The letter from the Tribunal Service will tell you when and where the appeal is being heard.
Getting to the hearing
Make sure you know where you are going and that you get there on time. If you’ve never been to the hearing venue before, I suggest visiting it on a day before the hearing date, just to make sure you know where it is. Allow a bit for extra time for getting into the building - some venues have security barrier, and there’s sometimes queues - and if you’re not sure where to go once your inside, ask a staff member: depending on the size of the venue, you might need to show them your hearing date letter.
You should bring the following things with you:
- The letter from the Courts Service telling you when and where the hearing is taking place
- The bundle of papers about your case
- Any extra documents that you haven’t already provided
- A pen and paper, so make notes during the hearing if you need to
When you get to the part of the building where the hearing is taking place you’ll normally find a seating area. If you wait there one of the clerks will normally find you quite quickly. They are the people responsible for all the admin at tribunal hearings, and for making sure that everyone knows what’s going on. In general they are quite a friendly bunch, at least in my experience. However although they are normally happy to answer any questions you have about procedure, they cannot give you any legal advice about your case, nor can they make any representations on your behalf.
If you have requested an interpreter, they should turn up about now.
The hearing might start at the time it gives on the letter, or it may start later, if previous hearings have been longer than they expected. If you are late, the tribunal might wait for you for maybe ten minutes or so, but don’t rely on this. Apart from anything else, if you are late the tribunal starts with you being flustered and the tribunal panel being annoyed.
Arriving in the hearing roomWhen you go into the hearing room, you will see two people sitting next to each other: they are the tribunal panel. You will take a seat facing them. If you have an interpreter they will sit next to you.
The panel will only have one person on it: a judge: he or she is legally qualified, and an expert in social security law. Some of the judges work full-time for the Tribunal Service: others combine it with other legal work. The judge will not be wearing robes, a wig, or any other unusual costume.
But hang on a minute. This is a dispute between two parties, you and the Department of Work and Pensions. Surely they should be there too to put there side of the story? Well, yes, but in practice the Department of Work and Pensions doesn’t have enough staff to go to all the appeals there are. And, frankly, it’s unlikely that the department is all that interested in your case. Almost certainly your appeal is not breaking new legal ground that might cause them wider problems if the decision goes against them. To them it just a routine case, even though to you it’s your whole life.
The hearingIt’s hard to tell you exactly how the hearing will proceed: it depends on the details of the case, and on how the particular judge wants to handle things.
However the following things are likely to happen:
- The judge will introduce him- or herself and anyone else in the room.
- The judge will ask you questions, and listen to your answers. The judge will be writing down everything that is said as the hearing proceeds (there is no court typist or stenographer): because of this there might be pauses while he or she’s writing catches up.
- Once they think they have heard everything they need to hear, they will ask you if there’s anything else you want to say. This is because they don’t want you to leave the room thinking that there was something you wanted to say but never had the chance to say it.
All you have to do is listen to their questions, and answer them politely, as honestly as you can. Don’t worry if you don’t know legal language or if you are struggling to explain something. I give more details about this at the page ‘How do I maximise my chances of success?’
|It’s important to understand that if the tribunal seems a bit aggressive, it’s not necessarily a bad thing. It can mean that the judge is taking his or her role seriously, and is trying hard to get to the bottom of things. Possibly the worst kind of tribunal is the one where the judge smiles nicely at you, gives you an easy ride, but then refuses you, because they haven’t really got to grips with the case.|
If you think things aren’t going very well:
- The most important thing is to stay calm: this won’t necessarily help, but losing your cool will almost certainly finish you off.
- If you think that there are things the tribunal has ignored, jot them down (you did remember to take a pen in with you didn’t you?). If later on in the hearing they deal with any of them after all, cross them out. When the tribunal has finished asking you questions, tell them politely) that there are some things you think they’ve missed. They should then ask you about these.
- The same obviously applies if you suddenly think of something you want to say