The Supreme Court heard today why bus companies must ensure that wheelchair users like Mr Doug Paulley (represented by Cloisters’ barristers Robin Allen QC and Catherine Casserley) must have priority in using wheelchair spaces and why bus companies must end ‘first come, first serve’ policies.
In February 2012, wheelchair user Mr Paulley tried to board a FirstGroup bus from Wetherby to Leeds. The wheelchair space was being used by a mother with a pushchair and a sleeping child. She refused the driver’s request to move or fold the chair and so the driver told Mr Paulley he could not board the bus. That decision caused Mr Paulley considerable distress as he missed a vital rail connection.
Mr Paulley successfully sued FirstGroup at the County Court for unlawful discrimination and was awarded £5,500. The County Court stated FirstGroup’s policy placed Mr Paulley at a substantial disadvantage and they could have made changes to avoid it. These changes would require a non-wheelchair user in a wheelchair space to move from it if a wheelchair user needed it.
This decision was overturned on appeal. The Court of Appeal said this would be a step too far. The court asked whether the policy put Mr Paulley as an individual at a disadvantage rather than applying the wider test of whether it put disabled persons at a disadvantage, taking account of the potential effects on all disabled people.
The Equality and Human Rights Commission has taken Mr Paulley’s case to the Supreme Court to argue that the Court of Appeal’s ruling undermines the effectiveness of the need to make reasonable adjustments by anticipating what changes may be needed even before a disabled person uses the service.
Schona Jolly, an equalities barrister at Cloisters, says: “This is not a case of banning buggies. This is an important case about prioritising the needs of wheelchair users to ensure that public transport is accessible which is critical in enabling disabled people to live independent lives. The law requires a service provider to take reasonable positive steps to ensure that disabled people can access the services it offers. At its heart, this is a case about social inclusion and equality. We hope that the Supreme Court, sitting as seven judges, will now empower bus companies, through the law, to give priority to wheelchair users by strengthening the duty to make reasonable adjustments.”
For news coverage go to:
BBC News Bulletin: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dCm6DvVm1lA
The Equality and Human Rights Commission: Wheelchair spaces on buses must be available to disabled people, bus companies told
For earlier coverage on this case go to Cloisters News:
Cloisters has significant expertise in advising and representing clients in relation to equalities and human rights. Please contact our clerks for further assistance.