Polly Sweeney



I’m a partner at Irwin Mitchell, heading up their Bristol office’s Public Law & Human Rights department.

I have experience in a broad range of public law practice, and specialise in community care, healthcare and medical treatment and education law (including representing parents at special educational needs and disability tribunals). I’m also experienced in cases in the Court of Protection regarding mental capacity, best interests and deprivation of liberty.

I’m regularly instructed by the Official Solicitor to act on behalf of vulnerable adults on a range of health and welfare matters including capacity to marry or engage in sexual relations and disputes about contact and residence.

I’m involved in a number of pro bono initiatives and regularly deliver legal advice workshops to parents, carers and charities. I have recently been appointed to the Law Society's Mental Health and Disability Committee. My role involves:

  • Reviewing and promoting improvements in law, practice and procedure affecting individuals with disabilities and the mentally vulnerable.
  • Promoting and developing legal services for patients who are subject to the powers of the Mental Health Act 1983 or the Mental Capacity Act 2005, and to those within the categories referred to above.
  • Reviewing the role and operation of the Law Society's Mental Health Tribunal Accreditation Scheme.
  • Developing tools, guidance and support initiatives for solicitors who provide services to individuals with disabilities and the mentally vulnerable.

My reported cases include:

  • D v Worcestershire County Council [2013] EWHC 2490 (Admin) – judicial review of Worcestershire County Council’s consultation on its maximum expenditure policy for adult social care.
  • JO v GO & Ors [2013] EWHC 3932 (COP) – I acted on behalf of Inverclyde Council in this Court of Protection case concerning the question of the habitual residence of an elderly lady with dementia living in Scotland.
  • Ian Burnip and others v Secretary of State for Work and Pensions and others, Equality and Human Rights Commission intervening [2012] EWCA Civ 629 - I acted on behalf of the lead claimant in this Court of Appeal case successfully challenging the lawfulness of the Local Allowance Housing Regulations on the basis that they unlawfully discriminated against disabled persons contrary to Article 14 ECHR.
  • Wychavon District Council v EM (HB) (2012) UKUT 12 (AAC), (2012) MHLO 5 – successful housing benefit appeal in the Upper Tribunal concerning the validity of tenancy agreements in circumstances where the tenant lacks capacity to enter into such agreements and the tenant’s landlord is also their parent.
  • R (on the application of W) v Birmingham City Council [2011] EWHC 1147 (Admin) which successfully challenged by way of judicial review, Birmingham City Council's decision to cut the eligibility for adult social care to provide funding for critical needs only.
  • RK [2010] EWHC 3355 (COP)(Fam) - I acted on behalf of the Official Solicitor in this Court of Appeal case regarding the exercise of parental rights and whether children accommodated pursuant to Section 20 Children Act 1989 are capable of being deprived of their liberty within the scope of Article 5 ECRH.

In October 2014, I won the Bristol Solicitor of the Year accolade at the Bristol Law Society awards. I was also shortlisted for Solicitor of the Year at the Law Society Excellence Awards in 2015.

I was appointed to the Law Society's Mental Health and Disability Committee in October 2015.

I was awarded the title of Assistant/Associate Solicitor of the Year at the Birmingham Law Society Legal Awards 2012. I was also ranked as a “Star Associate” in the Chambers and Partners 2014 for Court of Protection: UK-wide and an “Associate to Watch” in the field of Education Law: UK-wide.

I spoke at Cerebra's annual conference about the legal rights of disabled children in October 2014 - you can hear what I had to say in the video below.


Her "commitment to protecting the rights of disabled children and adults is obvious. She works 24/7 to get the right outcome and is not afraid to take on complicated and challenging cases, providing a clear voice in the often chaotic world of SEN and public law." - Chambers & Partners, 2017

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

"She is clever, kind and compassionate. Simply outstanding." - Chambers & Partners 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

Polly Sweeney is an "amazingly talented claimant lawyer" - Legal 500 2016

Polly is "knowledgeable and experienced" - Legal 500 2015

Polly is "exceptional" and displays "outstanding client care skills" - Legal 500 2014

Polly "Combines being an excellent lawyer with fantastic people skills." - Legal 500 2013

Read My Comments On The Latest News

  • 31/08/2016
    Redditch MET Base To Remain Open After Threat Of Legal Action

    “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”.

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  • 13/05/2016
    Father Wins Term-Time Holiday High Court Case

    “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.”

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  • 18/03/2015
    Postcode Lottery For Special Education Support

    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."

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  • 05/02/2015
    High Court Finds Councils Local Offer Unlawful

    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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