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Policy in detail: Reforming Scotland's tribunals system

Reforming Scotland’s Tribunals System

Tribunals are a key part of the legal system, protecting people from potentially unfair treatment in a range of specialist areas such as support for learning, health, land and housing.

There are many different tribunals operating in Scotland, dealing with numerous and varied issues.  Some deal with devolved matters such as mental health whilst others cover issues reserved to the UK Government such as social security and child support.

Historically tribunals have developed and evolved in an ad-hoc and unplanned way over many years.  A 2008 report on tribunals in Scotland by an expert group chaired by Lord Philip, a retired senior judge, found that:

  • The tribunal system in Scotland was extremely complex and fragmented;
  • There was no standard system for appointing tribunal chairs and members;
  • Many of the tribunals worked in isolation, leading to duplication , a variation of standards and performance, and a lack of good value.

Since this report we have been developing, and are now implementing legislation to reform the devolved tribunals system, making it more understandable and more user-friendly.

The Tribunals (Scotland) Act 2014 sets up a streamlined two-tier structure for tribunals that are devolved to, or created by, Acts of the Scottish Parliament, under the judicial leadership of the Lord President.  The Act also created a new post, the President of the Scottish Tribunals, to assist the Lord President in their role and to protect the expertise of each jurisdiction and ensure that business runs smoothly.  In addition, the Act places a duty on the Judicial Appointments Board for Scotland to make recommendations to the Scottish Ministers for new tribunal appointments.   The Act addresses the concerns raised by Lord Philip in his 2008 report.

In April 2015 the Scottish Tribunal Service (STS) and the Scottish Court Service (SCS) merge to become the Scottish Courts and Tribunals Service.

The outlined actions do not concern matters which are reserved to the Parliament in Westminster.