Judge: A remarkable achievement for parents to take the government to court

Image of protestors with words: Judge: "A remarkable achievement for parents to take the government to court"

The judgement in the Judicial Review of a group of parents against the government over SEND funding, has been reserved after a two-day hearing. But whatever the ruling, the parents who drove this forward on behalf of all families of children with disabilities were praised by the judge who called it a remarkable achievement for parents to take the government to court. 

It was, says Gillian Doherty, parent and founder of the SEND Action campaign group, “…a powerful moment at the end, and I think that’s what we’re going to take away from it.”

After the end of the hearing, Gillian and two of the parents named in the Judicial Review, Mary Riddell, whose daughter Dakota, nine, has cerebral palsy, and Lorraine Heugh, whose 15-year-old son Nico has autism and anxiety, took the time for a few words with me via Skype. You can watch the video at the end. 

The first day of the hearing

young people and parents at the first day rally
Young people and parents at the first day rally

The first day was preceded by speeches and a small rally. A flare-up of my EDS prevented me from getting there myself, unfortunately, but many others did—and not only outside the court. 

Lorraine said one of the things that stood out for her was how busy the courtroom was. She explained that there were so many people who wanted to watch the proceedings that they were packed in, sitting on the floor and in the seats where lawyers usually sat, but the judge was very accommodating. 

The first day saw the parents' lawyers, including barrister, Steve Broach, Anne Marie Irwin, and Jenni Richards, stating the case for the parents. The parents told me it seemed that only lawyers for the government attended, but no one from the Department for Education and of course, you’d never get Damian Hinds to show up to face the families he promised to help but so far hasn’t. ,

They don’t seem to understand that it isn’t just a case of chucking a few million to plug a few holes. The issue is systemic underfunding over years. Yes, there is more money in the way of numbers going in but when set against costs, salaries and the ever-growing high needs requirements (which is their own doing, by extending statutory protection to 25) So now they need to put their money where their legislation is.

The second day of the hearing

The second day it was the turn of the government’s lawyers with a lot of focus on technical arguments around decision making processes…Gillian said at one point there was a suggestion there had been no impact on children, which didn’t go down at all well.

“I think the only low point was this morning , it was hard to hear from the other side because it doesn’t have the ring of truth – it’s not what we see…”

Mary Riddell said, “It’s really hard not to argue back to things we blatantly know is wrong” Yes, I’m not sure how they managed not to leap over to the government side and give them a good kicking. 

The government seemed to just trot out the same old lines – that it was the local authorities that weren’t spending the money they should from other sources they have (I’m sure that’ll go down well in LAs too..)

However, Gillian Doherty said it seemed clear that there is complete acknowledgement that there is an issue that needs sorting out, but because of the political mess that is our government, we are still awaiting the spending review promised months ago

The SEND Action team

So what will happen if the judge decides in their – in our - favour? I’m not sure anyone is clear about what will happen then. If His Honour takes too long to make a decision, we’ll have moved on from the PM shenanigans and have plunged back into the heaving cesspit that is Brexit, where no topic can get a look in. 

But for the parents, just having their day in court meant so much. Gillian said, “If we win, it’s hard for us to think what they will do. Being heard is success in itself. The support has been phenomenal, fantastic. The atmosphere has been absolutely amazing, really supportive… parents, groups, organisations charities, couldn’t have wanted any more. ]

It’s been a long haul and these campaigners deserve a glass or two raised in thanks. Lorraine Heugh summed up the effort, and how the support from everyone had helped. “It’s been like a wave that’s carried everyone along…”

The video

Here’s the video. It’s just seven minutes, so please do watch.  Lorraine kicks off talking about their feeling at the end over how it went

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Tania Tirraoro

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