On September 15 the Ministry of Justice published a statement jointly with The Lord Chancellor, Lord Chief Justice, and the Senior President of Tribunals setting out their shared vision for the future of Her Majesty’s Courts & Tribunal Service. It also issued a consultation paper outlining what the Ministry of Justice is doing to achieve reform of the justice system and inviting the public and interested stakeholders to give their views on certain specific measures.

Two of the proposals in particular raise specific concerns for vulnerable clients: the proposals for increased assisted digital facilities and the proposed changes in panel composition for mental health tribunals.

The paper recognises that not everyone will be able to engage with digitised processes, and sets out proposals to support people who need it to interact with the new system namely:

  • Face-to-face assistance – for example, aiding completion of an online form and proposes that his type of service may be supplied by a third party organisations in some cases.
  • A telephone help service offering similar advice, which the government would expect to be staffed by Her Majesty’s Court and Tribunal System (HMCTS).
  • Web chat to guide people through online processes.
  • Access to paper channels for those who require it

Consultees are asked for their view on whether these proposals are the right ones to enable people to interact with HMCTS in a meaningful and effective manner

The government has returned again to its proposals to fully digitise applications for Lasting Powers of Attorney. Applications have been partially digitised since 2014, which the government states has resulted in fewer application forms being returned because of errors. The proposal to digitise lasting powers of attorney was strongly resisted by the legal profession when first proposed in July 2012.

The government also proposes to amend the First-tier Tribunal and Upper Tribunal (Composition of Tribunal) Order 2008 to give the Senior President of Tribunals (STP) greater freedom to adopt a ‘more proportionate and flexible approach’ to panel composition, by:

  • Providing that a tribunal panel in the First-tier Tribunal is to consist of a single member unless otherwise determined by the SPT; and
  • Removing the existing requirement to consider the arrangements that were in place before the tribunal transferred into the unified system.

Currently a decision that disposes of proceedings or determines a preliminary issue made at, or following, a hearing at a Mental Health Tribunal must be made by a judge sitting with another member who is a registered medical practitioner, and one other member who has substantial experience of health or social care matters.

The paper proposes that where specialist expertise or knowledge is required, it will still   be provided but the SPT will be able to consider more flexible allocation of the specialist resource provided by non-legal members. For example, the paper suggest, they could be used as a pool of specialist experts who could be deployed across various Chambers and jurisdictions who would benefit from their expertise, answering specific queries from judges or helping people work through the process by sharing their skills and knowledge.

Consultees are asked for their views on which factors should be considered by the SPT to determine whether multiple specialist are  needed to hear individual cases and requests that consultees state their reasons and specify the jurisdictions and/or types of cases to which these factors refer.

The consultation closes at 11.45 p.m. on the 27 October 2016. Responses should be made online at: https://consult.justice.gov.uk.