IT is difficult to define the word 'tribunal'. It is not even the case that all the bodies normally treated as deserving the description 'tribunal' or which perform tribunal-like functions actually bear the name 'tribunal'. The purpose of the brief account which follows is to describe the salient characteristics of tribunals. Some tribunals perform regulatory functions, notably licensing. However, our main concern in this chapter is with appellate tribunals, the function of which is to hear appeals against discretionary decisions made by administrative officers or other tribunals. Appellate tribunals are not primarily concerned with the legality of administrative decisions--this is the function of judicial review;1 or with questions of maladministration--this is the province of the Ombudsmen--but with the substance and merits of administrative decisions. There are many appellate tribunals, they play a very important part in modern government and they deal with a wide diversity of matters. For example, Social Security Appeals Tribunals (SSATs) and the Social Security Commissioners deal with social welfare benefits; there are immigration tribunals and taxation tribunals, tribunals dealing with child support, education, data protection, pensions, mental health,2 and so on.
The case-load of tribunals varies widely. For example, the Fire Service Appeals Tribunal has not sat since 1974, while SSATs decided more than 75,000 applications in 1992 and Valuation Tribunals about 87,000. In terms of the aggregate number of cases heard, tribunals greatly overshadow the courts as checkers of the administrative process. Even so, the number of administrative decisions challenged in tribunals is a very small proportion of the number of decisions made. For example, less than 1 percent of claimants who are denied a social security benefit exercise their right of appeal to an SSAT.____________________