Where they sit and what they do
Tribunals are specialist judicial bodies which decide disputes in a particular area of law. Most tribunal jurisdictions are part of a structure created by the Courts and Enforcement Act 2007.
Tribunals decide a wide range of cases, ranging from workplace disputes between employers and employees to appeals against decisions of government departments (including social security benefits; immigration and asylum; and tax credits). They hear about a million cases each year, more than any other part of the justice system. The geographical jurisdiction of tribunals varies – some extend to Scotland and/or Northern Ireland, as well as England and Wales.
Most tribunal hearings are chaired by legally qualified Tribunal Judges but they often sit with specialist, non-legal, members – for example doctors, accountants, surveyors or those with particular experience of disability or the armed services – depending on the subject matter of the hearing. Tribunal members are not expert witnesses; they provide a practical, specialised view of the facts and evidence before the tribunal. For example, an employment tribunal may include members with an employer and employee perspective.
Tribunal members listen to the evidence in a tribunal and question parties and witnesses where appropriate. Tribunal members take an equal part in the decisions made by their tribunal but are advised on points of law by the legally qualified tribunal judge who chairs the panel and who will also write the decision.
Tribunal members must have experience or background knowledge relevant to the work of the tribunal on which they sit. When tribunals are advertising for new specialist members they set out the eligibility criteria for the post to ensure that candidates have the required range of skills and knowledge.
Tribunal members are almost all appointed on a fee-paid basis and are paid according to the number of sittings or days worked. The number of sitting days specialist members are expected to commit to varies depending on the cases they hear, and will generally be at least 15 days a year. Tribunal members are normally appointed for five years initially and will usually have their appointment renewed for further periods provided that they are still willing to serve and considered to be competent.
Tribunal panel members wear normal business dress, not robes or wigs.