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7 June 2008
A vital resource for claimants pursuing a benefits appeal has been withdrawn from the Tribunals Service website and is now available exclusively to Benefits and Work members.

The Benchbook is a highly practical and surprisingly non-technical guide for tribunal chairs on how to conduct hearings and deal with any problems that arise.

Judge Michael Harris President of the Appeals Service says in the introduction to the book that every chairman is expected to take the Benchbook to tribunals and use it. Every appelant and representative should probably do the same.

The kind of issues it covers include:

  • What to do if the appellant doesn't turn up or is late.
  • What to do if the representative doesn't turn up.
  • Whether to make the claimant swear an oath.
  • What factors to take should be taken into account when deciding whether to adjourn for further medical evidence.
  • Children giving evidence.
  • What observations of the claimant, such as body language and facial expressions, can be taken into account.
  • Whether plea bargaining with a representative is permissible.
  • How to weigh evidence, the issue of burden of proof and how to deal with late evidence.
  • How to work with interpreters.

There is also a particularly helpful six page description of how to write a full statement of reasons if either party is considering an appeal to the commissioners. Because this contains a lot of do's and, more importantly, don'ts it provides very valuable pointers for claimants and representatives looking for grounds to appeal to the commissioners.

The disappearance of the Benchbook was spotted by former tribunal disability member and current Benefits and Work moderator Jim Allison. Jim contacted the Tribunals Service to ask what had happened to the guide. He was told it had been removed because it was no longer considered appropriate to make it available to the public. Other parts of the judiciary, however, such as the Magistrates court and the Court of Appeal do make their Benchbooks available online.

Benefits and Work members can download the Benchbook from the Members area.