More than 260 people attended a tribunals conference held virtually last week to consider future developments as the First-tier Tribunal for Scotland enters a period of substantial expansion.

The conference discussed the ways in which the Scottish tribunals, both devolved and reserved, have adapted to the challenges raised by the pandemic and how these achievements might inform change, including the future use of both virtual technology and in-person hearings.

The Lord President, Lord Carloway, said in his keynote speech:

“I hope that this is the start of a process in which we can all work together on developing, enhancing and promoting a tribunal system of which we can be justly proud. The past 18 months have demonstrated the resilience, adaptability and commitment of all those involved in the tribunals. Those qualities stand us in good stead for the challenges ahead.”

President of the Scottish Tribunals, Lord Woolman, said: 

“Over the past 18 months, Tribunals responded admirably to the constraints imposed by Covid restrictions. I acknowledge the fine work of all those who ensured the through-flow of Tribunal business. When the pandemic hit, members and staff switched quickly and effectively to new ways of working. Innovation and adaptability have been the watchwords.”

Lord Hodge, Deputy President of the Supreme Court of the United Kingdom, spoke about his involvement in the creation of the Scottish Tribunals and also about how the experiences of the Tribunals during the pandemic might shape models for the future, particularly in less complex cases where legal representation may not be required. He said that “remote hearings, electronic documents and a sympathetic judge can assist the unrepresented citizen to advance his or her case before the Tribunal at proportionate cost”. Lord Hodge also explored the potential for online dispute resolution methods.

A courts website page will be set up to host the keynote speeches presented by Lord Carloway and Lord Hodge. A report summarising the conference presentations and Q&A sessions will be published in due course.

Other speakers and panellists at the conference included Laura Dunlop QC, President of the Mental Health Tribunal for Scotland; Simon Porter, chair of the Patients’ Council, Royal Edinburgh Hospital; Dr Ross Hamilton, medical member, MHTS; Judge Susan Walker, Vice President of Employment Tribunals (Scotland); and from the First-tier Tribunal for Scotland: May Dunsmuir, President of the Health and Education Chamber; Jane Laverick member of the Health and Education Chamber;  Alex Green, President of the General Regulatory Chamber; Aileen Devanny, President of the Housing and Property Chamber; and Anne Scott, President of both the Social Security and Tax Chambers.

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