The Justice Committee today calls on the Government to reconsider its decision to abolish the Administrative Justice and Tribunals Council under the Public Bodies Act 2011.
In its report, the Committee concludes that the Council, a non-departmental public body of the Ministry of Justice, plays a vital role in overseeing the system by which individuals can challenge, question and seek to change decisions made by central and local government which affect them, and in recommending ways to make the system more accessible, fair and efficient.
The administrative justice system deals with around 1 million cases a year, relating to decisions ranging from taxes and benefits to school places.
The Committee Chair, Rt Hon Sir Alan Beith MP, said:
“The Ministry of Justice should withdraw or revise the draft Order currently before Parliament. The Public Bodies Act aims to ensure greater accountability of public functions to Ministers. However, because the administrative justice and tribunal system deals with disputes between the citizen and the executive, moving the process closer to Ministers has serious disadvantages. It is vital that oversight is seen to be independent.
“The Act also aims to increase effectiveness and efficiency, and cut the costs of bureaucracy. We have strong reservations about the capacity of the Ministry of Justice to perform the AJTC’s functions, and question the level of savings that will be achieved, given that the AJTC only costs £700,000 a year and its work will need to be continued in some form. There are also particular problems about how Scotland and Wales would be dealt with in the absence of the AJTC.”
The Committee accepts that there are certain functions of the AJTC, such as those relating to policy development, which can be transferred to the Ministry of Justice without significant detriment to the administrative justice and tribunals system.
It therefore considers that the Government could restrict and refocus the AJTC’s role, so that it concentrates on the accessibility of the administrative justice system following the removal of many areas from the scope of publicly funded legal aid and advice, and the need to reduce dependency on systems of redress by promoting better decision making.
This is the first time a Commons Select Committee has recommended enhanced scrutiny of a draft Order under the Public Bodies Act in order to take evidence and publish a report. Under the terms of the Act, the Government is required to “have regard” to the Committee’s recommendations before considering whether to ask both Houses of Parliament to approve the Order.