Exchange Chambers Wins National Autism Award

March 3, 2016

Exchange Chambers has won the Outstanding Family Support Award at the 2016 Autism Professionals Awards, held at Telford International Centre (1 March 2016).

The National Autistic Society (NAS) event, sponsored by Axcis and Education Recruitment, was hosted by comedian Janey Godley and Janet Corcoran, a parent of an autistic adult and trustee of the charity. They handed out 13 awards to individuals and teams, including Exchange Chambers, who are doing innovative work in the field of autism and having a positive impact on autistic people and their families in the UK.

There were 217 nominations for this year’s awards, which were whittled down to 37 finalists and 13 winners by an independent panel of 11 autism experts who judged each on their innovation, creativity, impact and sustainability.

“We are delighted to win this award,” said Director of Chambers, Tom Handley.

“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.”

Added Bill Braithwaite QC, Head of Chambers at Exchange Chambers:

“Our Pro Bono alliance with the NAS reflects our Chambers’ values and is an absolutely key initiative for Chambers highlighting our commitment to supporting the communities in which we all live and work.

“Justice for all and equality before the law are amongst the most fundamental human rights and that is what we are fighting to provide for families affected by autism.”

Carol Povey, Director of The National Autistic Society’s Centre for Autism, said: “This year’s awards were the biggest yet, with a record 217 nominations showing the range of amazing work going on across the UK to improve the lives of people on the autism spectrum and their families. Exchange Chambers did remarkably well to stand out in this highly competitive field, impressing the judges with their generous work providing professional representation for families going through what can be a very stressful process.

“I’m always struck by the huge impact that knowledgeable and understanding individuals and services can have on autistic people and their families. This is true of each and every one of the award finalists and winners, including Exchange Chambers. I hope their achievements will inspire other professionals and services to go the extra mile to help autistic people and their families.”

Exchange Chambers’ Director of Chambers 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.