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The status and range of tribunals

The system of courts in the United Kingdom is supplemented by asubstantial number of tribunals, set up by Acts of Parliament. They are described in the guidance given to government departments as: " those bodies whose functions, like those of courts of law, are essentially judicial. Independently of the Executive, they decide the rights and obligations of private citizens towards each other and towards a government department or public authority."


Report of Council on Tribunals

The growth in the number and importance of tribunals is closely related to the development of an increasingly active welfare state with legislation covering areas previously considered private. Some examples are:

§ Social Security Appeal Tribunal

§ Employment Tribunal

§ Mental Health Review Tribunal

§ Immigration Appeal Tribunal

§ Lands Tribunal


Some tribunals have a significant effect in the areas of law involved. However, they are nonetheless inferior to the courts and their decisions are subject to judicial review – examination by a higher court of the decision making process in a lower court.

Composition of tribunals and procedure

A tribunal consists of three members. The chairperson is normally the only legally qualified member. The other two are lay representatives who usually have special expertise in the area governed by the tribunal, gained from practical experience. The tribunal will also have all the usual administrative support enjoyed by a court: hearing clerks, who are responsible for administering procedures, clerical staff, and hearing accommodation.

The intention of tribunals was to provide a less formal proceeding in which claimants could lodge claims and respondents defend claims, and ultimately resolve their disputes without the need for legal representation. However, procedures have become more complicated and cases brought before tribunals are often presented by solicitors and barristers. For example, a case of unfair dismissal - where an employer appears to not be acting in a reasonable way in removing an employee - could be brought to an Employment Tribunal.

Procedure at that Tribunal may include a stage where a government agency tries to broker a settlement so that a claim may be withdrawn. The costs of the hearing are borne by the public purse, which is, paid from tax revenue, but legal representation is at the cost of each party.

Witness statements are normally exchanged before the hearing and at the hearing both parties may question witnesses and address the Tribunal. The Tribunal can refer to decisions of higher courts before making its decision in a specific case.


Complete this letter which a lawyer has written to his client about a case coming to an Employment Tribunal.

Woods & Pankhurst Solicitors

3 The Old Forge

West Cambourne




Mr D. Johnson,

Managing Director, Force Ltd



Dear David,

Claim for Unfair Dismissal by A.J. Blackwood


Many thanks for your faxed letter of yesterday attaching the copy ET 1 in responce of the above. According to my records Force Ltd have not had an (1)................................. claim made against it previously so I thought it would be helpful if I give you a brief outline of the various stage of the procedure involved for you to (2)................. the claim,

Following receipt of the ET1, the company, as (3).................. a defence on form ET3. The Tribunal will acknowledge receipt of this and will forward a copy Miss Blackwood, the (4).............................

The Tribunal appoints an officer of the (5)..................................................... the Arbitration, Conciliation and Advisory Service ( ACA5), to this case. He or she will get in touch with both you and Miss Blackwood for the purpose of offering assistance to broker a Settlement Agreement so that the claim can be (6).................................

Obviously, if this impossible then the costs of a Tribunal hearing will be saved. The costs of a hearing are (7)............................................ the public purse although obviously you will be responsible for this firing fees in representing you if required.

Usually the Tribunal allows ACAS a number of weeks in which to (8)................................................................ If that doesn't happen a date for the case to be heard will be arranged. When that date has been determined the Tribunal will give both (9)................... a simple set of directions to prepare for the hearing. I would normally expect to agree a bundle of relevant documents with the other side and to exchange witness statement in advance of the hearing.

At the hearing the witnesses will be asked to swear or affirm that the contents of their (10)............................................. are true. Both parties and the Tribunal will have the chance to question the witnesses.

Following that Miss Blackwood and you on behalf of the company (or your respective legal representatives) may ( 11 )................... the Tribunal with an argument about why your evidence and case should be accepted. The Tribunal may also consider points about the relevant law at this point and possibly (12).................................... decisions made at a higher level of the Tribunal system, such as the Employment Appeal Tribunal, the Court of Appeal, the House of Lords or even the European Court of Justice, before reaching the decision.

I hope this is helpful to you. Obviously, we will need to discuss in some detail the facts of the matter and the merit, or otherwise, of the claim when we meet on Friday. I already have a copy of Miss Blackwood's contract so will make sure I have that to hand. I look forward to seeing you then.

Yours sincerely,

Paul Hedges

Partner, Woods & Pankhurst







Legal practitioners

Lawyers in the United Kingdom jurisdictions generally practice as solicitors in private firms, as legal advisers in corporations, government departments, and advice agencies, or as barristers. They can each do advocacy, draft legal documents and give written advice, but solicitors, unlike barristers, cannot appear in every court.

Traditionally, solicitors undertake work such as conveyancing, and drawing up contracts and wills. Barristers spend more time in court and have a right of audience in the higher courts. Unlike solicitors, barristers cannot usually be employed directly by clients but are instructed by solicitors. Solicitors normally form partnerships with other solicitors and work in offices with support staff. The qualification and practice of solicitors are regulated by the Law Society.



Sami, a25 year-old graduate, is talking about his experience as a trainee: “My first degree was in engineering at Manchester University. Then I did two one-year law courses. The first led to the Common Professional Examination, or CPF.; the second was the Legal Practice Course. I had a vacation placement at Applewood Branston, who offered me a two-year traineeship. They have a six seat system, which is quite common. Trainees spend time attached to different law departments, which suits me as Iget a basic grounding in the main departments of the firm, helping mefind which area of the law Pd like to specialise in. I can work in four or more different areas of law for four months at a time and then decide on a specialism later in the training contract. In my third seat, in Corporate Finance, I've learnt a lot from being on secondment with a client and got excellent back up from my seat supervisor, that is, supervising partner. It was good to put the professional skills training into practice straight away."


A partner in a law firm

Helene, from Monaco, is an avocat admitted to the Paris Bar – the professional association for lawyers. She graduated with a Bachelor of Law (LLB) in Paris and obtained a Masters Degree (LLM) in European Law from University College, London. She is a graduate of the Paris Institut d'Etudes Poliriques.

" I joined Apple-wood Branston two years ago and was promoted to partner in the corporate and banking team in Paris. Before that I worked for twelve years for other leading international law firms. I've got extensive experience of privatisations, mergers and acquisitions, and I advise investment banks and corporates.




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