Tribunals are free and fair

21st April 2006 at 01:00
May I set the record straight on "Sendist" special needs tribunals? As Lord Adonis told the education select committee last week, there is no cost to a parent in registering an appeal. If a parent chooses to be represented by a lawyer, there will be a cost unless he or she is eligible for legal aid.

This cost will vary according to the type of lawyer used; a number now offer representation pro bono.

In recent years we have seen greater use of legal representatives, but it is misleading to present it as the norm. Our last annual report notes that parents were represented by a lawyer at the hearing in 25 per cent of cases and by a non-legal representative, for example, from a special needs support group, in a further 23 per cent of cases. One in five had legal representation throughout the appeal process. Local education authorities were legally represented in 23 per cent of cases.

I do not know the source of your percentage figures for parental success or failure in an appeal, but they cannot be accurate given the high rate of parental success overall. A recent publication by the DCA Research Unit states that the success rate among represented cases brought to Sendist was 7 per cent higher than among non-represented cases (82 per cent - 75 per cent), although even this difference is discounted in regression analysis.

The tribunal aims to be clear and helpful in its advice to parents, giving guidance at all stages.

Tribunal panels are considerate and patient when an unrepresented parent comes to a hearing and will take time to ensure that the procedure is fully understood.

Many panel members tell me that they prefer to have unrepresented parents before them so that communication is direct and to the point.

Unless there are complex areas of law to be explored, factual and relevant evidence is better than unnecessary legalese and most parents are well able to argue their cases effectively.

Rosemary, Lady Hughes President, Special Educational Needs and Disability Tribunal (Sendist), Procession House 55 Ludgate Hill London EC4

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