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I am a Partner in the Public Law and Human Rights Department at Irwin Mitchell and head up our national Education Law team.
I specialise in education law, community care and healthcare (including medical treatment) and Court of Protection. I have a particular interest in cases involving the rights of children and young people with disabilities.
My education law practice includes acting for parents in appeals to the Special Educational Needs and Disability Tribunal and judicial reviews on a range of public law issues such as school closure, transport, failure to provide education and wider policy challenges. I also advise schools and colleges in relation to a broad range of legal issues including duties under the Equality Act, admissions and exclusions, funding and governance and challenges against local authorities’ decision-making.
In the Court of Protection, I am experienced in representing individuals who lack capacity where there are disputes about best interests, often on instruction of the Official Solicitor or an independent mental capacity advocate (“IMCA”). I have acted in a number of reported cases in relation to deprivation of liberty and breaches of human rights including cases which involve cross border issues with other legal jurisdictions such as Scotland.
In September 2015 I was appointed as a member of the Law Society’s Mental Health and Disability Committee and I am a contributing author to the LAG publication “Disabled Children: A legal Handbook” (2nd edition) co-writing both the remedies and education law chapters.
I was named Solicitor of the Year at the Bristol Law Society Awards in 2014 and was a shortlisted finalist at the National Law Society Excellence Awards in 2015. I was also named Assistant/Associate Solicitor of the Year in the Birmingham Law Society Awards in 2011 and was a shortlisted finalist at the 2009 Legal Aid Lawyer of the Year Awards.
According to market sources she "is a metronome of dynamic physical and mental energy - there is nothing she does not know the answer to. Or if not, she will find out and develop a strategy to deal with the most complex and difficult cases. She is what we all aspire to." - Chambers & Partners 2016
Polly Sweeney is an "amazingly talented claimant lawyer" - Legal 500 2016
"She is clever, kind and compassionate. Simply outstanding." - Chambers & Partners 2015
Polly is "knowledgeable and experienced" - Legal 500 2015
She is described as "always going the extra mile," according to sources. She handles difficult disability discrimination and special educational needs cases, and is praised for being "energetic, committed, supportive and bright." - Chambers & Partners 2014
“She gains resoundingly strong feedback from interviewees, who report: “She is outstanding, and has phenomenal experience in this area.” Clients note: “She is extremely organised, very analytical, fair and conscientious.” - Chambers & Partners 2014 (Court of Protection)
"Extremely thorough and extremely reliable. She is very good at spearheading messy and confused proceedings to logical conclusions." - Chambers & Partners 2013
Polly is "exceptional" and displays "outstanding client care skills" - Legal 500 2014
“We are pleased that the council has agreed to keep the MET base in Redditch open and children will be able to continue to attend from the start of the new term pending a proper consultation which will allow parents and children to contribute to the decision making process.
“The Redditch MET base provides an important service to children locally and the decision to close without any notice has caused many families considerable worry and anxiety over the summer.
“We hope that the council will now work with the families to ensure that the right decision is reached in relation to the future of the base”.
“The High Court has confirmed today that local authorities should not be criminalising unauthorised holidays in term time by alleging that there is a failure to regularly attend school simply by looking at the period of holiday absence.
“When looking at whether attendance is regular, local authorities should consider the “wider picture” including overall attendance record. In this case, a 93% attendance record was sufficient.
“The ruling will have significant implications across the country for local authorities who will no longer be able to prosecute parents simply for taking children on unauthorised holidays during school time when the child otherwise has good attendance at school.
“The decision clearly raises serious questions in relation to the current practice of issuing fixed penalty notices and I anticipate that there will now be many more parents refusing to pay these fines.
“What is clear is that there needs to be much greater clarity on this issue for all concerned – in particular for Head Teachers and Schools who will still be left only being able to authorise absences in exceptional circumstances.”
It is incredibly worrying to see such postcode lottery concerns emerge in relation to the support and specialist help that children with special educational needs are able to access.
"The level of support available should never be determined by where a family lives, so it is safe to say there are clear questions regarding the processes under taken by local authorities on this issue.
"Consistency is absolutely requisite and we would urge the Government and councils to work together to ensure a fair, quality system is in place which ensures no child is left behind in terms of the help they receive."
We are pleased that the Court has accepted our arguments regarding the lawfulness of the Defendant's Local Offer and hope that this Judgment sends out a message to local authorities that they have to take their new duties introduced under Part 3 of the Children and Families Act 2014 seriously.
“The Court also emphasised the importance of local authorities having a register of disabled children so they can plan properly for budgets and services to support them. However, we are very disappointed that the Court has ruled that disabled children are not automatically entitled to a social care assessment and we are concerned that this Judgment will leave disabled children across the country in a vulnerable position without access to proper assessments.
“We also remain of the view that the Defendant has not consulted properly on its final proposals to limit access to social care services. We intend to apply to renew our application on these grounds to the Court of Appeal.”
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