How the Tribunal works

The Tribunal is an independent court has a number of characteristics that distinguish it from other courts and tribunals. One of its unique characteristics as a court is that, where appropriate, it is able to follow through any questions which might arise, by ordering an investigation, with which the public body concerned is compelled to co-operate. Although it is called a Tribunal, the IPT is not part of 'Her Majesty's Courts and Tribunal Service'.

The Tribunal’s decision-makers and those with the power to order investigations are its Members. At present there are eight Members. They are all lawyers of experience and standing, presided over by the President or Vice-President, who are High Court Judges. The Members are assisted in their work by a Secretariat. The Secretariat duties include preparing files in respect of each complaint and carrying out essential administrative work.
In his 2001 Report of the Review of Tribunals (Paragraph 3.11) Sir Andrew Leggatt outlined some of the exceptional features of the Tribunal saying:

"There is one exception among citizen and state tribunals. This Tribunal (IPT) is different from all others in that its concern is with security. For this reason it must remain separate from the rest and ought not to have any relationship with other tribunals. It is therefore wholly unsuitable both for inclusion in the Tribunals System and for administration by the Tribunals Service. So although the chairman [of the Tribunals system] is a Lord Justice of Appeal and would be the senior judge in the Tribunals System, he would not be in a position to take charge of it.

"The Tribunal’s powers are primarily investigatory, even though it does also have an adjudicative role. Parliament has provided that there should be no appeal from the tribunal except as provided by the Secretary of State.

"Subject to tribunal rules made by the Secretary of State the Tribunal is entitled to determine its own procedure. We have accordingly come to the conclusion that this Tribunal should continue to stand alone; but there should apply to it such of our other recommendations as are relevant and not inconsistent with the statutory provisions relating to it."

The Tribunal is unique in that it:

  • can order, receive and consider evidence in a variety of forms, even if the evidence may be inadmissible in an ordinary court. This is what is meant by an investigation;
  • is free of charge and the applicant does not have to hire a lawyer.  Even if he/she loses the case, the Tribunal has never awarded costs to the public authority being complained about, and it is unlikely it would do so.  Generally, the Tribunal will not make an order against a losing party for reimbursement of the costs incurred by the opposing party;
  • can provide confidentiality to protect the claimant and the fact that he/she has made a complaint. It is concerned not to discourage people from coming forward to make a complaint, who might be apprehensive about possible repercussions;
  • can also protect the identities of other people if harm is likely to be caused.  It has done so, for instance, by giving anonymity to witnesses who would, for good reason, not in other circumstances give evidence;
  • can review material that may not otherwise be searchable, and obtain evidence where the applicant acting alone could not.  It is able to do this because it has the power to do so, and is required to keep from disclosure sensitive operational material given by the SIAs. It therefore has greater freedom to look at this kind of material than the ordinary courts;
  • adopts an inquisitorial process to investigate complaints in order to ascertain what has happened in a particular case. This is in contrast to the wholly adversarial approach followed in ordinary court proceedings;
  • has wide powers to make remedial orders and awards of compensation. For instance, it can stop activity, quash authorisations, order material to be destroyed and grant compensation to the extent necessary to give due satisfaction;
  • is generally required to keep from disclosure sensitive operational material given by SIAs. The complainant may not be aware of what it has seen and will not be entitled to hear or see it, just as, unless a complainant consents, documents  supplied by him or her to the Tribunal will not be disclosed;

At present there is no domestic route of appeal or review against the Tribunal’s decisions. It is possible, however, to challenge a ruling of the Tribunal by making an application to the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg.  

See the Route of an Application through the Tribunal


Last updated: 5 Jul 16