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Administrative justice affects us all- now is the time to give it some more thought

You may never have considered administrative justice, but it affects each one of us- and a large amount of it is devolved in Wales. This means that we have access to specific bodies to seek redress if we’re unhappy about the service we’ve received in a wide range of settings.

Sarah Nason, a Law Lecturer at Bangor University has just published a report which reviews where we are and asks where next for administrative justice in Wales by  bringing together the administrative decisions already devolved to Wales and making recommendations for the future.

She explains: “The first concern of administrative justice is that public bodies take correct decisions in areas that affect people greatly in their daily lives. This includes in health and social care, education, social housing, local government, planning and the environment. Most public body decision-making in these areas is governed by devolved law made by the National Assembly for Wales and Welsh Ministers.

“Administrative justice includes public law and mechanisms for dispute resolution when people are dissatisfied with public body decisions. This could be because they feel the public body has made the wrong decision, or where they accept the decision but still feel that their case had been handled poorly, for example if staff have been rude, paper-work has been lost or decisions repeatedly delayed.

“Administrative justice is described as the ‘Cinderella’ justice system as people don’t generally release that the law, redress mechanisms, advice and advocacy services, and learning from redress to improve public services, actually form a system of justice (like civil or criminal justice).

The report Administrative Justice: Wales’ First Devolved Justice System, just published by Bangor Law School, draws together the views from a workshop hosted by the Counsel General for Wales Jeremy Miles AM and attended by Assembly Members, academics, policy-makers and practitioners. The workshop at the National Assembly for Wales, was funded by Bangor University’s ESRC Impact Acceleration Account.

Recommendations include improving the coherence, accessibility and fairness of law and dispute resolution mechanisms.  The Report recommends that the National Assembly and Welsh Government adopt a clear and principled approach to reform in line with their aims to improve the accessibility of law in Wales, to reform public services and local government, and to reform the devolved Welsh tribunals (these are judicial bodies that hear disputes in areas such as education and mental health). The Report also recommends that the Assembly should take a greater oversight role to ensure that haphazard development of law and redress does not continue in Wales.

Welcoming publication of the Report, Jeremy Miles AM, the Counsel General for Wales said:

“Fundamentally we want our administrative justice system here in Wales to be able to learn from, and eventually lead, the international best practice, take full account of the lessons of practice here to date, and encourage innovation and a strong user focus. I was very pleased to host the workshop in September, which brought together a wide range of experts, academics, Assembly Members and users of services. This collaboration helps encourage debate and stimulate thinking.”

Nick Bennett, The Public Services Ombudsman for Wales, said: “opaque justice is no justice, the author is to be commended for a series of recommendations that bring greater clarity for the citizen.”

Sarah Nason concludes:

“We may think that administrative justice is something remote, but it can actually affect all our daily lives. Through the Report, we hope to raise awareness and begin a conversation about our devolved administrative justice system in Wales. The law around public body decision-making and redress has developed bit by bit, making it sometimes difficult for people to understand what their rights are, and leading to lengthy disputes that are largely funded by tax-payers. Perhaps we are now at a stage to review what we have and create a more easily navigable system”

This research was supported by the Bangor University ESRC Impact Acceleration Account.

Publication date: 13 December 2018