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The future of social securities appeal tribunals throughout the UK is under threat because of allegations of bias against the hundreds of doctors who give evidence in them
The allegations are based on the fact that hundreds of doctors who carry out medicals determining whether individuals are allowed incapacity and disability benefits also sit on tribunals passing judgment on whether such benefits should be issued. A special tribunal of social securities commissioners - which was increased from one to three because of the importance of the case - has ruled that such a system is potentially biased. Simon Osborne, editor of Welfare Rights Bulletin, part of the Child Poverty Action Group, said: "The commissioners did not rule that every appeal tribunal that has doctors in it is in breach of natural justice. Instead, they went to the precipice of saying this. Rather, it depends on the individual facts." The matter is to be heard by the Court of Session, the Scottish equivalent of England's Court of Appeal, at a date not yet set down. The court is likely to consider Article 6(1) of the Human Rights Act (HRA) relating to the right to a fair trial. The HRA was not in force in Scotland when the original decision was made by the social securities tribunal. Doctors carry out medicals for SchlumbergerSema, the company contracted by the UK's Department of Work and Pensions. Last December, the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions Alistair Darling gave the company until summer 2002 to improve the medicals it carries out on people claiming incapacity benefit. Until that point fines had been imposed on the company every month for more than two years.