News In Focus
Better support promised for Scottish tribunals service
A new Scottish Tribunals Service is to be established later this year to provide administrative support for five tribunals, ahead of further reforms to administrative justice in Scotland.
The announcement by Justice Secretary Kenny MacAskill has been greeted by Consumer Focus Scotland as "a welcome first step towards making Scotland's tribunals system more efficient and user-friendly".
From 1 December, the Mental Health Tribunal for Scotland, the Additional Support Needs Tribunals, the Private Rented Housing Panel, the Pensions Appeal Tribunal and the Scottish Charities Appeal Panel will be administered by a single service, providing IT and management support and delivering cost savings.
The reforms are the first step in a general reorganisation of the way tribunals operate in Scotland, following recommendations made by Lord Philip and a forthcoming report by the UK Administrative Justice and Tribunals Council.
Mr MacAskill said: "This will save money through more efficient use of staff offices and tribunal venues. It will also improve the service to smaller tribunals, with better IT and financial management systems as well as enhanced administrative support.
"We know this is just the first small step on a big journey. The real prize is for all tribunals in Scotland to form an integral part of the Scottish justice system. This will take several years, but we now have a golden opportunity to make it happen."
Sarah O’Neill, Head of Policy and Solicitor at Consumer Focus Scotland, said: "Tribunals are a crucial part of our justice system, dealing with around 50,000 cases a year. The people of Scotland need a tribunal system that is independent, effective, efficient, and accessible.
“The first report of the Administrative Justice Steering Group in 2008, published by Consumer Focus Scotland, pointed to the divergence of the UK and Scottish tribunals and concluded that the lack of a clear Scottish oversight body for the tribunals system in Scotland led to the danger of citizens missing out on the opportunities of a more integrated system.
“We believe that this change should allow for the development of a more user-friendly approach to tribunals in Scotland and make it easier for people to seek effective resolution of disputes arising from decisions made by public bodies."
She added that it would be vital to ensure in the longer term that the administration and operation of tribunals was fully independent of Government, as recognised by the Administrative Justice Steering Group, to ensure that users could have complete confidence in the system.