Who should I expect to see at the Tribunal?
The first person you meet is the Tribunal Clerk. The clerk will greet you, and show you where your hearing will be taking place, the bathroom etc. If you have a question, you can direct it to the Clerk.
The person presiding over your case will be the Tribunal Judge. All tribunal judges have to have a legal qualification, and usually come from the background of a barrister/solicitor. They will ensure that the hearing is conducted in an unbiased and impartial manner, and the proper legal process is followed.
Sitting alongside the tribunal judge will be two Specialist Members. The role of the specialist member is to listen and to ask questions of the parties, and to assess the evidence. The specialist member can come from a variety of backgrounds: educational, psychological, as long as the speciality is involved with children with special education needs.
The specialist members, along with the judge will deliberate on your case.
Typically, the hearing will be conducted at a centre near the parents, in a convenient room so as to accommodate everyone involved. For this reason, it is important to inform the tribunal beforehand the number of people expected. That is, how many witnesses you intend on calling (there is a maximum of three), whether your child will be attending the hearing, whether both parents will be attending the hearing, and so forth.
When preparing your case, remember that the tribunal has limited scope, and is only empowered to consider your child’s educational needs. Other needs, such as social needs, are not the matter of the SEND tribunal and they are not empowered to assist with this.
Once everyone has gathered in the room, the judge will explain the procedure of the hearing to the parties. It’s important to remember that the decision of the tribunal is legally binding on both parties.
Over the course of the hearing, the judge and the specialist members will raise issues they believe are important to this case - based on their overview of the bundle. Be sure to address this, but do not neglect to bring up issues and evidence that you believe are pertinent to your case. Any member of the panel may ask questions at any time, but the judge will ensure that no party is interrupted while they are speaking.
When raising relevant points, make sure you back it up with evidence - be that documents, or through witness statements. Parents will be provided an opportunity to question witnesses on the topic being discussed, so use this time to your advantage.
SEND Tribunal hearings are more informal than typical court hearings. The judge will identify the issues and the relevant law, and then invite both parties to put forth their point in relation to that issue.
There will be dedicated breaks throughout the hearing, but if you require a break to see your child, or talk to one of your witnesses privately, you may ask for one. However, please note that refreshments are seldom provided, so please bring your own.
Towards the end of the hearing, both parties will be asked to sum up their positions. This is an opportunity to highlight key issues that have been discussed over the course of the hearing, and make your final persuasion.
AFTER THE HEARING
The judge will inform both parties about when to expect a decision.
If the case is successful then the local authority must act on the tribunal’s decision within the specified time. If there is no action, a complaint can be made to the Local Government Ombudsman. Telephone: 0300 061 0614. Or, fill in an enquiry form on gov.uk.
If you lose the appeal, but you believe there was a mistake, then the decision may be ‘set aside’. You must ask the tribunal to review the appeal. You must ask for permission to appeal within 28 days of the decision.