UCL academics to undertake study of tribunal decision-making

15 October 2008

Professor Dame Hazel Genn and Professor Cheryl Thomas of UCL’s Faculty of Laws have been awarded a £200,000 grant by the Nuffield Foundation to conduct a path-breaking study of judicial decision-making in tribunals. Findings are expected in the first half of 2010.

The research grant forms a significant part of the Nuffield Foundation’s Funding Initiative on Administrative Justice and coincides with the establishment of the new Tribunals Service. Tribunals play a vital role in the administrative justice system, handling more cases each year than the ordinary civil courts and often involving the most vulnerable people in society such children, the unemployed, the disabled and pensioners. However, little is known about what influences tribunal decision-making. This study, focusing on tribunal decision-making in the Social Security and Child Support Appeals tribunal, will be the first time in this country that empirical research has been conducted to determine whether:

  • The form of tribunal hearings affects case outcome;
  • Different forms of hearings affect tribunal members’ perceptions of the evidence and decision-making process;
  • Tribunal decision-making is consistent regardless of the form of hearing or composition of tribunal panels.

By providing clear evidence on these questions, the research will help to address several important policy issues in administrative justice:

  • How to devise fair principles of case management to guide the choice of tribunal hearing procedures;
  • How to assess the contribution of legally and non-legally qualified members of tribunals;
  • How best to train tribunal chairs and members in decision-making skills.

The study builds on the previous successful tribunal research of Professor Genn and the previous successful judicial decision-making research of Professor Thomas, and the research will be conducted in cooperation with the new Tribunals Service.

Sharon Witherspoon, Deputy Director of the Nuffield Foundation, said: “This project will make a significant contribution to understanding issues related to oral or paper hearings and tribunal decision-making consistency, and will, I am sure, set a standard for other empirical research on judicial decision-making.”

Sir Robert Carnwath, Senior President of Tribunals, said: “I strongly welcome this project which coincides with the most radical reform of the tribunal system for over fifty years. The results will help to provide a firm basis for future policy development, including such issues as training, case management and composition of tribunals. All of these are vitally important in ensuring that appellants get the most effective and efficient service possible from the system.”

Professor Dame Hazel Genn, UCL Faculty of Laws, said: Tribunals are an important part of the justice system. Their decisions affect the lives of a large volume of citizens. A better understanding of tribunal decision-making will be of value in maintaining high standards of adjudication and providing insight into judicial decision-making more broadly.

Professor Cheryl Thomas, UCL Faculty of Laws, said: “There has been virtually no empirical research in Britain on the nature of judicial decision-making in general or tribunal decision-making in particular. This research marks an important first step in developing a programme of judicial studies in this country.”

Notes for Editors

1. For more information, contact Dominique Fourniol in the UCL Media Relations office on +44 (0)20 7679 9728.