Supporting administrative justice in Scotland’s councils

For the past year, I’ve been helping the Scottish Tribunals and Administrative Justice Advisory Committee (STAJAC) produce a report looking at administrative justice in councils.

What’s that about, you may ask? It might sound a bit like a plot from Yes Minister (no, that was the Department of Administrative Affairs) but in fact, it’s more important (and complex) than you might think. It’s about the part of the justice system concerned with decision-making by public bodies that affect your rights and interests.

In Scotland, councils make most administrative justice decisions, examples include school placement requests, planning permission, parking and bus lane enforcement and over 40 kinds of licencing from alcohol and gambling to pedicabs and rickshaws.

For the complete unexpurgated list, you can view the newly launched report Making decisions fairly – Developing excellence in administrative justice in Scottish councils. The project looked at a representative selection of local authority decision-making areas to model the user journey through these administrative justice processes. It provides a whole system view of the decision making areas, including the appeal or review processes and attaches indicative costs to each part of the process.

The report – one of two launched this week by STAJAC to showcase the administrative justice landscape in Scotland – also aims to raise awareness of the importance of sound and transparent administrative justice decision making, in particular by local authorities.

Having effective decision-making, complaints, and appeals processes is also important for councils’ reputations and can help them improve services and, most importantly, people’s experience of those services. We also found that empowering frontline staff to vary decisions or find alternative solutions for service users could reduce appeals and complaints and achieve moderate savings.

Administrative justice is also a crucially important for how we in Audit Scotland carry out our work, as looking at services from the viewpoint of the user provides us with a fresh and valuable perspective. For example, a service user trying to negotiate through paperwork and online forms to gain access to services or get permissions and licences will have had a unique experience of the decision making processes within a council.

As part of our forthcoming audit on social work services in Scotland, we’ll be looking at the views of service users and carers on the support they receive from councils and others.

About the author

MM6A5530John Lincoln is an audit manager within Audit Scotland’s Performance Audit and Best Value team. His next project will be leading on an audit of social work services in Scotland, which is expected to report in Summer 2016.