What happens when you attend a court appeal hearing? What is expected of you? What can you expect from the appeal panel?
Getting ready to attend a Tribunal hearing to appeal against a DWP decision? Don't know what to expect?
Carry on reading to understand what to expect and how to prepare for an appeal hearing
Appeal hearings often vary in the detail of how they are run by individual judges, but generally they will be run in the way described in this article.
In reality you will be getting ready for your appeal hearing for several weeks before the hearing date as you gather together and submit any additional evidence and statements from medical professionals, carers, friends etc. However, there are two or three things to consider doing in the days leading up to the hearing.
Preparing for your "day in court"
Mark up your papers
Prior to the hearing you will want to go through the appeal papers and mark any particular parts you want to draw the tribunal’s attention to, e.g. medical evidence, so as to make sure you can find them quickly and easily. Use post-its, highlighter pen and marginal notes liberally.
Doing this means that the tribunal won’t get increasingly impatient as you scrabble through the bundle muttering “Sorry, I’ll find it in a minute . . . I’m sure it’s here somewhere”. In addition, you can direct the tribunal to the pages you want them to look at and give them less opportunity to go hunting around for things you might be less keen on them spending time on: “At page sixteen of the bundle, the doctor states . . . however at page 7, the decision maker says . . . and if you’ll turn to page 93 . . .”
Draw up a checklist of things to take to the hearing
On the day of the hearing you may well be feeling a little nervous and you may not have slept terribly well. So in the days beforehand it’s very well worth making a list of all the things you need to take to the hearing. For example:
Be as organised as you can, put all of your papers in a ring binder in numerical order. Try not to turn up at court with everything thrown into a supermarket carrier bag. You want to convey to the court staff how important the hearing is to you and the supermarket carrier bag briefcase conveys a different message altogether!
What to wear on the day
Clients often ask us what they should wear. Dressing smartly demonstrates respect and ‘respectability’. However, if in your claim you have said that you have to wear slip on shoes, elasticated waists or other clothing dictated by your condition then you should either:
On the day of the hearing
Arrival at the hearing venue
When you arrive at the tribunal venue you will normally have to go through similar security measures as those used in places like airports. Be prepared for the security staff to want to check through any bags you are carrying, and to be asked to go through a walk through scanner.
Ask at the reception desk in which room the hearing is going to be held and make your way to the waiting area that will be next to the room that your hearing is going to be held in.
Just before the time at which you were asked to arrive for your hearing you will be greeted by the Clerk to the Tribunal. This is the member of the court staff appointed to make sure hearings proceed as smoothly as possible. It is the clerk’s responsibility to explain the process to you, answer any questions, deal with claims for travel or other expenses and handle the administrative tasks associated with your hearing. The clerk must also liaise with the tribunal, telling them who has arrived and assist the tribunal in typing up the decision notice and dealing with any paperwork.
The tribunal will endeavour to start your hearing at the time given in your notice of hearing, but because it is not always possible to predict how long each appeal will take, the actual start time may be a little later. If your hearing is late morning or late afternoon, it is likely that the start of your hearing may be delayed due to the inevitable running on of the hearings before yours. Do not let this distract or upset you.
The clerk will show you into a waiting-room and give you an indication of when your appeal hearing will begin. The clerk will inform you of the names of the members of the appeal panel and they will also check to make sure that you have your appeal bundle and that it is the same as the copies issued to the appeal panel.
If you have any further evidence to provide to the appeal panel, you should give it to the clerk at this point, so that it can be given to the appeal panel before the start of the hearing.
It is wise to restrict any last minute evidence to no more than 3-5 pages of A4 size documents.
If a large volume of last minute evidence is submitted, it is possible that the judge may adjourn your hearing until a later date, to give the appeal panel time to consider the new evidence.
The clerk will sort out any expenses claim you may have and deal with any last minute enquiries about the arrangements for the hearing. You should feel free to ask your clerk any questions about the hearing and its procedures.
The clerk will also be present from time to time in the tribunal room during the hearing in case the tribunal needs administrative assistance. The clerk takes no part in the decision making of the tribunal.
The Tribunal panel
The tribunal is drawn from a judicial panel appointed by the Lord Chancellor. The composition of the tribunal varies according to the type of case.
For appeals involving Disability Living Allowance, Attendance Allowance or the Personal Independence Payment, the tribunal will comprise a tribunal Judge, a medical practitioner and a disability expert.
For appeals involving industrial injuries benefits, assessments for ability to work such as in Employment and Support Allowance or Universal Credit cases, the tribunal will comprise a Judge and a medical practitioner.
For all other types of case, the tribunal will consist of a tribunal Judge alone.
DWP is entitled to send a representative (called a ‘Presenting Of cer’) to take part in the hearing of your appeal. DWP examine each appeal on a case-by-case basis and only send a Presenting Officer if they think one is required.
Tribunal hearings are, by law, open to the public, though it is fair to say that it is very unusual for a member of the public to attend. You may ask the tribunal for the public to be excluded in the interests of your personal privacy.
Tribunals share some of the characteristics of courts, but not all.
Tribunals differ from courts in that:
Tribunals are like courts in that they:
It is up to the tribunal Judge to decide how the hearing is to be conducted. The Judge is given that power by law. The sequence of the proceedings will vary from case to case, depending on the nature of the issues to be decided. The following is a general outline of a typical hearing:
What happens when you go into the appeal hearing room?
The tribunal Judge will introduce everyone present and establish the part they will play in the proceedings, checking that any interpretation or signing services required are suitable. The Judge will also ensure that everyone has all the necessary sets of papers. The Judge will take a formal note of the proceedings – ‘the record of proceedings’.
The tribunal Judge will summarise the issues in the appeal according to the papers and agree with the parties present what ground needs to be covered in the hearing and in what order. This is an opportunity for representatives, if they are invited to do so by the tribunal Judge, to make an opening statement, outlining their case.
In the tribunal setting, where it is rare for either side to be legally represented, the tribunal assumes responsibility for asking the questions. Please bear in mind the following:
Evidence from your representative and other people present
Hearing evidence from any other witnesses will follow your evidence. If you have a formal representative or advocate helping you with the appeal, this is when they will have their opportunity to provide an oral statement and clarify any points that they feel have not been covered already in the hearing. The Presenting Officer for DWP is not usually in the position of a witness, since he or she is unlikely to have had any prior involvement in dealing with your claim.
After the evidence has been completed, the Judge will invite closing statements. This is an opportunity for representatives for each side to sum up the case.
A note on questioning by the appeal panel
Many members report to us that they felt like they were being interrogated or picked on by the appeal panel members when they were being questioned. They also report that they did not expect to be asked lots of questions and thought the hearing would be more about the failings of the assessors report (disability benefit appeals) or failings the DWP internal processes.
The reality is that for many people, the questioning will feel very direct and straight forward. The panel need to understand the facts of the appeal and with the listed time available, they don't have time to listen to statements from the claimant that are not answering their questions. For the majority of the hearing, the panel are in control of the questioning and all they need from the claimant is an answer to the question that has been asked.
The panel will sometimes repeat a question or ask the same question in a different way, again many members report that they felt like the panel did not believe their answers because the panel kept asking the same question. In the majority of cases, if a question is repeated, it will be because the actual question has not been answered at all, or only partially.
The panel are independent of the DWP and in the majority of cases, they will be empathetic to the claimants circumstances and will do everything they can to give the claimant an award of benefit. But remember, the panel need you to provide them with the information they need to be able to make that award. You are there to provide the information they ask for, if you don't, they probably won't be able to make an award for you.
The tribunal will consider the evidence and statements in private. At this point you will be escorted by the tribunal clerk back to the waiting room. In most cases you will be invited by the Judge to wait while the tribunal reaches its decision. However, if the Judge thinks it unlikely that a decision can be reached fairly quickly, you will be advised that the decision will be posted to you.
If the tribunal is able to give its decision on the day, you will be invited back into the tribunal room for the Judge to announce the decision. A typed decision notice will also be given. Announcing the decision closes the appeal and there is no further discussion. This is not the time to express any dissatisfaction if you do not get the decision you are hoping for.
The judge does not generally invite comments at this stage of the proceedings, this is simply about the judge informing you of the panels decision, nothing else.
The tribunal may come to the conclusion that it cannot reach a decision on the day and there will have to be an adjournment. When adjourning, the tribunal will aim to set a date for the next hearing and give directions to minimise the risk of any further delay to the completion of the case.
The above description is a general outline. Sometimes the tribunal may have formed the view from reading the appeal papers that the appeal turns on a single issue and it may decide to concentrate on that point from the start of the hearing.
For Universal Credit appeals, the tribunal may be able to award some elements at one hearing, and adjourn the remaining elements to be heard at a later stage. In these cases, the ‘ nal’ decision will only be made at the last hearing when the appeal is nally closed.
After the tribunal has made its decision Implementing the decision
If you have had an oral hearing, a notice setting out the decision of the tribunal is given or posted to you and to DWP on the day of the hearing. If your case has been decided on the papers, you will receive a notice of the decision through the post a day or two after the hearing and a copy of the decision will also be sent to DWP.
DWP is entitled to suspend payment of any benefit awarded you by the tribunal, if they are appealing against the tribunal’s decision.
Once the tribunal has made its decision, you should direct any queries about how the decision is implemented to DWP as they now have the responsibility for implementing the tribunal’s decision.
You should expect a short delay following DWP’s receipt of the decision whilst they consider the outcome and next steps. This can be anything from a 7-28 days.
The BASE adviser team will be happy to answer any questions you have on this article or any other benefits questions that you need help and support with.
If you haven't already done so, please come and join our thriving online Facebook community where you will be able to meet the people that have brought you this article and ask them questions to your hearts content.
Join the Facebook community here: Benefit Advice Essentials