Legislation will make system "more user-friendly and effective", says Scottish Government
A bill designed to simplify Scotland’s tribunal system has been lodged in the Scottish Parliament.
Under the Tribunals Bill, introduced today by Minister for Legal Affairs, Roseanna Cunningham, a two-tier structure is to be rolled out under the judicial leadership of the Lord President of the Court of Session.
A First-tier Tribunal will hear cases in the first instance and an Upper Tribunal will largely be devoted to appeals from the First-tier, though capable of receiving cases in the first instance that are deemed complicated or controversial.
The Additional Support Needs Tribunals for Scotland, the Mental Health Tribunal for Scotland, the Private Rented Housing Panel/Home Owner Housing Panel, the Lands Tribunal for Scotland, and the Scottish Charity Appeals Panel are among the first devolved tribunals expected to see functions transferred in a process likely to commence by the end of 2015.
However, the Law Society of Scotland has raised concerns the new legislation fails adequately to safeguard the continued existence of a specialised Mental Health Tribunal for Scotland and delivery of justice for the most vulnerable within society.
A new office, President of the Scottish Tribunals, will be created to ensure effective disposal of business in the new system in a relationship with the Lord President akin to that of the Sheriffs Principal.
The Bill will also introduce a common system of appointments to tribunals, albeit the distinctiveness of existing tribunals will be protected, ministers say, via a chamber structure organised according to subject matter with separate judicial leadership of each.
“Tribunals are a central part of our justice system, providing access to justice for some of the most vulnerable people in our society,” said Cunningham. “However the current system is overdue for reform – it has developed over a long time in different ways, with differing leadership structures, appointment processes and ways to appeal.”
She added: “By simplifying the tribunals structure and standardising some processes, the Bill will make the system more user-friendly and effective, saving time and resources while retaining the benefits of the current specialised tribunals.”
Convener of the Mental Health and Disability Committee, Adrian D Ward, said: “The Society is supportive of the proposed Scottish Tribunals system and the Scottish Government’s current commitment to a specialised mental health tribunal.
“The Mental Health Tribunal for Scotland has the power to make or prevent significant interventions in highly vulnerable people’s lives. These include the power to detain patients in hospital, to specify where they reside and to give them medical treatment for mental disorder against their will. With such an extensive range of powers over people’s lives, the Society considers it necessary for the Tribunal to retain its existing highly specialised competence, to ensure the best decisions possible are made for the most vulnerable people in Scottish society
“We recommend that the Scottish Government’s commitment to the Tribunal should be reflected in the terms of the Tribunals (Scotland) Bill. The Tribunal’s place within the proposed chamber structure ought to be enshrined in primary legislation which could only be amended by a further Act of the Scottish Parliament. This would ensure full parliamentary and democratic scrutiny of any change to the Tribunal’s status. “