Exchange Chambers barristers making a “life changing difference” says charity CEO

May 11, 2016

Mark Lever, Chief Executive of the National Autistic Society (NAS), yesterday praised the “life changing difference” barristers at Exchange Chambers are making to autistic children and their families by providing free legal representation at hearings into their educational needs.

Speaking at an event to mark the fifth anniversary of Exchange Chambers’ pioneering pro-bono alliance with the NAS, Mr Lever also congratulated Exchange Chambers on winning the Outstanding Family Support award at the recent Autism Professionals Awards.

The event, which took place at Exchange Chambers in Liverpool, included an address from Head of Chambers, Bill Braithwaite QC, who said the Set’s support of the NAS was “an absolutely key initiative which reflects our commitment to supporting the communities in which we all live and work”.

Guests also heard from the mother of Luke S, who has been successfully represented by Exchange Chambers’ NAS team. Luke has Asperger’s Syndrome and had been educated in a mainstream primary school. The local authority proposed a generic special secondary school, but Luke’s mum objected that he would only fulfil his potential at a specialist independent school for children with autism. Recognising the limited expert evidence to support that argument, the Tribunal was persuaded to order jointly-commissioned independent therapists’ reports. At a resumed hearing, the Tribunal accepted that only the independent school could meet Luke’s needs.

Commenting on Exchange Chambers’ work with the NAS, Director of Chambers, Tom Handley said:

“Five years ago, we entered into a pioneering pro-bono alliance with the NAS.

“Until then, although volunteers from the NAS Tribunal Support Scheme had provided telephone advice and support to parents seeking to challenge local authority decisions regarding their children’s special educational needs, they had generally been unable to offer representation at hearings. Many parents, already exhausted by the demands of caring for a child with a lifelong disability, were understandably daunted by the prospect of arguing their case before the Special Educational Needs Tribunal.

“Barristers from Chambers now provide free legal representation at such hearings, using their strong advocacy skills to empower and represent parents in the most effective way.”

Tom Handley and barrister David Knifton both have children with autism spectrum disorder.

David Knifton has 4 children, 3 of whom have autism spectrum disorder. Aware from his own experience at a Tribunal appeal on behalf of his son that even the most articulate parents sometimes found the prospect of representing themselves at such hearings too daunting, David instigated the partnership and continues to drive it forward today.