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Harper Macleod supports autism advocacy service" />Scottish firm Harper Macleod is providing pro bono support for a new advocacy service being launched by one of the UK's leading charities for people with autism.
The National Autistic Society's (NAS) advocacy for education service offers free telephone support from trained volunteers who provide advice on the provision of additional learning needs and entitlement.
The service will be delivered across Scotland from early next year to help parents with the new system of Additional Support Needs Tribunals, introduced by the Scottish Executive as part of the Education (Additional Support for Learning) (Scotland) Act 2004.
The idea is to help families represent themselves at the tribunal by giving them advice and support in preparing their case against their local authority. Alternatively, helped by NAS volunteers, lawyers at Harper Macleod will work with parents to represent them at hearings and prepare appeals. An estimated 50,000 people have being diagnosed with autism in Scotland.
Harper Macleod partner Stephanie Carr explains that the legislation will introduce a new tribunal system covering "potentially complex legal issues". "[We] are keenly aware that the parents who contact the NAS will often lack the resources to fund the appropriate expertise in preparing and conducting cases," she says. "Self-representation is a task that could prove daunting for many without assistance in understanding legal principles and procedures. We expect the work to be both challenging and rewarding and we will be working hard to ensure that the rights of children and young persons with autism are protected and advanced."
Clifford Chance and Addleshaw Goddard provide free legal representation to parents attending tribunals in England and Wales. Clifford Chance has worked with NAS since June 2000.
Petula Storey, head of advice and advocacy at the NAS, says: "Accessing the appropriate educational provision for a child with autism can be a complex and difficult process. NAS research demonstrates that parents of children with autism in Scotland have concerns about the current system and that many are unaware of the changes the new legislation will bring."
She adds that the NAS is "delighted to be working in partnership" with Harper Macleod and welcomes enquiries from individuals interested in training as a volunteer for the service.