The University of Essex has been awarded £325,000 to establish a national centre aimed at improving decision making by public bodies and the quality of administrative justice.
The three-year grant from the Nuffield Foundation will fund a unique initiative providing key research on the millions of decisions made by public bodies each year which directly affect the rights and interests of UK people.
The UK Administrative Justice Institute (UKAJI) will draw on the university’s strength as the country’s leading social science university creating links between policy, practice and research communities, developing a coordinated research agenda, and tackling capacity constraints that have previously limited research.
Maurice Sunkin, a Professor of Public Law and Socio Legal Studies in Essex’s School of Law, will lead a core team of 11 researchers from universities across the UK.
He said: “Public bodies make millions of decisions each year on everything from welfare benefits, to jobs, health care and education.
“For those of us who feel a wrong decision has been made, there are avenues for seeking redress, such as tribunals, recourse to judicial review, and complaining to an ombudsman. Together, these varied systems are intended to ensure administrative justice but actually we know very little about whether these mechanisms are working effectively and efficiently, or whether their outcomes improve the quality of decisions.”
The administrative justice system deals with more cases than the criminal and civil justice systems combined. In the last year on record there were more than 650,000 hearings before tribunals - in addition to innumerable internal and ombudsman complaints - compared to 63,000 civil trials and 200,000 criminal trials in England and Wales.
Professor Sunkin said: “Here at Essex, including at the Institute for Social and Economic Research, the ESRC Business and Local Government Data Research Centre, and through the Understanding Society project, we have the expertise in working with quantitative social science data to understand the impact these systems are having on those seeking redress, who are often some of the most disadvantaged members of society.”