Last November, I stated my belief that the decision of the independent panel in review-of-decision cases should be final. My officials are working to put in place the necessary legislation, and a consultation document will be published shortly. The tenure of the current panel ends in January 2022, and the consultation document will ask for views on the make-up of a future panel, given its decision-making role.
I have decided that, until the legislation is in place, I will make the final decision in all cases coming from the independent panel. As of May 2021, there are 108 ongoing applications for a case officer review of decision. There are a further 51 ongoing applications for an independent panel assessment. Of those, 36 have a panel pending, while officials are preparing submissions for my final decision for 15 businesses, following the independent panel assessment.
Unlike previous Ministers, who overturned many of the panel appeals, I have not. I accept the decisions of the independent panel. I do not see the point in having an independent panel to deal with appeals if a Minister, such as Ministers O'Neill and Gildernew, strike out the decision of the independent panel and take the advice of the civil servants who rejected the farmer's case in the first instance. The Member can be grateful that he now has a DUP Minister who reflects the views of the panel, as opposed to Sinn Féin Ministers, who often rejected those views.