SEND Tribunal – Update for volunteers, parents and carers Updated 03.04.2020 11.55am The SEND Tribunal has provided a guidance on how it is responding to the current situation with regards to Covid-19. If you have an upcoming hearing, then you might want to keep checking this link and you can also sign up for alerts via their website. You should also take a look at our page on where to get help with making an appeal. Paperless hearings The SEND Tribunal has confirmed that hearings will be on paper or by telephone (and, where the technology permits, by video) starting on Monday 23 March 2020. The SEND Tribunal administration team will send out log in details in advance of the hearing. These will be issued when the Notice of Hearing is issued. Instead of a physical venue you will see dial in or video dial in details with full instructions on how to join. Telephone hearings are via an 0800 number and so should be free from landline or mobile. If a video hearing is ordered and you are concerned that your internet connection is not good enough, there will also be the option of joining via phone. The number to call should be included in the Notice of Hearing, but if it is not, contact the Tribunal to find this out. From 30 March 2020, appeals and claims will be prioritised by the judiciary and consideration given to the use of additional approaches including triaging of cases to ensure that decisions are made proportionately. There may be an option to use a court venue if there is no access to a stable telephone or internet connection but you would need to check this with the SEND Tribunal administration team. Alternatively, you may be able to agree with the SEND Tribunal and the LA that a paper hearing would be appropriate. The Tribunal have asked parties not to call the Tribunal until 2 days before hearings if they haven’t heard anything as, like every public service, they are affected by staff shortages as a result of Covid-19. Earlier hearings As at 2 April 2020, the SEND Tribunal has identified some additional scope to relist hearings on an earlier date (because of the convenience and availability of video hearings) over the next month. If your appeal is ready to be heard on an earlier date, you could consider taking advantage of this. Contact the other party and, if they agree, find a suitable date for both of you and send it to the SEND Tribunal. If you can offer more than one date, that would be better. The SEND Tribunal will prioritise those appeals that have already been postponed because of a lack of judicial capacity or hearing rooms Pilot Practice Direction: Panel Composition To help cope with the current outbreak, a pilot direction has been issued (for a period of six months) about who can hear SEND appeals and appeals against schools under the Equality Act 2010. It means that, if a salaried judge considers that a case couldn’t go ahead, or would be subject to unacceptable delay, if the usual rules about how the panel is made up were applied, they can decide that the case will be heard by a judge alone, or by panel consisting of fewer or different members (and can select salaried or fee-paid members). When making these decisions, judges will consider the urgency within which a case needs to be heard and the overriding objective (of fairness and justice). If the panel composition is altered, the Tribunal can still seek the advice of one or more non-legal members to assist with its decision-making, provided the advice is recorded and disclosed to the parties to the appeal. With these measures, it is expected that there should be no need to adjourn hearings if the parties are ready to go ahead, even though they may not be able to take place in person. You can find further guidance on how telephone and video hearings will be used during the Covid-19 outbreak here. Top tips Contact all your witnesses and anyone else dialling in, in advance, to check whether they have reliable phone or internet connection. If they do not, then let the LA and the Tribunal know as soon as possible. If you or anyone else expected to dial-in has caring responsibilities (with many school children now at home, this may well be a concern) alert the LA and the Tribunal to this to discuss what accommodations might be possible. Make sure you are sitting somewhere comfortable, quiet and close to charging points. If you’re referring to documents in the bundle during a phone or video hearing, double check everyone has the right page as it will be trickier than in person to ensure everyone is looking at the right document. Make sure you keep notes as the hearing is going on, so when it’s your turn to talk you can address things raised by others when they were talking. Let the judge lead the call. Remember the hearing is still fairly formal and so you should not talk over the judge – but the Tribunal will be understanding of the fact that it will be harder to know who is meant to be talking when!