Q&A with adjudicator George Lubega
George Lubega talks to the Solicitor Judges Division about his role as an independent adjudicator for the Traffic Penalty Tribunal (TPT) in England and Wales.
Beyond his role with the TPT, George is head of the Sheffield and Manchester commercial litigation teams at CMS Cameron McKenna Nabarro Olswang LLP, dealing mainly with large domestic and international commercial cases in the High Court and through arbitration.
What attracted you to the Traffic Penalty Tribunal?
I was attracted to this role for a variety of reasons.
First, I liked the idea of dealing with an issue of real importance to people, and gaining contact with the public at a level that doesn’t come as a commercial litigator.
In addition, through work shadowing I learned how cases were dealt with by an experienced adjudicator and thought this would be suitable for me. Being an adjudicator seemed to me like dipping a toe in the judicial water in a way that is sufficiently flexible not to interfere with my day-to-day practice.
Finally, there is a surprising amount of traffic law and I saw it as a challenge to get to grips with an area with which I had had no previous contact at the same time as running a busy practice.
The great advantage of TPT is that it has developed an end-to-end online case management system, with parties engaging online as well as the remote adjudicators. This means I can deal with my TPT work on a laptop wherever I am.
TPT is an acknowledged front-runner in remote digital working and it’s exciting to be involved with such an innovative approach.
What skills do you bring to it as a solicitor?
You have to be mentally agile.
To become an adjudicator you need to be able to assimilate an unfamiliar area of law quickly. When dealing with appeals you need to be able to elicit relevant facts from appellants who are generally not represented and recognise and deal politely but firmly with irrelevant arguments.
You also need to be very organised and adaptable to changing circumstances; hearings are remote, either by telephone or video, and a list may have appeals listed every half hour.
As appellants are delayed or want to adjourn and so on, you need to be able to manage the list actively, slotting appeals in and out as needed and moving quickly between them. Solicitors with practice across a broad range of areas, who are used to the demands of meetings, calls, and emails are ideally suited to this.
How does your role fit in with your practice?
One of the most important aspects of the role to me is that the tribunal is very flexible, with lists deployed to fit my schedule.
Most cases are now dealt with either as 'on paper' e-decisions or by video or telephone hearings.
The e-decisions can be done entirely remotely – so I often do them out of hours or when travelling. Video or telephone hearings will usually be grouped into a list of between four and eight appeals, but sometimes a single appeal will be fitted into your working day at a convenient time. Generally I will do one or two hearing lists per month.
There’s a significant use of technology, processing cases through a dedicated portal to which all involved have (separate) access. This means that you can work from home or other appropriate places which have internet access, so the work can fit around your day.
What new perceptions / skills have you gained?
I’ve gained a new appreciation of how judicial office holders make decisions when presented with competing facts and law.
In particular, I’ve learned that the “cut and thrust” of litigation is often irrelevant to the outcome of decisions: your role is getting to the facts and applying the law.
There is always fresh topical interest because new areas of work are frequently added to the jurisdiction of TPT. For example, the new clean air charging zones that are being introduced around the country will involve deciding whether the emission levels of vehicles comply (not as easy as it should be…).
Also, issues that appear to be relatively small can become very significant to people. Often, what appellants want is to be heard. I’ve gained the ability to be decisive, to cut through those issues that are irrelevant or have poor merits, to concentrate on what is really an issue.
At the same time, adjudication gives you an understanding of the need for patience, good temper and to keep listening.
For instance, in one case I had almost decided against an appellant who commented at the end that he was also rather put out by a letter he had received from the council; looking at the letter revealed a procedural impropriety, and the council, accepting its mistake, did not contest the appeal further.
Do any cases stick in your mind?
There are too many to mention. All cases are a learning experience and many teach you a lot about people.
There are appellants who spend days researching the law and providing lengthy submissions and evidence bundles in relation to a £50 penalty charge, and others who come to the tribunal with nothing and you need to coax out of them why they are appealing.
There was the appellant who – because I did not accept one aspect of her account – was screaming at me down the telephone for several minutes, only to become very polite and grateful when I got a word in to tell her she had won.
There was the case where I expressed sympathy to an appellant who was going to lose, only to be told: “I don’t want your sympathy, I want to win.” This has changed the way I explain to appellants what I can do with things like mitigation evidence.
And then there are the council representatives, who have a tough job in a difficult and contentious area, but still sometimes surprise you with their exercise of discretion on difficult cases.
Any tips for solicitors who consider applying to become adjudicators?
I would encourage anybody thinking of taking on a judicial role to do some work shadowing first, ideally in the tribunal they are thinking of applying to join (although that isn’t always possible).
There is also a huge amount of information available online, including on the TPT website, which explains what the tribunal’s functions are and how it works.
It is also important to realise that adjudicators come from a wide range of legal backgrounds: barristers and solicitors from firms of all types and sizes – not all have a litigation background, and few had any background in traffic before becoming adjudicators.
It is a good role for anyone who has an interest in judicial work and who can provide evidence of the skills they can bring to it.
Would you do it again?
Absolutely – it has given me an added variety to my career which has been interesting, fulfilling and has genuinely expanded my understanding of how judges work.
Traffic Penalty Tribunal
Appeals to the TPT are decided by part-time adjudicators: all wholly independent lawyers, whose appointments are subject to the consent of the Lord Chancellor of Great Britain.
Becoming an adjudicatorAdjudicators are appointed by the TPT, not the Judicial Appointment Commission. The requirements are fairly similar to those for tribunal judges, including eligibility: you must have a minimum of five years’ post-qualification professional experience.
If you’re interested in an appointment and would like to listen in to telephone hearings or talk to an adjudicator, email firstname.lastname@example.org.