The Appeals Service is crap. Without revealing any names, I went to a tribunal today with a client who was refused Disability Living Allowance (DLA) at the middle rate of the care component and the lower rate of the mobility component.
Now, ordinarily we do not represent clients at tribunal, simply because we don’t have the Community Legal Service Quality Mark at Level 3, only at Level 2. But in this case, repeated attempts to request a postponement so that we can gather more evidence and refer to the Free Representation Unit for a representative were not granted, and in the end, they indicated that the decision to postpone would be made at the tribunal hearing.
After it took 2 hours to get there this afternoon for a 3pm hearing, we discovered that the BSL/English Interpreter hadn’t turned up, and the Clerk had been trying to ring both my client and I (even though we’re both Deaf) to tell us that we do not need to attend the hearing as the tribunal panel had decided to consider the decision on the papers submitted. They decided to award the client with MR care and LR mobility. So that was a complete waste of time, even though we’d achieved the desired result.
If the DWP had made the correct decision in the first place, if the Appeals Service had granted a postponement or at least had the common sense to actually contact Deaf people in the correct manner, then it wouldn’t have been such a waste of time! This week was meant to be my catch-up week, but because of the incompetence of the DWP/Appeals Service, I ended up having to give up an afternoon of casework work.
BBCi is running an article on ‘US courtrooms go hi-tech’.
The article is well worth a read, and raises the technology prospects, which could become commonplace within the court system, and hopefully this would include the UK.
With such technology available, accessibilty would move from the margins further into the mainstream. For example, the article quotes:
The court stenographer arguably has the most arduous job, tracking every word that is spoken during the course of a trial.
Until recently it took days to produce an official printed copy of the record. Now it takes seconds.
Mollie Nichols, assistant director of Courtroom 21, explains: “The court record manager will actually speak into this mask and will be saying every word that the lawyer, the witness and the judge is saying.
“The recording actually goes into a computer and a typewritten transcript is produced in real time.”
As a precaution, the judge uses a hand-held pad that can control every device in the room. The judge can immediately stop anyone from seeing something they should not.
Such technology could be easily accessed and used by Deaf professionals and indeed other Deaf users of the court. With technology in place, it would be standard and thus dispel the need in some instances to request adjustments in advance.
In October 2004, the Employment Tribunal has produced a Guidance for tribunal users who are deaf or hard of hearing.
The Guidance can also be downloaded from Employment Tribunals Online website, spefically here.
Firstly, the title of the document implies that the interpreter is there for Deaf people only, and does not acknowledge the two way process of interpreting, and the fact that an interpreter is for the benefit of both parties.
Secondly, a rather worrying statement from the document:
Many deaf people have a friend or relative who interprets for them. If you want them to translate for you, the chairman must be satisfied that your friend or relative can accurately translate what you are saying and what is being said to you.
Whilst this paragraph recognises that there may be some fault in using a member of the family or a friend, unless the Chair is familiar with
a) translation / interpreting issues;
b) is able to operate within two languages and is familiar with two cultures;
how are they best placed to judge this situation? In addition, will they be aware that the knowledge of a language does not qualify one to interpret, and possibly introduce bias to the proceedings? Will they be familiar with language and interpreting structures?