England and Wales are heading towards a single administrative appeals court spurred on by digitisation and the court reform process, according to one of the country’s most senior judges.
Sir Ernest Ryder, Senior President of Tribunals, observed how the court reforms were speeding the move in a speech to the Administrative Law Bar Association entitled Justice in a modern way.
Sir Ernest pointed out that the Tribunals, Courts and Enforcement Act 2007, which gave the Upper Tribunal the same powers and duties of the High Court both generally and in terms of judicial review, accelerated the process of unifying administrative law across the courts and tribunals.
Since then, pilot schemes had helped bring claims that fell under more than one jurisdiction before a single judge, in a single hearing.
“We are moving to single jurisdiction solutions in property, housing, Equality Act and dismissal compensation claims. More will follow,” he said.
He continued: “The ultimate goal is to answer the question whether reform will enable us to move to a single jurisdictional venue both for judicial review and merits-based problem solving: a general administrative appeals court.
“The High Court and Upper Tribunal both have a judicial review jurisdiction. The same judges are hearing judicial review proceedings in both jurisdictions…
“In all but formal structure, we have for judicial review ‘One System, spread over two services’: tribunals and courts.”
Sir Ernest observed that the ongoing £1bn courts modernisation process was an agent for this change.
He said: “As the wider reform programme moves us more closely to the realisation of a single courts and tribunal judiciary, not least by the use of common procedures through the digitisation of process, we move – as part of the evolutionary development of the tribunals – towards the establishment of a single administrative law jurisdiction.
“In the long-term this may see the Upper Tribunal become a superior court in reality and not just in name.”
He said there were at least two possible ways it might be achieved. Firstly, a ‘Victorian option’ could “entail a formal merger of courts and tribunals”.
Secondly, a ‘2007 Act option’ could lead to “consolidation and full transfer of the jurisdiction in the Upper Tribunal”.
The long-term aim, he said, as set out by the Lord Chancellor, Lord Chief Justice and Senior President of Tribunals in autumn 2016, was “the merger of the courts and tribunals judiciary and the creation of one justice system, each with its own specialist ways of working and protections”.