delivering justice in a defective system - Gerald Eve

Oct 24, 2015 - chairman of the Criminal Cases Review. Commission ... Consistency and justice. A key aim from the ... best recover caretaker rent page 93.
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Practice & Law

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Practice&Law Delivering justice in a defective system On his retirement as president of the Valuation Tribunal for England, Professor Graham Zellick offers his reflections on his achievements and disappointments in the role. By Jess Harrold. Portraits by Louise Haywood-Schiefer

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he rating system is bonkers.” With that, Professor Graham Zellick CBE QC sums up one of the chief problems he faced as president of the Valuation Tribunal for England (“the VTE”). It is a role that only Zellick has held, having overseen the introduction of the VTE in 2009 as a replacement for the old system of valuation tribunals. He is proud of the steps taken in those six years to formalise procedures and improve consistency of decisionmaking, at least in important cases. But his frustration is clear with an area of law in which ratepayers suffer from a lack of information and where the parties to a dispute “don’t talk”. While he strongly denies that these problems have caused a genuine backlog in business rates appeals, he is clearly disappointed that the opportunity has been missed to fold the VTE into the First-tier Tribunal (“the F-tT”), and introduce a professional judiciary to a highly complex area of law, which he believes is unsuited to the lay-panel jurisdiction. Learning on the job Areas of dissatisfaction aside, Zellick has evidently greatly enjoyed his time as president of the VTE, a role he took on following his time as vice-chancellor and president of the University of London and chairman of the Criminal Cases Review Commission – despite, he says, knowing “absolutely nothing” about this area of law. “There are some real problems with rating and council tax – with features of both that are rather deplorable, to put it mildly,” he says. “But I found the legal issues fascinating intellectually and

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practically.” He feels that coming in with a completely fresh eye and “no baggage” was a great advantage, one that helped him in revolutionising the old ways and challenging some of the attitudes that had been in place for years, if not decades. Consistency and justice A key aim from the beginning was to improve the consistency of decisionmaking. He admits that complete consistency is difficult to achieve when dealing with a tribunal with hundreds of members, the majority of whom are not legally qualified. “To some extent, it’s not possible,” he says. “But the area in which it was possible was in the area of difficult cases.” He soon introduced a practice statement to the effect that any case involving a novel or difficult point of law or issue of valuation had to be heard either by the president or one of the vice-presidents, and insisted that, until reversed on appeal, such decisions would be followed and applied by lay panels in the future. “To that extent there would be consistency,” he says. “Previously, in those difficult areas, the tribunals were all over the place. One panel would find one thing; a second panel another thing. That offended me very deeply. That isn’t justice; that’s capriciousness, and it’s intolerable.” It disturbed him at first, particularly in the area of council tax, how local authorities were interpreting legislative provisions “totally differently”, and he expresses the hope that it helped valuation officers, ratings surveyors and local authorities to know that there would be a “consistent answer” from the VTE – one 24 October 2015

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