Special educational needs appeals are heard by a panel of three decision-makers which includes a legally qualified chairperson and two lay-members who will have relevant practical experience. The parents/carers, Education Authority representatives and any witnesses either party wish to call, may attend to give evidence. The child is entitled to attend and give evidence to the tribunal.
Parents may self-represent or may engage the help of an advocate or lawyer to present their case. In a limited number of cases, the Children’s Law Centre provides free representation in line with casework criteria.
The hearing is intended to be relatively informal with each person being given an opportunity to present their point of view and opportunities being provided to discuss matters issue by issue. However, parents/carers and professionals often find the prospect of a legal hearing to be stressful and are worried about what will happen. It is therefore important to seek information from SENDIST or from the Children’s Law Centre about what will happen at the hearing as part of the process of preparing for a hearing.
The organisation and planning of the evidence to be presented can be a complex process governed by strict legal rules, regulations and time limits.
It is therefore recommended that parents, carers, young people and any other interested parties contact the Children’s Law Centre who can provide free legal advice and information at the earliest possible stage.