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Political Commentary

9th August 1957, Page 50
9th August 1957
Page 50
Page 50, 9th August 1957 — Political Commentary
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Which of the following most accurately describes the problem?

Tribunal on Tribunals


QUARRELS multiply as life becomes more complicated; and the machinery for settling them has to expand rapidly to keep pace. In 1932, when the Donoughrnore Committee reported on the powers of Ministers, such tribunals as existed were concerned almost entirely with unemployment insurance, and contributory and war pensions The Franks Committee on administrative tribunals and inquiries, who reported to the Lord Chancellor last month, found their terms of reference so extensive that they had to exclude from consideration many types of tribunal, such as wages councils. Ironically, their terms of reference precluded them from discussing the celebrated case of Crichel Down, which was probably the main reason for their appointment

None of the transport organizations found it necessary to give evidence before the Franks Committee. It would be difficult to imagine what grounds they would have had for proposing any serious changes in the present machinery for administering the licensing law. Nor is it likely that their representations would have had much effect. The Committee found nothing much to cause them concern in the field of transport. '

They seem particularly impressed by the Transport Tribunal, and would not wish to apply their general recommendations to that body. The evidence of satisfactory working, say the Committee, "prompts the comment that functions which are administrative and which involve substantial considerations of policy can, nevertheless, be effectively entrusted to a tribunal."

Natural Affinity" The Committee allow themselves a moment of wonder at the three different directions of appeal from decisions of Licensing Authorities. They philosophize about the " natural affinity" that some disputes have for adjudication by a particular process. But their theory breaks down when they notice that appeals on goods vehicle licensing lie to the Transport Tribunal and appeals on passenger. licences to the Minister of Transport, while in cases concerning the licences of drivers and conductors the appeal goes to a magistrates' or sheriff's court.

The Committee see no reason to change the method to suit. their theory. The system of appeals in goods cases accords with their general principle that appeals should lie from a tribunal of first instance to an appellate tribunal, with an appeal to the courts on a point of law thereafter. Very few appeals arise from the licensing of drivers and conductors, and the Committee consider local magistrates the right people to judge the general suitability of the person concerned. The Committee have studied the Thesiger report of five years ago, and find no evidence leading away from the conclusion in that report that appeals in passenger cases should remain with the Minister.

Although their attitude in general is to leave well alone, some of the recommendations of the Franks Committee may affect road transport. They have handled an extraordinarily complex subject with great skill, and may be forgiven for leaving one or two points obscure.

Part of their terms of reference is concerned with appeals and inquiries conducted by or on behalf of a Minister. Evidence the Committee received on this point lfi was almost entirely confined to processes relating to land. The Committee decided also to keep to this subject, but suggest that the broad principles they lay down should be applied to other processes where a Minister is involved.

Strictly• speaking, this ruling would cover appeals on passenger cases, although it is not certain that the Committee had these appeals in mind. If, in fact, they did, their recommendations would have a considerable effect on procedure before, during and after an inquiry, and upon the appointment and functions of inspectors.

The .Minister, the Committee say, should try to make available before •an inquiry a statement of relevant policy. The inquiry should preferably be held in public. The complete text of the inspector's report should accompany the Minister's letter of decision, and the interested parties should be allowed to propose corrections of any facts in the report with which they disagree. The Minister would have to make known any facts obtained after the inquiry, and set out in full his findings, his inferences, and _the reasons for his decision.

Control of Inspectors Another proposal in the report is that inspectors should be under the control of a Minister, possibly the Lord Chancellor, not directly concerned with the cases they have to consider. Inspectors should have power to administer the oath and subprena witnesses.

• Whether or not the Franks Committee wish all these things to apply to passenger appeals is not clear. The one point on which there is no doubt is that, if appeals continue to lie to the Minister, the Committee consider that a further right of appeal should be given to the courts on a point of law. This is, in fact, their firm opinion on all decisions of tribunals. Although they see some merit in concentrating appeals in the Divisional Court, they have no wish to disturb the present arrangement whereby appeals from the Transport Tribunal lie to the Court of Apneal.

Preference for the Old

Had they been asked for an opinion, the Committee would no doubt also have approved the transfer to the Transport Tribunal of the functions of the old Appeal Tribunal, for which many people who have had experience of both retain a preference. Appeals from that body were to the High Court and not the Court of Appeal. The legal flavour was far less noticeable than with the present tribunal. On the whole the Committee would prefer members of a tribunal, and particularly the chairman, to have legal qualifications.

One proposal that would commend itself to many operators is that decisions of a tribunal should be reasoned and as full as possible, and that as soon as possible a written notice of the decision, giving facts and reasons, should he sent to the parties concerned. Less acceptable might be the' suggested power of tribunals to administer the oath and to subpoena witnesses. Operators may feel these points are well looked after: the first by section 9 (4) of the Transport Act, 1953, and the second by the natural reluctance of a haulier to invoke the law so as to compel his customers to come forward on his behalf.

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