A New Tribunal System for Wales

The prospect of a single unified tribunal system for Wales has moved closer, with the publication by the Welsh Government of a white paper, entitled ‘A New Tribunal System for Wales’. The white paper provides some much-needed detail about the proposed system which will act as a basis for consultation.

The white paper highlights, among other things the scope of the proposed reforms, the structure of the proposed tribunal system, jurisdictions and the president of Welsh tribunals. This article follows our earlier article Tribunal Reform in Wales: A Stepping Stone?.

Why reform is needed?

The Welsh Government state in the white paper that whilst the tribunal system in Wales provides a commendable service to the people of Wales, the legislative frameworks which underpin it are outdated, inflexible, and lack coherence. It further states that A clearer, simpler, more effective and coherent way of operating Wales’ tribunal system is essential to the cause of delivering justice for the people of Wales.

It is intended that the proposed tribunal reform will come as a preliminary step in the process of devolving justice functions to Wales. The white paper indicates that the unified tribunal system will lay the foundation for a future where justice is increasingly devolved, and Wales administers its own wider system of courts and tribunals.

Summary of the proposed reform

The Welsh Government proposes to create a modern, structurally independent and unified system to absorb the jurisdictions of existing devolved tribunals, and to take on further functions over time. The proposals are to create a single First-tier Tribunal for Wales divided into chambers, and an Appeal Tribunal for Wales. This is intended to enable the tribunal justice system in Wales to better accommodate developments arising from future legislation, creating a structure that is flexible by design and capable of absorbing new jurisdictions with relatively little disruption.

The main proposed elements of the reform agenda, as set out in the white paper, are:

  • a statutory framework for a single, unified and coherent tribunal system organised by type of jurisdiction with clear and consistent onward rights of appeal and capable of accommodating additional jurisdictions over time;
  • statutory duties to uphold the independence of the new tribunal system and greater structural independence for the way in which it is administered;
  • judicial leadership for the new tribunal system under the aegis of the President of Welsh Tribunals and Chamber Presidents and Deputy Presidents;
  • clear and efficient processes for setting procedural rules for the new tribunal system; and
  • consistent arrangements for appointing tribunal members and clear processes including for determining remuneration, deployment and dealing with complaints and/or disciplinary matters.

Proposed structure for Wales’ tribunal system

The unified tribunal system for Wales would comprise two new generic tribunals:

  • the First-tier Tribunal for Wales: the tribunal of first instance organised into chambers based on jurisdiction to assume the jurisdictions of the tribunals that will transfer into the new unified structure and to accommodate and preserve judicial expertise, and
  • the Appeal Tribunal for Wales: the appeal tribunal to hear appeals from the First-tier Tribunal for Wales, also organised into chambers as appropriate as appeal jurisdictions are transferred to it and the volume of appeal work develops. The Appeal Tribunal for Wales will be the first Welsh appellate body in Welsh legal history, and will represent a coherent approach to Wales’ system of devolved tribunals where routes of appeal are an integral part.

Status of Tribunals Wales

The structural independence of Tribunals Wales will be guaranteed by its establishment in statute and the functions, duties and powers conferred on it by that statute. There are two principal statuses of devolved statutory bodies in Wales and Tribunals Wales would be expected to follow one of these models.

  1. The first potential model is that Tribunals Wales could be constituted as a non-ministerial department (“NMD”). This was the model recommended by the Thomas Commission and the Law Commission.
  2. Another potential model is a Welsh Government Sponsored Body (“WGSB”).

The white paper addresses the status of Tribunals Wales and asks ‘Do you think the proposed statutory body should be constituted as a Welsh Government Sponsored Body, as a Non-Ministerial Department, or something else?’.

The President of Welsh Tribunals

The white paper also contains proposals for the president of Welsh Tribunals. It proposes that:

  • the President of Welsh Tribunals should be the presiding judge of the First tier Tribunal for Wales and the Appeal Tribunal for Wales, able to sit as a judge in those tribunals, and
  • the role of President of Welsh Tribunals should be enhanced by conferring new statutory duties and functions on the office.

The white paper paves the way for significant reform and it will be interesting to see how this progresses following consultation.

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