For the past 18 months, academics from Bangor University, Cardiff University, and Cardiff Metropolitan University have been undertaking research on administrative justice in Wales funded by the Nuffield Foundation.
The research report, ‘Public Administration & a Just Wales’ has now been published.
Although ‘justice’ (understood as courts, police, prisons, probation etc) is not devolved to Wales, significant aspects of administrative justice are; including much substantive administrative law, initial decision-making, internal/external administrative review, the Public Services Ombudsman for Wales, and the devolved Welsh tribunals.
In 2015, before it was disbanded, the Committee for Administrative Justice and Tribunals in Wales (CAJTW) commissioned Bangor University to conduct research with a view to better understand Administrative Justice in Wales and why it matters so much to the people of Wales. Since then a stakeholder community has developed to conduct research and provide advice, including to Welsh Government and the Senedd Cymru/Welsh Parliament, on various issues in administrative justice, including from Comparative Perspectives.
In its recent Report, the Commission on Justice in Wales (‘Justice Commission’) recognised that ‘Administrative justice is the part of the justice system most likely to impact upon the lives of people in Wales’.
Our latest research has been funded by the Nuffield Foundation (but the views expressed are those of the authors and not necessarily the Foundation).
There are three parts to our research. Our first, recently published, Report examined Public Administration and Justice in Wales in the context of Social Housing and Homelessness; and a forthcoming Report does the same for Primary and Secondary Maintained Education. Anchoring these subject-area specific reports is our main Report Public Administration and a Just Wales. This examines administrative justice alongside the Welsh policy context of equality, rights and sustainability; administrative justice institutions in Wales; legislative reform; redress and system design and oversight.
Our central conclusion is that, perhaps not surprisingly given the devolution context, public administration in Wales is seen as concerned with delivering services and well-being, and even as a matter of human rights and equality, but far less often as a matter of justice for individuals in their relationships with the state.
Our research highlights examples of good practice in Wales; including attempts to improve the accessibility of administrative law, partnership-working at various levels across and between public bodies, preventing poor administrative practice, collaboration between service providers, and promoting ‘right first time’ decision-making by public bodies, as well as more systematic investigation of matters affecting people, or impacting on particular services.
The degree of comity or ‘interoperability’ between institutions in the devolved Welsh administrative justice system is already likely better than that in other jurisdictions, in part due to the size of Wales, but also due to overarching policy initiatives and leadership within specific institutions.
We nevertheless conclude that there is a case for strengthening legal rights to redress in Welsh administrative law, and for improved visibility and use of legal institutions (including the devolved tribunals and Administrative Court in Wales).
However, this should not come at the expense of flexible, less formal structures for ensuring administrative justice.
When these structures have developed from the grass roots level, including in the practice of administrators, they should be encouraged and supported with better mechanisms to identify community issues and to enable people to address concerns together and encourage lesson learning in a more informal context. This should also not come at the expense of promoting good initial administrative decision-making, including through promoting ‘rights based’ and preventative approaches that are a hall mark of Welsh public administration.
Our Report, Public Administration and a Just Wales focuses on the general law and structures of administrative justice in Wales and makes 36 recommendations that can be summarised as follows:
- recommendations designed to further raise awareness and understanding of administrative justice in Wales, and its connections to policy agendas in well-being, human rights and equality. In particular to emphasise that public services issues (including in the two areas we studied in detail – housing and education) are also justice issues for individuals.
- recommendations for improved training on administrative justice for elected representatives (at all levels) and for administrative staff in public bodies taking decisions that affect people’s rights and entitlements.
- recommendations that a principled approach to administrative justice must be taken, and that these principles should be used to guide evaluation of particular institutions within the system (tribunals, ombuds, internal review etc) as well as how the overall system is functioning.
- recommendations around the nature of Welsh administrative laws’ which place duties on public bodies and seek to promote rights, in particular to increase clarity about how these duties are intended to be enforced and these rights secured.
- recommendations around the clarity, consolidation and codification of Welsh public administrative law.
- recommendations to ensure better use of the administrative justice system to hold public bodies to account in a rights-based and well-being context.
- recommendations to promote increased opportunities for the transparent judicial interpretation of Welsh administrative law, and for enhanced practical inter-action between redress institutions (including the Public Services Ombudsman for Wales, Administrative Court in Wales and Welsh tribunals).
- recommendations on the structure and functioning of devolved Welsh tribunals.
- recommendations for administrative justice oversight and enhanced Assembly scrutiny.
The research was undertaken by Dr Sarah Nason and Ann Sherlock (Bangor University), Dr Helen Taylor (Cardiff Metropolitan University), Dr Huw Pritchard (Cardiff University Wales Governance Centre).
Download the report
The full Report can be found here.
English Summary here.
Welsh Summary here.