, especially when compared to paper hearings. Putting aside the Guardian “discussion”, and a similar piece from our own GM Law Centre check out this paper from UKAJI. At the present time an awful lot of people are showing an interest in the governments proposals for online dispute resolution.

We suggest GMWRAG members start with the Rightsnet thread and then have a read of the above so you are up to speed with what is proposed and the debates around it. This could well shape what a WRO looks like for years to come and so it’s important we all know what’s at stake and all have our say.

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The “Transforming Our Justice System” consultation, which had a closing date of the 27th of October 2016 has been superseded by two separate consultations: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