In the Court of Appeal judgment handed down today in the case of Firstgroup v Paulley, it was held that although wheelchair users have priority to occupy designated wheelchair spaces on buses, there is no legal requirement for bus drivers to move passengers from that space to allow wheelchair users to board. The Court of Appeal held that passengers should “of course” move from the designated space to allow wheelchair users to use it, but that if such passengers refuse, the driver is not required to do anything more than ask them to move. If they continue to refuse, the wheelchair user will have to wait for the next bus.
Lord Justice Lewison stated that: “common decency and respect for wheelchair users should mean that other passengers make way for them” but that having a legal requirement to move passengers out of the wheelchair space (or remove them from the bus if they refuse) was “a step too far”.
Lady Justice Arden stated: “the proper remedy for wheelchair users is to ask Parliament to strengthen the powers of bus drivers so that they could for instance, require people to vacate the wheelchair space… In that way, a greater number of wheelchair users would be able to use the wheelchair space.”
Mr Paulley is a wheelchair user who attempted to board a bus to Leeds but was unable to because a mother with a pushchair was occupying the wheelchair bay and she refused to fold up the pushchair to allow him to board. Mr Paulley was thus unable to board and had to wait for the next bus, rendering him an hour late for his final destination.
Mr Paulley sued Firstgroup in the County Court alleging that its policy was discriminatory. He was successful and the bus company was ordered to pay damages of £5,500 and to change its policy. Firstgroup appealed to the Court of Appeal, and was successful today in that appeal. Leave to appeal to the Supreme Court was refused by the Court of Appeal, but Mr Paulley is still able to seek permission to appeal directly from the Supreme Court.
The facts of this case show that whilst one would hope Lord Justice Lewison’s “common decency” would prevail, in reality, there are passengers who will refuse to move for wheelchair users. It is now clear that the law will not assist.
In the judgment, the Court reflects on various powers held by bus drivers to evict passengers in various circumstances, such as those who smoke on the bus, or those who “unreasonably impede or cause discomfort to any person travelling on or entering or leaving a vehicle”. Similarly, if a passenger with “any bulky or cumbersome article” refuses to stow it in a specific part of the bus on request, the article can be removed or the passenger can be removed. Accordingly, it is clear that the law considers it acceptable to require removal of passengers in those circumstances, but not to make way for wheelchair users.
Cloisters’ Robin Allen QC and Catherine Casserley represented Mr Paulley in the Court of Appeal and Cloisters’ Olivia-Faith Dobbie has been describing the impact of the judgment live on BBC News and Radio 5 Live today.