How To Deal With SEND Tribunals
The Law Of... Fighting For Your Child's Future
The thought of attending a tribunal hearing can be daunting for many parents. Generally, the SEND Tribunal will aim to make the process as parent-friendly as possible, but this isn't always the case.
Dan Whitfield, Education Law Advisor, explains why the tribunal process can be tough to get through alone and why having the right legal representation could help families secure the outcome they're looking for.
Are SEND Tribunals Really Parent-Friendly?
According to the Special Educational Needs and Disability Code of Practice: 0 – 5 Years:
"The Tribunal seeks to ensure that the process of appealing is as user friendly as possible, and to avoid hearings that are overly legalistic or technical. It is the Tribunal’s aim to ensure that a parent or young person should not need to engage legal representation when appealing a decision."
Unfortunately, in reality, this is not always the case and has led to many parents seeking legal representation for the appeal process and, in particular, for the day of their final hearing.
Do Parents Need To Know The Law For SEND Tribunals?
Unrepresented parents can take comfort in the fact that SEND Tribunal judges will not expect a parent to know the law, but they will be more interested in obtaining their views, concerns and reasons why they have brought the appeal.
The judge will be able to apply his or her knowledge of the law to this information, so it is not necessary for parents to read up on the law prior to a hearing.
But, each judge will have his or her own particular style that will often determine the nature of the hearing. Parents can have a variety of different experiences of a SEND Tribunal hearing, ranging from a relaxed discussion about what is in their child’s best interests to a formal legal battle.
This can make it difficult to predict whether legal representation would be beneficial for a parent prior to the day of the hearing.
Why Can The Process Be Stressful For Parents?
Parents can often find the process to be incredibly stressful due to the importance of what is at stake; the education and future of their child. This level of stress is not helped by the large bundles of evidence and information consisting of hundreds of pages that parents are expected to read, as well as occasionally hostile encounters with their opposition.
One particular factor that can deter parents from representing themselves is not knowing what to expect and, consequently, not knowing what arguments they should be raising at the hearing. This can make it incredibly difficult for unrepresented parents to prepare for the hearing as they may not know what points will be relevant.
Another difficulty that parents may face is that when an appeal is quite complex, the Local Authority may instruct a solicitor or barrister to represent them, resulting in the Local Authority being disproportionately advantaged from the outset of the hearing. In circumstances where an unrepresented parent finds themselves arguing against a barrister, the judge may aim to balance out the proceedings by directing more questions to the legal professional, although this cannot be guaranteed.
What Are The Benefits Of Getting A Lawyer For A SEND Tribunal?
Parents will often seek legal representation to have the weight of the process lifted off their shoulders, as a representative – such as an Education lawyer – will carry out all of the preparation prior to the hearing, as well as speaking at the hearing itself.
Legal representatives will be able to pick out the strongest arguments and apply them directly to the law, which inevitably may increase the prospects of success at a hearing.
How Can Simpson Millar's Education Law Team Help Me?
Our Education Law solicitors and advisors aim to provide unrepresented parents with as much support as possible. This can range from guidance on how to prepare for a hearing, assisting parents in making structured arguments to use at the hearing, as well as advising parents on the prospects of success based on the evidence available. We also offer legal support at a variety of different rates.
If you would like legal advice ahead of your hearing or wish to enquire about instructing a legal representative, contact our legal helpline for more information about the services we can provide.