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Ford launches proposals to reform the tribunal system

Justice Minister David Ford has signalled his intention to make the tribunal system more accessible, efficient and independent under new proposals.
Friday, 25 January 2013

My proposals will support the earlier resolution of disputes and, where this is not possible, will provide a tribunal system which is simple and accessible for users.

Minister of Justice David Ford MLA,Northern Ireland Department of Justice

Speaking at a conference on Tribunal Reform, hosted by the Law Centre (Northern Ireland) and University of Ulster and co-sponsored by the Department of Justice, David Ford proposed the merger of the majority of tribunals into one new integrated structure and to enhance their independence under the leadership of the Lord Chief Justice. The proposals are outlined in the consultation document ‘Future Administration and Structure of Tribunals in Northern Ireland’.

The Minister acknowledged that the current tribunal system in Northern Ireland is fragmented and complicated and, as it deals with cases often involving the most vulnerable in society, must be effective, efficient, accessible and independent.

He said: “Tribunals are a key part of the civil justice system. They deal with a wide range of disputes, mostly between individuals and the State, and offer important protections against unfair treatment. The tribunals operated by my Department deal with approximately 16,000 cases a year, often involving the most vulnerable people in our society.”

“The current tribunal system in Northern Ireland is, however, fragmented and complicated and for many individuals, tribunals are their only contact with the justice system. It is essential, therefore, that they are effective, efficient, accessible and independent.”

“Devolution of justice has provided us with an opportunity to address many of these concerns.  Shortly after taking office, I launched my vision for reshaping Northern Ireland’s justice system. The reform of tribunals forms an important part of that vision.”

“My proposals will support the earlier resolution of disputes and, where this is not possible, will provide a tribunal system which is simple and accessible for users.”  

Mr Ford also took the opportunity to commend the many groups and individuals that have shown a personal commitment to the improvement of tribunal users’ experience over the years.

He said: “The advice sector has consistently provided important support for users and the Law Centre, along with the two local universities, has supported important research work in respect of tribunals – including the benefits of reform. This work has proved invaluable to my officials when developing proposals for the reform of our tribunals.”

“I would, therefore, encourage all those who have an interest in reshaping the tribunal system to respond to this consultation.”

The consultation will run for 12 weeks until Friday 19 April 2013.

Notes to Editors

  • Tribunals in Northern Ireland provide a mechanism for resolving disputes for individuals aggrieved by the decision of a Government Department or Agency but they are also used to resolve disagreement between private parties, such as landlords and tenants or employees and employers.
  • The Department of Justice currently has statutory responsibility for 11 tribunals and administers an additional four tribunals.
  • Proposals include;
    • First instance tribunals should be merged into an integrated structure with common practices and procedures;
    • The new Tribunal should have the power to review its own decisions;
    • The Tribunal should have an obligation, where appropriate, to draw the availability of any alternative dispute resolution mechanisms to the attention of the parties and facilitate their use;
    • The Lord Chief Justice will be designated as the head of tribunal judiciary.
  • Responses can be submitted using the questionnaire provided, or other preferred format by email, fax or letter to:
Department of Justice
Civil Justice Policy and Legislation Division

Access to Justice Directorate
Massey House
Stormont Estate

Tel:028 9016 9612

Textphone:  028 9052 7668