The Agricultural Land Tribunals (ALTs) play an important role in settling disputes and other issues between agricultural tenants and landlords arising from certain tenancy agreements.
They also consider applications in respect of drainage disputes between neighbours.
I was interested in the challenge of a doing a role like this - I'm a farmer and before that I was a surveyor.
The role combines my interests and experience in land management, agricultural economics and farming. It's also good to know that one is providing a useful, independent and impartial service for people involved in a dispute, which I would be glad of if I was ever in that situation.
I was a surveyor for around five years after university and then had the opportunity to take over a tenanted farm. It is in a lovely part of the world, so I farm so I can live here rather than the other way around. I set up a brand new dairy farm when I was just 26 and used to produce milk until 12 years ago. I have carried on the farm partnership with my wife which now includes converted barns and a document archive.
From the outset I have been involved in a variety of activities outside of the farm: Board Director for South Wales on the Milk Marketing Board; Chairman of the National Dairy Council, Chairman of a food company in London, and the Independent Appeals Panels for Farmers in Wales, I like to keep busy.
The tribunal is not demanding in terms of time - I have had two sittings so far. New appointees are given training and I also believe that it is extremely helpful to sit in as an observer on a hearing early on. The length of the hearings can vary hugely as each case is unique, and you can be recalled to sit again if an expert advisor is needed or the panel needs more information. However, they usually take a day plus the all important preparation time.
The panel's chairman is a senior lawyer and there are two lay panel members with relevant experience - often one farmer and one landowner panel member to ensure there is understanding of different viewpoints around an issue. It is a legal process, with expert witnesses giving evidence under oath, but it is also run as informally as the law will allow so that people feel comfortable in presenting their case. Some people choose to represent themselves, or call on others such as lawyers, surveyors, experts in land drainage, accountants. Panel members often may be asked to visit the land or holding in question to get a fuller understanding of the issues. Evidence is taken from both sides and then the panel retires to discuss what has been presented. We go back in and either take more evidence, or the Chairman gives our deliberations, and there is a written decision afterwards.
Cases are often to do with agricultural tenancies. Tenancy successions can follow bereavement and engender a lot of emotion if a landlord disputes them. Disputes can also be caused by poor husbandry of land.
It is important there is a process in place and the panel members apply it professionally, focus on the relevant facts, and do not get emotional or stray from the enabling or relevant legislation. Members must be able to listen to both what is presented as well the views of the other panel members, rationalise the evidence and be confident to contribute their views to help the panel to come to an equitable decision.
The application form and information pack is comprehensive but before applying for the post, it is important to research the remit and role of the tribunal, panel members and the relevant legislation to get a clear overview. I also found the interview itself to be a pleasant experience - and every opportunity was given to draw out what you could give to the role.