Introduction to Tribunals

There are many tribunals, covering a wide range of areas affecting day-to-day life.

Some of the individual jurisdictions dealt with by tribunals are UK-wide, e.g., immigration and asylum, and others cover parts of the UK, e.g., mental health covers England only.

Some tribunals are administered through local authorities (for example, the School Exclusion Panels), some by government departments (e.g., Valuation Tribunals) and others through His Majesty’s Courts and Tribunals Service (HMCTS), an agency of the Ministry of Justice.

HMCTS administers a two-tier tribunal system: a First-tier Tribunal and an Upper Tribunal, both of which are split into Chambers. Each Chamber comprises similar jurisdictions or bring together similar types of experts to hear appeals.

The Upper Tribunal primarily, but not exclusively, reviews and decides appeals arising from the First-tier Tribunal. Like the High Court, it is a superior court of record. As well having the existing specialist judges of the senior tribunals judiciary at its disposal, it can also call on the services of High Court Judges.

The First-tier Tribunal hears appeals from citizens against decisions made by Government departments or agencies although proceedings in the Property Chamber are on a party -v- party basis, as are proceedings in the Employment Tribunals. The Employment Tribunals are the judicial bodies responsible for workplace justice, being the main forum for deciding disputes between workers and employers. They are not part of the two-tier structure. There is one jurisdiction for England and Wales and another for Scotland. Both are under the leadership of the Senior President of Tribunals. Employment Tribunals are composed of a judge sitting alone or, in certain types of case, as a judge and two non legal members. Their powers (depending on the jurisdiction in question) include awarding compensation, ordering re-employment, and making recommendations in discrimination cases.

This two-tier structure is headed by the Senior President, who stands independent from the Lord Chief Justice.

Tribunals often sit as a panel, incorporating a legally qualified Tribunal Judge as well as panel members with specific areas of expertise. They hear evidence from witnesses but decide the case themselves. Some tribunals have limited powers (depending on the jurisdiction of the case) to impose fines and penalties or to award compensation and costs. Other types of tribunal decisions might result in the allowance or disallowance of a benefit, leave or refusal to stay in the UK, or the extent of provision of special educational help for school-age children.

Many cases involve individuals putting their own case, without legal assistance, so the system needs to be accessible to all. Tribunal Judges often help to ensure this, by guiding non-legally qualified parties through the necessary procedures, if necessary.

Tribunal / Chamber president

A Tribunal or Chamber President is responsible for the day-to-day judicial administration of their tribunal or (within the new simplified two-tier structure) their Chamber. They act as a vital link between the Senior President of Tribunals, the judicial officers of their tribunal, and the senior judiciary outside the Tribunals Service.

Tribunal Judges

Tribunal Judges are legally qualified and responsible for ensuring the individual tribunal hearings they chair make the correct decision in law.

Tribunal Members

Tribunal Members are the specialist non-legal members of the panel hearing the case. Not every panel includes non-legal members.