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Catharine Seddon was a fee-paid Disability Member of the First-tier Tribunal, Social Entitlement Chamber from 2008 until 2016. Catharine is also a magistrate, a Gambling Commissioner and a member of the Legal Services Board and makes determinations on behalf of the Pensions Regulator. She holds specialist lay positions in the Employment and Mental Health Tribunals.
“I was a full-time TV producer running my own company but for many reasons was looking for a change of direction. Someone pointed out an advert for the tribunal and initially I did not think I would be eligible, but then realised I qualified on a number of accounts because of my professional and personal knowledge of a wide range of disabilities.
“My son was born with multiple, complex disabilities. It was a total shock and I went through a steep learning curve. I quickly acquired experience in emergency treatment, intensive care, physiotherapy, speech and language therapy and all the equipment necessary to look after my child.
“The tribunal deals with several cases a day and you are sent the papers in advance so you can prepare. As you read through the files you take notes of everything in the medical and social backgrounds to formulate questions which will test the written evidence. The quality of the oral evidence depends on the questions asked and in nearly all cases what is said in the hearing is crucial to the decision-making.
“Personal Independence Payment has 2 elements – mobility and care – and there are strict criteria for each level of award. Before every case, you discuss with the other 2 judicial members of the panel – a judge and a doctor – what you think the issues are and where you feel the questioning should go. The doctor will ask about the medical conditions and maybe mobility and then it’s over to the disability member to ask about any outstanding mobility issues and the effects of those conditions on daily living.
“After hearing the appeal, the judicial members sit together and are asked by the judge for our findings of fact in the case and what award, if any, should be made and why. You discuss the appropriate decision and will be influenced by what each other say. It is a joint decision and no one judicial member takes precedence over another. If there is a disagreement, often one member will be persuaded by another's view, but the tribunal can also make a majority decision.
“When I was appointed, I did wonder whether I would be bored seeing the same conditions coming up over and over again, but you never get 2 people who are exactly the same or who have the same injury, pain or functional disability. I also found real satisfaction from knowing that in making judicial decisions, I've also helped ensure the proper distribution of public funds.
“I'd encourage anyone to apply. It's important judicial work and – in human terms – really fascinating; you often feel very humbled by the people who come before you.”