Here we are in the Rolls Building – a court building. When I began in the law, courts and tribunals sat in different buildings and were very different animals. In recent years they have become much more alike. I should like to ask whether that is such a good thing. And in particular, should tribunals become more like courts or should courts become more like tribunals? Should they even merge into the same system? Or should they remain different?
I go back a long way in tribunals. My very first judicial post in the late 1970s was as a legal presiding member of Mental Health Review Tribunals. I was then an academic lawyer at the University of Manchester. But I was recruited by the Manchester barrister who was then the regional chairman because I had written a textbook on Mental Health Law, based on my experience teaching social workers, who had to operate the law, so I fitted the bill as someone who knew something about the subject. Then from 1980 to 1984 I was a member of the Council on Tribunals. The Council’s role was to strengthen the independence of tribunals and the fairness of their procedures, principally through advising government when changes were underway or new tribunals were being established. We visited and reported back on a wide variety of tribunals, which was great fun. We sat in on tribunal training, which was less fun. The amendments which became the Mental Health Act 1983 were going through at the time and we advised on the procedures for Mental Health Review Tribunals. The National Insurance Local Tribunals and the Supplementary Benefit Appeal Tribunals (having previously been thought so separate that objection was taken to my husband chairing both) were being amalgamated into the Social Security Appeal Tribunals. I can claim credit for the choice of name. I also learned a lot from academic colleagues who sat on tribunals, not only NILTs and SBATs, but also Rent Tribunals, Rent Assessment Committees, Local valuation Tribunals and many more.