The Administrative Justice System

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Administrative law is neither really criminal nor civil.

But Dicey believes there should not be a separate body for administrative law as this would offend the rule of law.

The role of administrative law: authority and values

Administrative law provides authority for public servants to deliver government policy.

Administrative law authorises the raising and expenditure of public funds.

Administrative law sets limits to the power of public officials.

Administrative law creates the institutional mechanism for calling public officials to account.

Administrative law allows for the redress of grievance and resolution of public complaints.

Administrative justice: the institutional framework

The following make up the administrative justice institutional framework: courts; tribunals; inquiries; ombudsman; and complaints procedures.

Like the Criminal Justice System these employ thousands of people and it is expensive to run.

The principle of judicial review provides the legal background to the administrative justice system → judicial review is a procedure by which a court can review an administrative action by a public body.

  • Judicial review leads to approximately 10,000 applications per year being bought before the court.
  • Quantitatively tribunals, ombudsmen, and complaints procedures are far more significant than the courts.


Originally, there was much dispute about tribunals as it was argued that only the courts could resolve disputes.

Tribunals were developed in response to the court being overwhelmed by the number of cases, especially after the court had to deal with disputes arising from the Workmen’s Compensation Acts.

Hewart LCJ (1922-40) criticised tribunals harshly: this led to the creation of the Committee on Ministers' Powers who said tribunals were necessary and desirable in our legal system.

Another report led by Sir Oliver Franks in 1957 concluded that tribunals are necessary for openness, fairness, and impartiality.


Inquiries involve the gathering of information, in the light of which a minister would decide the issue.

There is some blurring of the lines between tribunals and inquiries.


Review is another form of redress of grievance.

It involves the original decision maker reviewing the decision they made initially.

Reviews have 2 basic forms:

  • Formal reviews: reviews required by law e.g. decisions relating to the Social Fund.
  • Informal reviews: reviews not required by law but used as part of the administrative procedure e.g. an appeal by a social security claimant triggers an internal review.

Reviews are criticised as undermining the duo process of administrative justice.

However, they allow for mistakes to be corrected cheaply and quickly.

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The Parliamentary and Health Service Ombudsman

Introduced in 1967, the first ombudsman was the Parliamentary Commissioner for Administration (PCA) (otherwise known as the Parliamentary Commissioner).

Original function was to investigate complaints and allegations of misadministration by the UK Government departments and agencies.


  • The public cannot complain directly to the PCA (they must be referred by a Member of Parliament as there was a fear accountability would be undermined. Although, note, a 2011 report recommended abolishing this ‘MP filter’).

Ombudsman offers wide range of remedies e.g. apologies, explanations, remedial action, and compensation.

The Health Service Ombudsman deals with complaints against the NHS, etc. The public can complain directly to this ombudsman, unlike the PCA.

Local government ombudsmen

There are 3 local government ombudsmen covering all local authorities in England.

They investigate complaints against principal councils and other bodies.

Since 1989 they have been able to give advice on good administrative practice.

Following a review, it was decided local government and central government ombudsman can jointly investigate a complaint made against both the local and central government.


All ombudsmen operate on an investigative basis.

They investigate a complaint and decide if there has been maladministration.

More often than not the department/agency in question acted reasonably i.e. more often than not it will be found there was no maladministration.

The European Ombudsman

The European Ombudsman's creation was approved by Maastricht's Treaty and took office in 1995.

Unlike domestic ombudsmen, the European Ombudsman can instigate his 'own-initiative' inquiries i.e. the European Ombudsman can investigate something on his own accord.

Other complaints-handling bodies

The Adjudicator: investigates complaints about Her Majesty's Revenue and Customs, the Insolvency Service, and the Valuation Office Agency.

The Independent Complaints Reviewer: deals with complaints against the land registry, the Audit Commission, and the National Archives, etc.

The Independent Case Examiner: deals with complaints against Child Support Agency and Pension, Disability and Carers Service, etc.

The Independent Adjudicator for Higher Education: independent student complaints scheme to which institutions must adhere.


Other methods through which officials and other public servants are called to account:

  • MP Questions: used to hold ministers to account/
  • Debates: end of day adjournment debates on various topics (30 minutes long), which have been introduced by a backbencher.
  • Select Committees: these keep government departments under review e.g. public accounts committee and the public administration committee.

Exam Tip

Check out the topic notes on Constitutional Law for a more detailed look at Judicial Review.

Some other helpful legal resources:

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