Armed Forces Pensions Appeal Tribunals - update

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Armed Forces: Pensions

Lord Craig of Radley asked Her Majesty’s Government:

Why they intend to abolish the Pensions Appeal Tribunal in England and Wales, which hears appeals from Armed Forces personnel, their dependants and veterans.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Ministry of Justice (Lord Bach): My Lords, we are abolishing the PAT, as its functions will be transferring into the first-tier tribunal established under the Tribunals, Courts and Enforcement Act 2007. It is proposed that the jurisdiction will move in its entirety into the war pensions and Armed Forces compensation chamber, a stand-alone chamber in the new tribunal. Members of the existing tribunal will be transferred into the chamber in the first-tier tribunal to continue their work in the same way as at present.

Lord Craig of Radley: My Lords, I thank the Minister. During negotiations with the Ministry of Justice, Bridget Prentice, the Minister, while proposing the setting up of the Armed Forces chamber, strongly wished it to be recorded that the functions of the PAT England and Wales should be transferred to the social entitlement chamber. This was widely rejected by the PAT membership, the experts and by the service charities—those who support the appellants. Given this, and the fact that PATs in Scotland and Northern Ireland continue unchanged, why have the Government decided that they should not retain the major part of the PAT, which, since 1919, has been the statutory independent body serving those who appeal against awards for injury and trauma?

Lord Bach: My Lords, I declare an interest as a member of the Lutterworth and District branch of the Royal British Legion. I pay tribute to both the noble and gallant Lord and my noble friend Lord Morris of Manchester, in particular, for they way in which they have approached this subject up to now.

I say to the noble and gallant Lord that the Government’s position is solidly that the tribunal should move into the first-tier tribunal, but that it will be in a stand-alone chamber: the war pensions and Armed Forces compensation chamber. That is, as I understand it, what the noble and gallant Lord was arguing with some force over the past months. That will give it its own rules, procedures and expertise. Its membership will of course always include someone who has been in the services, as at present.

Lord King of Bridgwater: My Lords, perhaps I should declare an interest as member of the Bridgwater branch of the British Royal Legion; it had not occurred to me previously that it was necessary to do so. The Minister may be aware that many noble Lords have, I suspect, received an urgent letter from the Army Benevolent Fund, expressing its concern about the continuing stream of casualties coming out of Afghanistan, in particular, and the challenges that they will face in their aftercare after their initial treatment has been met. Many of these cases will end up in front of what would have been the much-respected Pensions Appeal Tribunal.

I know that the Minister, with his previous experience in the Ministry of Defence, will wish to approach these issues with great sympathy and understanding, but I do not think that this could be a worse time at which to change the previously well respected arrangements. I ask the Government to think again on this issue.

Lord Bach: My Lords, we are not changing the arrangements. The PAT will be exactly the same tribunal, but it will be inside the first-tier tribunal. It will have the same make-up each time. It will have its own rules and procedures. It will not be part of a social entitlement chamber. It will continue to do its excellent work. The Government have made a number of concessions on this, owing to the strong representations that have been made. It is quite wrong to suggest that the PAT will be in any way lessened or less effective when it becomes part of the first-tier tribunal.

Lord Morris of Manchester: My Lords, for parliamentarians there is surely no more compelling duty than to act justly to the men and women who, alone in this country, contract with the state to lay down their lives in its service. Is my noble friend aware that this is the motivation of those, most notably the noble and gallant Lord, who have worked so hard radically to improve the statutory instruments as first proposed? Is he aware that they were drafted and in print even before the period for consulting the war disabled and bereaved had expired?

That we have come so far since then is due not least to the constancy of my noble friend Lady Royall in working to facilitate a just outcome. To that end, can we be assured now by my noble friend Lord Bach that the department will be resolving the still outstanding points with all possible dispatch?

Lord Bach: My Lords, I am grateful to my noble friend for what he said, in particular in relation to my noble friend the Leader of the House, who has, indeed, played an important role in these discussions. I agree with him completely that nothing can be more important than properly looking after and compensating those who are prepared to sacrifice their lives for the rest of us and for our freedoms. I can give him the assurance that he seeks; we are striving to find a way whereby the great services that the PAT has performed for ex-servicemen continue to the satisfaction of both the ex-servicemen themselves and the bodies, including the Royal British Legion, that represent them.

The Countess of Mar: My Lords, one is tempted to ask, “If it ain’t broke why fix it?â€. May I ask the noble Lord whether the Administration will benefit from the proposed name change—that is how it sounds—or will it be exactly as it was before?

Lord Bach: No, my Lords, the users will benefit. Moving to a unified tribunal means that users will be able to appeal both against the entitlement to an award and against the assessment of an award. In the present PAT there is a right of appeal only against entitlement. Challenges to assessment have to be made by way of judicial review. That is one way in which users—they are, after all, the people who matter—will gain by this change.

Lord Lloyd of Berwick: My Lords—

Lord Lee of Trafford: My Lords—

Lord Hunt of Kings Heath: My Lords, it is the turn of the Liberal Democrats.

Lord Lee of Trafford: My Lords, as the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Craig, has said, the Pensions Appeal Tribunals in Scotland and Northern Ireland will remain. Is there any danger of discriminatory treatment with cross-border bases and deployments?

Lord Bach: My Lords, as the noble Lord knows, the PATs in Scotland and Northern Ireland have always been legally and administratively different from the PAT in England and Wales. We accept that there is concern that the new arrangements may somehow change that balance. The appeal rights will be the same in all jurisdictions. Because of the concern the tribunal service proposes to establish an advisory steering group within three months of the jurisdiction being transferred to the unified system. This will not only help to ensure the identity of the jurisdiction is retained; it will also enhance and strengthen it. We hope that members of that group will come from the PATs in Scotland and Northern Ireland and from the new unified tribunal.

HL Deb 14 October 2008 cc591-594
Re: Armed Forces Pensions Appeal Tribunals

*** UPDATE ***

Statement made by Lord Bach yesterday (HL Deb 16 October 2008 ccWS49-51)

Written Statements

Thursday 16 October 2008

Armed Forces: Pensions

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Ministry of Justice (Lord Bach): My right honourable friend the Lord Chancellor and Secretary of State for Justice has made the following Written Ministerial Statement.

The Senior President of Tribunals and I are today issuing the following joint Statement.

We are making this joint Statement in recognition of the concerns expressed by members of the Armed Forces community about the possible impact on the service which the Pensions Appeal Tribunal (PAT) (England and Wales) provides for them as a result of implementing the Act.

To reflect the special nature of a jurisdiction serving those who alone in this country contract with the state to lay down their lives in its service and in recognition of the special relationship between service personnel and the Government as characterised by Command Paper [CM 7424 —The Nation’s Commitment: Cross Government Support to our Armed Forces, their Families and Veterans] it has been decided to establish a war pensions and Armed Forces compensation chamber within the first-tier tribunal to ensure that service personnel can benefit from the advantages of being within the new tribunal structure, whilst ensuring that the unique nature of the jurisdiction is not compromised or diluted.

The implementation of the Act will bring benefits to this jurisdiction, including extended rights of appeal, a guarantee of continued judicial independence, the ability readily to draw upon suitably qualified judges and medical experts within the wider tribunal system if required, greater judicial support and influence; a more efficient administrative support; and access to the entire tribunals services hearing venue network. None of this will be at the expense of the level of service now provided by the Pensions Appeal Tribunal (England and Wales) PAT (E&W). Our aim in making this Statement is to ensure that the Armed Forces community are re-assured that the valued features of the PAT are preserved and protected in the new system.

This joint Statement explains the basis on which the work of the PAT (E&W) will transfer into the first-tier tribunal under Section 30 of the Tribunals, Courts and Enforcement Act 2007, if Parliament approves the draft Transfer of Tribunal Functions Order 2008.

That order transfers the functions of the PAT (E&W) into the first-tier tribunal. That tribunal enjoys a statutory guarantee of continued judicial independence under Section 3 of the Constitutional Reform Act 2005, as amended by Section 1 of the Tribunals, Courts and Enforcement Act 2007. The present PATs do not have such a guarantee although in practice they are independent of Government. The transfer also makes it possible for there to be a further appeal on a question of law against assessment decisions by claimants in all parts of the United Kingdom, something which is not possible under the existing statutory framework.

The first-tier tribunal will be divided into a number of chambers by an order made under Section 7 of the 2007 Act. The First-tier Tribunal and Upper Tribunal (Chambers) Order 2008 provides for the first-tier tribunal to be organised into chambers including a separate war pensions and Armed Forces compensation chamber. The order assigns all of the functions of the current PAT (E&W) to that chamber. The order has the concurrence of the Lord Chancellor and the Senior President and has been laid before Parliament.

Procedural rules specific to the war pensions and Armed Forces compensation chamber have been drafted and signed by the Tribunal Procedure Committee, following consultation with ex-service organisations, their advisers and the president of PAT (England and Wales) The rules have been submitted to the Lord Chancellor and have been laid before Parliament. In establishing rules that are specific to this chamber those who currently use PAT (E&W) will have the same level of procedural protection as users of the PATs in Scotland and Northern Ireland as rules will be made with the specific needs of this jurisdiction only in mind. Members of the Armed Forces community were concerned that this protection would not be provided if the chamber shared rules with other chambers in the first-tier tribunal.

In further recognition of the special relationship other measures have been taken to ensure that appeal panels must include those who understand the particular nature of service in the Armed Forces; and for the jurisprudence in Scotland, Northern Ireland and England and Wales to remain consistent.

The Senior President of Tribunals has produced a draft practice statement on composition of tribunals. The president and deputy president of the PAT have been consulted on the draft and are in agreement with it. The draft practice statement requires the continued use of service members on hearing panels within the war pensions and Armed Forces compensation chamber and maintains their present role without diminution or alteration. The qualifications for appointment of members to the first-tier tribunal and Upper Tribunal Order as laid before Parliament requires that service members have considerable experience of service in Her Majesty’s naval, military or air forces.

A decision made at a hearing of an appeal in this chamber will normally be dealt with by a three member panel of one judge, one service member and one medical member. Alternatively, but only where the chamber president considers it appropriate, a decision at a hearing may be dealt with by a four member panel of one judge, one service member and two medical members. Panels are expected to strive to reach a unanimous decision.

Appeals from the war pensions and Armed Forces compensation chamber and from the PATs in Scotland will lie to the upper tribunal created by the 2007 Act, which will take over the jurisdiction of the Pension Appeal Commissioners. Assessment appeals from the PATs in Northern Ireland will also lie to the upper tribunal and entitlement appeals will continue to go to the Pension Appeal Commissioners in Northern Ireland who are themselves judges of the upper tribunal. We therefore expect that the jurisprudence will develop in a common and coherent way across the United Kingdom.

The Lord Chancellor will in addition establish within three months an advisory steering group for Armed Services work with an independent chair. Representatives of charities who represent appellants at appeal hearings and proposed by COBSEO will be invited to join this group, as will representatives of the judiciary and administration for the PATs in Scotland and Northern Ireland. The remit of the group will include consideration of the implementation of existing procedures, changes the Government or tribunal propose to make to the procedures, and the applicability of any such changes across the jurisdictions.

The Lord Chancellor will ensure that staff deployed on Armed Services’ work will be staff who understand Armed Services’ requirements and who will work in effective liaison with the organisations who represent users.

“Branding†will continue to be distinct so that users understand they are dealing with a specialist Armed Forces jurisdiction.

The aim of making this Statement is to set out how the valued features of the PAT are preserved and protected in the new system in recognition of the unique role of the Armed Forces community and in acknowledgement of the concerns that were raised in response to the consultation on implementation of Part 1 of the Tribunals, Courts and Enforcement Act.
Steve very many thanks, this little snippet could have passed by unnoticed.

We ALL owe you a tot sir, perhaps some of the more verbose protagonist on this site will be enlightened..



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