30 June 2008

Special Educational Needs Tribunals

I've just had an email about the changes in regulations relating to the Tribunal Service...

This is what it says...

"Some parents will be aware that the regulations relating to The Tribunal Service are being 'rationalised' in order to have a more consistent policy right across the range of tribunals. Discussions concerning the new regulations have been kept strictly between the Government and the legal profession but several lawyers have highlighted their concerns as the proposed changes are far from parent helpful. In fact they are definitely unfair to parents. and, if put into action, will make parental appeals to the Tribunal far more complex and pro Local Authorities. If you wish to access the new draft rules up for 'discussion' you should try the following:

The draft rules are at http://www.tribunals.gov.uk/Documents/Draft_HESC_ChamberRules_290508.pdf with the rules for the new upper tier tribunal (for appeals) at http://www.tribunals.gov.uk/Documents/Draft_Upper_Tribunal_Rules_02_06_08.pdf and also for the the transition rules - http://opsi.gov.uk/si/si2008/draft/plain/ukdsi_9780110817828_en

Basically what happens now (unless persuaded otherwise) is that SENDIST is abolished from 3rd November and everything becomes subject to the new rules, including appeals which have already been begun. Although there is provision for the tribunal to give directions disapplying this in relation to individual cases, they are not going to be able to do that in practical terms for appeals listed for hearing during the week of 3rd November. Theoretically at least we could all turn up for cases listed that week with 10 witnesses if the rules stay as they are! If any one thinks that there will be real consultation going on they may like to know that, according to the staff of SENDIST, in London their jobs end in October and the Darlington office closes shortly after end April 2009. There is talk of a kind of 'call centre' in Loughborough! The new system is scheduled to come into effect in November! If allowed to happen it will make appeals to SENDIST much more difficult for parents. 'Consultation' must be in by 11th July but for the new regulations to become law they must have Parliamentary approval and so be tabled in the House. Unless, however, we warn our MPs it is very likely that the new regulations will end up in Parliament and, if left unchallenged, will go the way of most delegated legislation and become law without debate."

I have also received a letter drafted by lead counsel regarding these new proposals / regulations for SENDIST which will impact on parents' right of access and appeal against their children's statements and creates an unfairness to many low income families ofdisabled children. Asking for it to be circulated to familiy and friends and sent to MP's and copy into SENDIST at Mowden Hall, Darlington - consultation finishes on the 11th July 2008.



Re: Children with Disabilities, changes to the Special Educational Needs and Disability Tribunal Regulations

I write to you as my member of parliament, because of proposed changes to therules involving the Special Educational Needs and Disability Tribunal. I amextremely concerned that these changes are being produced as a result of a general legal reform which pays no regard to the special role of the Tribunal, and its jurisdiction, which outside of the Family Court, is unique.

The current reforms are providing for an upper / lower tier of tribunals, and are convenient to lawyers, and to the legal administration. They have the following detrimental effect on families of children with disabilities, and special educational needs, and particularly are unfair and handicap the parents. The problems are as follows:

Firstly, the system favours local authorities, by abolishing a restriction on witnesses, and by getting rid of the substantial written elementof the case, which means that the Tribunal is a short cost effective and highly expert body.· Introducing directions hearings, and other administration orders,which will increase the costs.· If the restrictions on witnesses are abolished, plus the introduction of directions will mean that hearings which are generally one day or less, willbe much longer and much more expensive. The current system was brought in because local authorities had a substantial advantage and could call a large number of witnesses. Parents had limited budgets, and were concerned by their children's needs and disabilities, not by the budget. The new system helps local authorities unfairly.·

There is also a proposal that the Tribunal can order a child examined. The Family Court, which has jurisdiction in this area, only does so in certainset circumstances. Special needs appeals take place in circumstances where the authority is bound by statute and regulation as to how far and in whatcircumstances it can examine a child. The current proposals would seek to abolish parental rights, and in addition, create greater power for a local authority to examine a child in tribunal proceedings, than it is given bystatute.

Overall, I am extremely concerned by these changes in rules, and the fact thatthe consultation is really one for lawyers. It is unfair to parents and is only convenient to the Legal Administration. I would be grateful if you take this matter up, not only with the Department for Children and Families, but the Department of Justice. It would seem the bestway to deal with this is to call for these regulations to be actually debated inparliament.

Yours sincerely

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