Headlines: July 19th, 2004

Central and local government make millions of decisions each year about the rights and obligations of individuals, but many processes for dealing with cases when things go wrong do not lead to swift resolution. Similarly the means for employees to obtain redress when standards are breached are often slow and tortuous. Radical plans for reforming the whole area of dispute resolution have been published in a White Paper ‘Transforming Public Services: Complaints, Redress and Tribunals’. It sets out the government’s vision for an improved and seamless system of dispute resolution.The aim of the White Paper is to encourage the development of policies that help empower citizens and communities to manage their own problems. It seeks to move out of courts and tribunals all disputes that could be resolved elsewhere through better use of education, information, advice and proportionate dispute resolution. A new agency will be created to oversee existing tribunals and to develop policies to support citizen empowerment. It will also play a major role in preventing and resolving disputes working with partners in and out of government.

The principle behind the White Paper turns on its head the Department’s traditional emphasis first on courts, judges and court procedure, and second on legal aid to pay mainly for litigation lawyers. The starting point is the real world problems people face and from here a range of policies and services will be developed to help people avoid legal disputes in the first place. Where this does not happen tailored solutions will be provided to resolve the dispute quickly and cost effectively with proportionate dispute resolution.

The implementation programme set out in the White Paper includes the appointment of a Chief Executive of the new agency in September and the launch of a Better Information Project, to raise the standard of decision letters, by October. In January 2005 pilots will start to develop enhanced advice schemes.

The White Paper is available at: http://www.dca.gov.uk/pubs/adminjust/transformfull.pdf