Professor Gavin Drewry once summed up the history of the tribunals in three phases. First, they were the ‘enemies of the rule of law’; criticised as an aspect of what Lord Hewart CJ termed the ‘new despotism’ (which, for the avoidance of doubt, was a constitutionally subversive separate system of administrative law in the United Kingdom that according to Dicey posed a threat to the rule of law). Then they were ‘useful but rather marginal entities, floating around in no man’s land somewhere between the judicial and the administrative systems’. Damned with faint praise. Finally, they were ‘becoming fully-fledged, professionally accredited bodies set in the mainstream of a modernised and better integrated system of administrative justice’. The final transformation was a consequence of the Leggatt Review in 2001, which produced the Tribunals, Courts and Enforcement 2007 and the Upper and First-tier Tribunals.
The 2007 Act was not of course the end-point. It marked a staging post in the tribunals’ transformation which is being driven on the one hand by the £1Bn courts and tribunals modernisation programme and on the other by an ambitious internal leadership programme that aims to deliver one judiciary, one system and quality outcomes. Where might these changes take us both from the tribunals’ perspective and from that of administrative law?