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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:
  1. The letter from the Courts Service telling you when and where the hearing is taking place
  2. The bundle of papers about your case
  3. Any extra documents that you haven’t already provided
  4. 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 room

When 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.

One of the people on the tribunal panel is called 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. The other person is called the medical member. This is normally a GP, but can sometimes be some other type of doctor. The medical member is not there to examine you, but simply to be a medical expert.

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 capability for work 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 hearing

It’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:

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?’.

icon-key1.jpgIt’s important to understand that if the tribunal seems a bit aggressive, it’s not necessarily a bad thing. It can mean that the tribunal members are taking their role seriously, and are trying hard to get to the bottom of things. Possibly the worst kind of tribunal is the one whose members smile nicely at you, give you an easy ride, but then refuse you, because they haven’t really got to grips with the case.

If you think things aren’t going very well:

‘How do I maximise my chances of success?’
‘What happens at the end of the hearing?’