In the Media

Watchdog may survive ?bonfire of the quangos?

PUBLISHED March 22, 2013

Monday 25 March 2013 by Jonathan Rayner

Government plans to throw a legal watchdog on to its 'bonfire of the quangos' have suffered a blow after the House of Commons justice committee opposed the move.

The committee said there is not a strong enough case for the abolition of the Administrative Justice and Tribunals Council (AJTC).

The organisation has been earmarked for abolition since October 2010, despite being set up only three years previously to monitor legal tribunals and ombudsman rulings.

It currently oversees around a million cases a year, relating to decisions ranging from taxes and benefits to school places, and costs around £700,000 a year to run.

Sir Alan Beith (pictured), chair of the justice committee, said handing ministers responsibility for the council's functions would have 'serious disadvantages' and make it appear that oversight was not independent.

'We have strong reservations about the capacity of the Ministry of Justice to perform the AJTC's functions, and question the level of savings that will be achieved, given that the AJTC only costs £700,000 a year and its work will need to be continued in some form.

'There are also particular problems about how Scotland and Wales would be dealt with in the absence of the AJTC.'

The committee's report said that while some functions of the AJTC could be transferred to the MoJ, the body should continue with a 'more restricted, refocused role' concentrating on the accessibility of the administrative justice system.

Last year, the council's chairman, Richard Thomas, wrote an open letter to justice minister Helen Grant calling for abolition plans to be shelved.

He said the AJTC was currently 'a fragile and frankly frustrated' organisation, having satisfied commitments made in its strategic plan for 2010-13.

The Ministry of Justice told the Gazette it would carefully consider the report of the justice committee.

The AJTC was one of 192 public bodies earmarked for closure in 2010 in what became known as the government's 'bonfire of the quangos'. A Cabinet Office report in December said 114 non-departmental public bodies had been closed in the previous two years.