Saturday, 5 July 2008

The Ministry of Justice Complaints Process - a need for change

The current complaints process run by the Ministry of Justice - including the work of the Office for Judicial Complaint (OJC) and the Judicial Appointments and Conduct Ombudsman - does not allow any way to complain about poor judicial discretion, poor decision making or unfairness regarding how a case is managed. If there are instances during proceedings where a Judge said things that were unreasonable, unfair or incorrect in law, the Ministry of Justice will not consider a complaint made about such things. The Office for Judicial Complaint can only consider complaints about Judicial Misconduct and poor decision making is not considered to be misconduct.

Under their complaints procedures, the only route to address such matters is by appealing to a higher court, but an appeal will only be considered if you disagree with the final judgment. Appeals are costly, and may cost tens of thousands of pounds. An ability to have a complaint heard is dependent on your level of wealth. For many, this results in there being no way to raise the issue of poor standards within the Courts.

The Ministry of Justice (MoJ) needs to reconsider why only 2 complaints which related to the mainstream judiciary (out of 938 complaints) in 2006/7 resulted in any action being taken. There is a growing perception that the Office for Judicial Complaint was established to show that all is well within the Courts rather than to pinpoint areas of improvement within a service which faces mounting criticism within the mainstream media. If the MoJ thought that the OJC would improve its credibility, so far, that office is failing.

The guidelines that the OJC adheres to are set out in The Judicial Discipline (Prescribed Procedures) Regulations 2006. These guidelines need to be reconsidered to include matters related to the quality of judicial decision making. The boundaries between a poor decision and unfairness, bias and discretion are too easily blurred and allow the MoJ to dismiss out of hand complaints that need to be taken forward to improve service standards within the Judiciary.

It is understandable that the Judiciary wishes to protect their rights to discretion when making decisions in Court, but this becomes unacceptable when poor decision making goes unaddressed.