The Tribunal Hearing


If you have never been to a Tribunal Hearing you may be apprehensive and curious as to how the day will go. The Tribunal have produced a DVD that is available from their website.

We have tried here to address many of the questions that parents ask us in advance of the Hearing

How long will the hearing last ?

A Tribunal against refusal to assess , refusal to issue a statement or against Parts 2 and 3 of a Statement will generally be listed for half a day . It will start at either 10am or 2pm

A Tribunal involving Parts 2, 3 and 4 of the  Statement will generally be listed for a full day . It will start at 10am

You should arrange for childcare for your children after school as many appeals do not finish until 5pm

The Tribunal will break for an hour at lunchtime and in general for 10-15 minutes at mid morning and mid afternoon. If you require more frequent breaks you can ask the Tribunal Panel

Should i bring my child?

Most families do not bring their child but rely on detailed paperwork and witnesses to describe their child's special educational needs and provision and placement required to meet the child's needs.

If you do wish to bring your child as you feel that they have important evidence to give to the Tribunal Panel , the Tribunal Panel will normally not allow the child to stay for the whole hearing but will invite the child to come in and speak to them at the beginning of the hearing with the parents , the parents representative and the LA representative .

The Tribunal will then expect the child to leave or the parents to provide childcare outside of the Hearing room to look after the child

Where will the Tribunal be held ?

The Tribunal Service tries to hold Hearings in a Tribunal building close to the family home. However it may not be in your local town but in a city close to your home. In the event that the Tribunal Service cannot find availability in a Tribunal Building they may rent a conference room in a business centre or a hotel

If there are reasons why you need the hearing to be held close to your home , please let the Tribunal Service know in writing as soon as possible the reasons why this is necessary

You will only be notified of the venue about 10 days before the Hearing 

Is the Hearing formal or informal ?

The Tribunal aims for the hearing to be relatively informal ; more like a board meeting than a court hearing. The Judge will not wear a gown or a wig and no one is required to stand up for the Tribunal Panel . However each Judge has their own particular style in running a hearing and it is thus difficult to predict exactly how formal the hearing will be until you arrive

At the beginning of the Hearing the Judge will set out the issues he/she wants to discuss and debate and the order in which these will be discussed

What should i wear ?

Think of the Hearing as a business meeting or a school meeting  ; it is important that you are comfortable as hearings can go on for a long time. There is no need to wear a suit or formal business wear if you do not usually wear these or do not feel comfortable

What happens when i arrive at the Hearing ?

You should aim to arrive at least half an hour before the hearing starts , You may wish to arrive an hour in advance if you wish to have further discussions with your representative and/or your witnesses

In many Tribunal venues you will be allocated a private meeting room where you can meet and discuss issues with your witnesses and representative ; however this is not guaranteed and often not possible if the Tribunal is being held in a conference centre or a hotel

Sometimes the LA representative will want to discuss certain points with your representative or yourselves before the Hearing starts . It is up to you whether you meet with the LA representative before the Hearing starts or whether you prefer to discuss the issues in front of the Tribunal Panel. In many cases where the appeal concerns Part 2 and 3 of the Statement the LA will continue to seek agreement on the outstanding issues in the " Working Document " up to the start of the Hearing

The Tribunal Service will generally allocate a Clerk to help you and the LA throughout the day ; the Clerk plays no part in the Hearing but directs you to and from the Hearing room and will take documents to and from the Tribunal Panel and the LA . In certain venues there will no Clerk available and you will be reliant on the venue staff or the Tribunal Panel to direct you to and from rooms

No one from either party will be allowed to enter the Tribunal room or meet with the Tribunal Panel without the other party being present . If this was to happen by mistake the Hearing would most likely be adjourned and another Tribunal Panel be allocated on a different dat to rehear the case in full

Do i need a representative or can i represent myelf?

Many families represent themselves and the Tribunal Panel will be used to parents who are representing themselves . It is very much up to each family whether they think they will require support on the day of the Hearing in presenting their arguments and questioning their own witnesses and those of the LA

Who will represent the LA ?

Different LAs work in different ways and some LAs have different representatives depending on the complexity of the case

The LA will either use the Case Officer , a senior member of the SEN Team , a member of their in house legal team or a specialist solicitor or barrister to represent. They should tell you on their attendance form who will be representing them . However it is not uncommon for the LA to change the details of their representative close to the Hearing . You should however be informed that they intend to do this and why they are doing it .

Who do i need to bring as witnesses ?

It depends on the matters under appeal as to who you need to bring as a witness and how many witnesses you bring . The Tribunal will send you an attendance form that must be submitted in advance ; the attendance form enables you to tell the Tribunal and the LA who you are intending to bring to the Hearing

The LA will have submitted an attendance form to you when they respond to your appeal . You will this be able to see who they are intending to bring . This will help you decide who you want to bring

If you want more than 3 witnesses you will need to apply to the Tribunal in advance  for permission . This is only allowed in exceptional circumstances . You can also make an application on the day to admit an additional witness although you risk that this will be denied and your witness will not be alllowed in

If you have had independent professionals assess your child , you may want to bring one or all of these as witnesses to the appeal

You may want to bring a witness from your child's current school or the school you want your child to attend

In general witnesses stay for the whole of the Hearing ; they are not called in , give their evidence and then leave .

What paperwork do i need to bring ?

The Tribunal will issue what is called the " Tribunal Bundle " about 2 weeks before the Hearing . This will be an indexed bundle of all the papers you and the LA have sent into the Tribunal during the course of the Hearing . The Bundle will have page numbers so that you can refer to specific pages during the Hearing

The Tribunal Panel will have read all the Bundle very carefully before the Hearing . There is no need to read out the reports during the Hearing but you may want to direct the Panel and the witnesses to certain pages during the course of the Hearing

Very often the Working Document , if required , will not be included within the Bundle as it has not been completed by the time the Bundle has been printed . You or your representative will need to bring with you enough copies of this for each of the Panel and the LA on the day of the Hearing . You cannot rely on the Tribunal venue having photocopying facilities

If you are bringing any late evidence that you want the Panel to admit on the day , you will need to bring enough copies for each of the Tribunal Panel and the LA

Who is on the Tribunal Panel ?

The Tribunal Panel consists of 3 people; the person sitting in the middle will be the Tribunal Judge ; he or she will be a lawyer and will Chair the Panel . The other 2 people ( known as the " wings " as they sit either side of the Judge ) are Lay Members ; they have knowledge of the Special Educational Needs world but you will not be told in what capacity . They may be acting or retired head teachers , Educational Psychologists , Teachers , Therapists etc .

At the beginning of the Hearing the Panel will inroduce themselves by name but will not tell you their background

You will not know before you arrive at the Hearing who the Panel will consist of ; there are about 60 Chairs and 120 Lay Members who sit on Tribunal Panels .

Who sits where ?

The Tribunal aims to make Hearings as informal yet productive and orderly as possible . They prefer to have a large boardroom table with the Tribunal Panel on one side and the parents , LA and witnesses on the other side or a " Top Table" for the Tribunal Panel  and the parents and LA and witnesses sitting at a long table in front of them

In general the representatives will sit together in the middle of one side of the table with the parents next to their representative and the parents witnesses to the other side of the parents . The LA witnesses will sit next to their representative 

What happens when the Hearing starts ?

The Tribunal Judge will introduce the Panel and ask everyone present to introduce themselves .

The Judge will then introduce an agenda for the day .The agenda very much depends on the outstanding issues of disagreement and the type of appeal

He will often begin by asking the parents to say a little bit about their child. This serves two purposes ; to hopefully relax the parents and to paint a real life and vivid picture of the child in question. Many parents choose to bring a photo of the child to show the Panel. At this point there is no need for the parents to argue their case as to what they want and why . They just need to paint a picture of their child for the Tribunal

The Tribunal will then introduce the different issues one by one. It depends on each Judge as to how they run this part of the Hearing . The Panel may ask the LA to put their case first and then the parents put their case or vice versa . Alternatively they may want to have a more interactive discussion with both sides intervening as and when required. The Tribunal Panel and each side will have the opportunity to ask questions throughout the Hearing . It is meant to be an inquisitorial rather than an adversarial process ; some Judges refer to the term "cross - examination" whilst others prefer to refer to " questioning "

The Judge will take detailed notes throughout the Hearing

If a parent is represented , some Judges direct the presentation of the case through the Representative . Other Judges will involve parents more directly

It is very important that by the end of the Hearing the parent feels that all evidence has been put forward and discussed

The Hearing ends with the LA summing up the case from their point of view and finally the parents representative or the parents summing up as they see it . In the summing up  no new evidence can be introduced

Do i get the decision on the day ?

It is very unusual to be given a decision on the day of the Hearing . The Tribunal aims to produce a written decision within 10 working days of the Hearing . This will be sent by post  to you and the LA at the same time . If you ask the Tribunal Head Office , they may agree to send the decision by email as well

What happens if we run out of time and the Hearing  is not finished ?

In very complex cases , it sometimes happens that the Hearing is not concluded in a day . In these circumstances the Hearing is adjourned to be completed on another day . However this often means a delay of weeks if not months as the Tribunal will need to coordinate everyones diaries to find a mutually convenient hearing date

Occasionally ,if both parties are represented and all the evidence has been given , the Tribunal will order that both representatives provide written final submissions so that a further oral hearing does not have to take place