The Senior President of Tribunals has issued new directions today allowing appeals to be decided on the papers rather than with a full hearing that the parties attend in person. Judges can also decide to hear a case without wing members if they consider it would be in the interests of justice to do so.
The new rules allow judges to ‘triage’ appeals and make a provisional decision based just on the papers, where they consider a successful outcome for the claimant is highly likely.
Given the current success rates for PIP and ESA appeals of over 75%, this may be the vast majority of cases. Although it is often the testimony of the claimant on the day that makes the difference and this will clearly not be available at a paper hearing.
Once a provisional decision is made both the claimant and the DWP will be asked if they agree with that decision.
If they do, it will become a final decision.
If either the claimant or the DWP are not happy they can still insist that the case goes to a full hearing.
There is likely to be huge pressure on the DWP to accept provisional judgements to prevent gridlock in the tribunal system.
Where a hearing is required, wherever possible it will be done ‘remotely’. This may mean by video link or telephone conferencing. There are no details about this in the practice direction.
In a second practice direction, the President has stated that full-time tribunal judges can decide to hear a case alone, or with a smaller panel then normally required, where it would ordinarily be heard by a two or a three person panel.
The judge can make this decision if they think that the case could not proceed, or would be subject to unreasonable delay, if a full panel had to hear it.
The judge can choose to get advice from say a medical member even if that panel member is not going to be at the hearing. In this case the advice must be disclosed to the claimant and to the DWP.
All the new rules apply to first tier and upper tribunals.
The effect of the changes should be to ensure that hearings do not grind to a halt during the coronavirus outbreak. However, it will be vital that claimants understand their right to refuse to accept a provisional tribunal judgement if they are unhappy with it.