The Special Educational Needs Tribunal for Wales (SENTW) is continuing to hear cases during the coronavirus pandemic but in virtual hearing rooms and requires the parties involved to submit their paperwork electronically. It issued Practice Directions on 26 June 2020 which sets out how the digitised paperwork must be compiled including restrictions on the maximum number of pages in some sections. The Practice Directions have been introduced for an initial period of 6 months after which the situation will be reviewed.
Normally, both parties involved in a SEN appeal or a disability discrimination claim submit their paperwork separately to SENTW which combines it into a single document known as the ‘bundle’: this is then forwarded to the parties and becomes the working document for the tribunal process.
However, the Directions now lay the responsibility for producing and distributing an electronic bundle on the Local Authority, in the case of a SEN appeal, and the Responsible Body, in the case of disability discrimination claim (e.g. the Governing Body if the claim is against a school). It is important to note that there is a requirement for the party making the appeal/claim to co-operate with the preparation of the bundle: failure to do so could result in unfortunate consequences.
Directions11 to 14 detail the process as follows:
The bundles shall be prepared in electronic format by the Local Authority for an appeal and by the Responsible Body for a claim. The appellant shall co-operate with the Local Authority/Responsible Body in the preparation of the bundle by providing any documents requested by the Local Authority/Responsible Body for inclusion in the bundle. In the event of a failure of co-operation to ensure that relevant documents are provided within the Bundle, the Panel conducting the hearing may draw such inferences, as appropriate, (including, for the avoidance of doubt, adverse inferences) from the failure when determining the appeal/claim.
The Local Authority /Responsible Body shall ensure that all documents included in the bundle are complete, legible and not duplicated. It is the responsibility of the Local Authority/Responsible Body to obtain complete and legible documents. The pages of the bundles shall be numbered and at the front of the bundles an index shall be prepared giving the page numbers of each of the documents and detailing the type of document, its date and the author along with their position.
Prior to finalisation of the bundle, a draft bundle shall be sent to the appellant to be agreed. If the Bundle submitted does not comply with this Practice Direction the parties shall be informed by the Tribunal Secretariat of the non-compliance and within 3 working days of such notification and the Local Authority/Responsible Body must ensure that that the Bundle is made compliant. Failure on the part of the Local Authority/Responsible Body to comply with this obligation may lead to a debarring order against it if the justice of the case so demands. If no response is received from the appellant agreeing the bundle within 5 working days of being sent the Local Authority/Responsible Body shall be entitled to presume that the bundle is agreed and it may be submitted to the Tribunal.
The Local Authority/Responsible Body shall send the bundle in electronic pdf format to the Tribunal at [email protected] 15 working days prior to the hearing of the appeal. At the same time the Local Authority/Responsible Body shall send the electronic bundle to the appellant.