THE MODERN state legislates on so many topics and its administrative tentacles reach so widely and grasp so firmly that there must inevitably be numerous occasions of contention between officials and the citizen. It thus becomes increasingly important to provide some aid for the subject when he is faced with an unacceptable official decision. As an analysis of the work of the Parliamentary Commissioner put it in the mid-seventies, 'From the constitutional point of view the continuous growth of the administration in size, functions and power, which is such a marked feature of our times, ... calls for a parallel development of effective checks and balances if the citizen is not to be submerged by bureaucracy.' 1 The sort of administrative deficiencies in question is not slight or unimportant. It may include failure to carry out a duty imposed by law, action going beyond powers conferred, the use of authority for a purpose not intended, not following a prescribed procedure, or (in quasijudicial matters) not observing the rules of natural justice. It may also relate more broadly to impropriety in decision-making, failure to observe proper standards of conduct as reflected, for instance, in 'bias, neglect, inattention, delay, incompetence, inaptitude, perversity, turpitude,
arbitrariness'. 2 Beyond this there is also the possibility of the simply unreasonable use of discretion in the normal exercise of legitimate jurisdiction. Nor are the occasions for appeal or protest few in number. Relevant statistics are scattered and unsystematic but, for instance, in the middle of the last decade, it was estimated that the tribunal system heard several hundred thousand cases; there were I 5 ,ooo or so planning appeals; and well over 3,ooo complaints were received by the various ombudsmen. There were also wo,ooo or so questions taken up with departments each year by MPs on behalf of constituents and perhaps a similar number directly addressed to the local offices of departments. 3 To all this has to be added a (to me) unknown number of court cases, approaches to local councillors and to all the many advisory councils and voluntary bodies of various sorts to which people go for help in dealing with officialdom. Given the extent of public action nowadays it is hardly odd that the volume of complaint or dissatisfaction is so considerable. Perhaps it is surprising it is not greater than it is though this may be a function simply of the difficulties that can occur in seeking redress from the state or trying to turn the mind of its officials. For though Britain has always prided itself on the defence of the individual and his interests, there has - as the Franks Committee recognized in the mid-fifties - seemed to be 'over most of the field of public administration' no formal and systematic procedure by which an aggrieved person could seek effective redress.4 Similarly Professor Robson, reviewing that committee's work, also commented on the need to consider afresh 'the methods by which a citizen can be given a reasonable opportunity of securing redress' for maladministration. 5 Since then there has indeed been much concern with the need to improve both official means of protection and informal sources of assistance. 6
The traditional or orthodox course of a citizen seeking redress against government in respect of some grievance is to go either to his MP or the courts. Yet these institutions have to a degree come to seem deficient or
inappropriate in this regard so that lately other channels of complaint have become established and new suggestions for further change made.