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Karen May

Partner

Karen is a partner at Bindmans, and Head of our Education Law team. She now mainly acts for individuals although also has experience of acting for local authorities and schools. Her specialism is judicial review and tribunal cases, with a particular focus upon Education law and Community Care law judicial reviews. 

Karen has acted in many leading education law judicial review cases in the High Court and Court of Appeal, concerning vulnerable children. Instructions are also regularly received from parents of children attending independent schools. These instructions often relate to safeguarding and exclusion matters within the independent sector.

Karen’s focus is acting for vulnerable children and adults. This work has seen her act for a number of families in relation to special educational needs issues during childhood, right through to Court of Protection matters in adulthood. Court of Protection work makes up a significant part of Karen’s practice, particularly in relation to personal welfare matters for young adults with learning disabilities. Karen is instructed by the Official Solicitor, professional litigation friends and family members in complex Court of Protection cases including providing representation in the Court of Appeal. She has also been appointed by the court as Accredited Legal Representative for P, a vulnerable person who is the subject of Court of Protection proceedings.

Karen’s representation of her clients has seen her acting in challenges against a wide variety of public bodies in addition to local authorities, such as CCGs and the police. 

Karen has also acted in a number of cases concerning breaches under the Human Rights Act 1998 and discrimination under the Equality Act 2010. She has secured favourable financial settlements for clients in a number of these cases.

As well as providing representation in relation to higher court cases, Karen regularly represents clients in relation to SEN Tribunal cases, admission appeals and exclusion appeals.  

Karen is also regularly instructed in relation to disputes about school transport which is a particularly difficult area with a number of public sector cuts to transport budgets. Karen’s interest in transport cases stems from acting for the claimant in R v LB Islington ex parte A [2000] The Times, 20 October 2000. Since that time, she has helped many parents secure suitable transport arrangements for children with special educational needs.  

Education and career
  • Karen graduated from the University of Manchester in 1993 with an LLB (Hons). Following this, she attended the College of Law, Chester.
  • She completed her LPC with distinction in 1994 and qualified as a solicitor in 1997.
  • Karen trained and worked thereafter as a specialist education solicitor at Hertfordshire County Council with responsibility for advising schools and the education department.
  • In 1999 Karen moved to John Ford solicitors, a specialist Education law firm where she headed the Education law department for nearly 20 years, moving to Bindmans LLP in 2019.  
Experience

Karen’s cases include:

R on the Application of BG (1) and KG (2) -v- Suffolk County Council [2021] EWHC3368 (Admin) 

  • This was a community care judicial review. Mrs Justice Lang held Suffolk County Council were wrong in law to decide that they did not have the power to assist two disabled men to go on holiday and use recreational facilities. The case supports a wide interpretation of care and support under the Care Act 2014. KG and BG are brothers who both have autism and physical disabilities. Suffolk County Council are appealing.

AA -v- London Borough of Southwark & Others [2021] EWCA Civ 5112

  • Karen acted for the appellant in the Court of Appeal. The appellant is the mother of P and the Court of Appeal held that the Court of Protection had wrongly discharged the appellant from Court of Protection proceedings without giving her a right to be heard or make representations. There was material the court had to consider which was subject to ongoing police investigations and there was therefore a need for closed proceedings. Lord Justice Baker commented that “It appears that this is the first case in which a special advocate has been instructed in the Civil Division of the Court of Appeal”. In addition, the judgment is significant in focusing on the appellants rights under Article 6 ECHR (right to a fair hearing).

Re: P (Discharge of party: costs of appeal) 2021 EWCA Civ 992

  • Karen acted for the appellant in this further Court of Appeal case concerning costs in Court of Protection appeals. The appellant had been successful in her appeal. It had been held that she should not have been discharged as a party without an application being made to the court and without her having been given notice and an opportunity to put forward submissions. However, the Court of Appeal did not order costs and emphasised costs applications would turn on the facts of the particular case. It was also stressed that the vulnerability of the subject of proceedings would likely always be of relevance. The Court of Appeal held that the parties had not been unreasonable in supporting the action of Hayden J to discharge the appellant as a party.

R on the Application of JG -v- CCG (2018)

  • This was a very concerning case regarding a young man with severe OCD who had been in hospital for a number of years without the specialist treatment he needed. The proceedings led to the court granting permission and interim relief and progress in terms of assessments and a change in placement as well as the implementation of treatment.

The Governing Body of C Girls’ Academy [2015]

  • Judicial review proceedings were issued when the Academy unlawfully sought to compel the complainant to complete the last two years of her education at a PRU type placement. Proceedings were settled with the Academy agreeing for the claimant to go back to resume her education in the usual way on the school site.

R(on the application of JE) v Sheffield County Council [2014]

  • Public Law -Judicial Review concerning an overlap between special educational needs and community care law. The Claimant was extremely vulnerable having autism, ADHD and ODD as well as an attachment disorder. The case focused upon the failures in relation to the Statement of Special Educational Needs and the failures to produce a lawful care plan under section 17 of the Children act 1989.Excellent provision was secured for the Claimant at a specialist independent school as well as respite arrangements and a costs order in the Claimant’s favour.

R (on the application of JF) v LB Hackney [2014]

  • Court of Protection proceedings- This was a very complex case with a background of judicial review proceedings to obtain community care services where the President became concerned about the lack of progress.

G –v- West Herts College [2014]

  • This case involved disability discrimination against a young man with Downs Syndrome. Proceedings were issued and sensitive negotiations led to a settlement for damages.

R (DD) –v- Independent Appeal Panel of the L.B. Islington [2013] ELR 483

  • (Admissions Infant Class Sizes). This case concerns the approach panels need to take where “future infant class size prejudice” is put forward by the admissions authority.

R (on the application of JF)-v-L B Hackney [2010] EWHC 3130

  • (Inadequacy of care plan) JF suffers from severe autism and the case concerned the legal requirements for a lawful care plan. The care plan was inadequate and lacked the degree of specificity required by case law.

R (LG) -v- Independent Appeal Panel for Tom Hood School and Others [2009] ELR 248

  • This case challenged the standard of proof in exclusion cases and focused upon Human Rights arguments.

(Exclusion case)B -v- London Borough of Barnet [2009] EWHC 2842

  • (Community Care and section 19 of the Education Act)
  • This case concerned various breached of community care legislation in relation to a very vulnerable disabled child. This is a leading case regarding the local authority’s responsibility for putting in place alternative full time education when a child is without a suitable school place.

O v LB Hackney [2007] ELR 405

  • Duty to arrange school places in the local authorities’ area.

R (L) v London Borough of Waltham Forest & anor [2007] EWHC 2060 and R (JK) v Haringey London Borough Council [2009] EWHC 1393

  • Acted for the claimant in these two important cases regarding the confusion about LEA responsibilities towards children looked after by another authority.

R v LB Islington ex parte A [2000] Times, 20 October (Transport Judicial Review)

Recognition

What clients say

Thank you all very much one again for all your hard work in related to [client] case. I know it has not been easy at times, even frustrating. It really is appreciated as last year I was at huge loss of where to turn to in getting [client] the support and schooling that he is entitled to. The result we have got is all down to your hard work.

– CR

Whatever [client] is receiving at the moment is only because of your effort. If he can overcome his difficulties by receiving proper help, it will be again because of you.

– EC

I want to thank you and your team for everything you’ve done. If it was not for you I don’t know where [client] would be right now. His positive school report and how well he is doing shows why I never gave up and fought for him to be in a school that met his needs. So Karen once again for everything you did for us. It’s down to you that [client] now has a bright and positive future ahead of him. 

– CR
Chambers and Partners 2023
  • Karen is ranked Band 2 in Education: Individuals. Feedback describes her as “friendly, efficient and caring.”
  • “Karen May of Bindmans LLP frequently acts for vulnerable children and adults in a variety of education and community care cases. She primarily focuses on judicial reviews concerning Education, Health and Care plans and has additional experience in cases concerning safeguarding and exclusion.”
  • “Karen is a great advocate for her clients and works very well within the wider multidisciplinary team at Bindmans.”
  • “A prompt and professional service is given at all times. I would highly recommend Karen.”
  • “Karen is amazing, I cannot rate her highly enough. She makes what is a very hard situation more manageable.”
  • Karen is recognised as a ‘Next Generation Partner’ in Administrative and Public Law.
  • “Karen May embodies all you’d want in a solicitor: she will fight your corner with compassion, intelligence and tenacity. As an instructing solicitor she is excellent – she prepares the case thoroughly and asks all the right questions… and never forgets a deadline.”
  • Karen is also recognised as a ‘Leading Individual’ in Education: individuals.
  • “Karen May – Great expertise in SEND and linking to expert medical evidence. Brilliant at influencing Local Authorities on the key issues and knows how to deliver this in different forms of communication both remotely and face to face. Karen is brilliant at delivering the strategy to win the battle and disregards the minor skirmishes on the periphery. A lovely professional to work with and listens to her clients attentively as to what is important to them.”
  • “They worked as part of the team with everyone involved with the client being well respected and with a valued voice, by working together the outcomes were achieved. Excellent support and communication from Karen May. She is very passionate about her field and this is obvious to see and she is a pleasure to work with, I would recommend her to anyone who needed support in her field.”
Chambers and Partners 2022
  • Karen is ranked Band 2 in Education: Individuals
  • Karen is recognised as a ‘Rising Star’ in Administrative and Public Law.
  • Karen is also recognised as a ‘Next Generation Partner’ in Education: individuals. Feedback describes her as “absolutely brilliant, warm, knowledgeable.”
  • “Karen May has been absolutely fantastic and made my harsh problems very easy to share. She has showed great passion and empathy.”
  • Karen “has vast experience and in depth knowledge of the education sector. She is astute and knows what points will work. Excellent emotional intelligence in dealing with clients on sensitive topics.”
  • “Karen May brings real humanity and empathy as well as legal expertise to her cases.”
Chambers and Partners 2019
  • Karen May is ranked in Education: Individuals (Band 2). She has ‘experience acting for vulnerable children in education and community care proceedings. She is highly recommended by sources for her handling of matters involving secondary school-age children.’ 
Professional memberships
  • Karen has obtained the Law Society Accredited Practitioner status for the category: Mental Capacity (Welfare).
  • Karen is also a member of the Education Law Association.
Publications
  • Karen has co-authored ‘Education Law & Practice’ by Lexis Nexis – a leading textbook on Education law (both the 3rd and 4th (2016) edition).
More about Karen
  • Karen has been interviewed by radio and television journalists in relation to Education law matters, including exclusions and attendance issues.
  • She was a speaker at Manchester University’s International Conference concerning Civil Liberties (following acting in a case concerning rap music restrictions under ‘gang injunctions’).