The tribunal judiciary is not only representative of the British population but “arguably the most diverse judiciary in Europe and perhaps beyond”, the Senior President of Tribunals has said.
Sir Ernest Ryder said tribunal office holders as a whole were 50% female and 15% from black, Asian and minority ethnic (BAME) backgrounds. The figure for judges, excluding panel members, is 46% female and 11% BAME.
Sir Ernest said “rapid improvement” in diversity had been achieved by identifying “new talent pools of high-quality candidates from backgrounds that have not previously been well represented in the judiciary, for example academics, in-house lawyers and lawyers from central and local government and public-sector agencies such as the Crown Prosecution Service”.
Introducing his annual report, the president said: “We still have much to do, and I hope that our recruitment policies and the leadership and morale of the tribunals judiciary, which is its hallmark, will continue to be attractive to new applicants.”
Sir Ernest said flexible deployment of tribunal and court judiciaries would be expanded, aimed at “eradicating all remaining differences” in terms of status and conditions of service.
To overcome the “limited opportunities” available for tribunal judges to sit in other courts without obtaining a “separate and parallel appointment”, the past year had seen the first expression of interest (EOI) exercise at the Court of Protection, including tribunal judges.
Meanwhile, another EOI exercise was launched this summer, enabling circuit judges and recorders to sit on the First-tier Tribunal.
“The integration of judiciaries does not and must not dilute the unique nature of tribunals’ justice,” Sir Ernest said.
“It is not my intention that our specialist and innovative process, plain language and investigative ways of working should be changed or converted to a ‘courts model’.
He went on: “There must be no attempt to over-judicialise the tribunals in the sense of importing the very different procedural protections and ways of working of the courts.”
Sir Ernest said there was a “significant opportunity” for the Upper Tribunal, “already the port of call” for the vast majority of immigration and asylum judicial reviews, to be used for other judicial review areas “including appeals that arise in consequence of withdrawal from the European Union”.
Sir Ernest said: “We are presently examining new tribunals jurisdictions across all of our chambers that may arise in consequence of the proposed exit”.
On the court and tribunal modernisation programme, Sir Ernest said that next year he expected to be able to report that all tribunal proceedings were digitally recorded.
The new tribunal system would be based around a “core of reusable components” to deliver a digital bundle of documents; evidence sharing with government agencies and both public and private sector bodies; digital, telephone and video-enabled case management and a “new, front-loaded preparation and process that is digitally recorded with easy to understand rules, directions, guidance and reasons”.
Sir Ernest also promised “fully video (virtual) hearings and continuous online resolution where the credibility and reliability of oral evidence is not the determining issue and in particular where early neutral evaluation of the documentary materials can lead to earlier resolution without the need to attend a court or tribunal building”.