Client opted for a hearing without being there..
I cannot think of any situation where a hearing without attending would be a good idea. At the time of writing (October 2020), the online appeal form has just begun to give the option of attending a hearing by video link, whereas hearings since the COVID-19 lockdown in March of this year have all been conducted by conference call. Such telephone hearings have been a mixed blessing; clients with mental health conditions may well have welcomed there being no presumption that they should attend a face-to-face hearing, while some with physical problems might have felt that the tribunal would have benefited from seeing for themselves what problems they have to contend with.
You are able to have a witness or two in the room with you on a telephone hearing so hopefully, there would need to be some quite extreme factors at play before you would contemplate a hearing without attendance. I do not pretend
that a telephone hearing is not nerve-wracking but I regard not being heard by a tribunal to be well short of second best. Over the years, a few clients have come to me because the tribunal that had been asked to hear their appeal without any oral evidence did not feel able to do so. Instead, they adjourned and said in the adjournment notice that the appellant should be given another opportunity to attend.
They stressed that the tribunal would benefit by hearing from them and having the opportunity to put questions to them. Tribunals are not encouraged to adjourn a hearing as the outcome is delayed and there is inevitably a cost to the tribunal service as well. Not every tribunal would prioritise the need for fairness over expediency, so please do not rely on this happening.
If you want to challenge a tribunal’s decision, the starting point is looking at the statement of their reasons, written by the judge. You will need to find one or more errors of law in that statement and I find that this is made much more difficult when there has been no oral evidence at the hearing, another reason for someone ‘attending’ a hearing, even if it is not you. I have done a handful of hearings where the client/appellant has not been able to attend at all, usually due to the impact of their anxiety. Family members attended with me and I do not remember any of those
appeals being unsuccessful. I do remember attending with a client’s parents, with a sister and a daughter and they all did brilliantly.
Clients have described experiences of what they regarded as bad tribunals. You may have found ‘horror stories’ elsewhere on the internet and I am inclined to believe a lot of what I have been told. I have to set against this my own experience of representing at what is probably approaching 2,000 tribunal hearings over the 22 years, where I felt the need to step in on fewer than a handful of occasions because I was unhappy with the way my client was being treated, either by a tribunal panel member or by the DWP’s Presenting Officer. Perhaps the minority of panel members
who would be minded to treat an appellant badly did not do so because there was a representative, but that is no more than a theory.