A disabled campaigner has succeeded in proving that he was discriminated against – twice – by the courts service.
Doug Paulley, a wheelchair-user, has taken a string of cases against public bodies and companies for alleged discrimination under the Equality Act.
But his latest victory has given him particular satisfaction, as he represented himself in court against a highly-paid government barrister.
This latest case concerned the treatment he received from the courts service while trying to resolve another legal case, in which he had sued several companies for providing misleading and contradictory information after he tried to book accessible train travel to a family funeral in north London in May 2013.
When one of the public transport companies refused to negotiate a settlement, the case ended up in Leeds County Court.
But Paulley was confronted with a series of access issues when he attended the court for a hearing, including misinformation from court staff about the provision of accessible parking spaces, the failure to provide a working accessible toilet, and the lack of a hearing loop in court.
The Ministry of Justice settled the case out of court last September, paying him £3,000 damages.
But the discrimination being faced by Paulley was not yet over.
A judge had agreed that the transport case should enter mediation, but the courts service allegedly refused to provide Paulley with an accessible alternative to telephone mediation, even though he has a hearing impairment.
He insisted that the only fair and reasonable alternative was to have a face-to-face meeting.
The courts service only backed down when Paulley told them he was taking them to court.
And when the mediation eventually took place, he says, he was confronted with an inaccessible room. They moved to another room, but there was no hearing loop.
This time, he claims, the accessible toilet was out-of-order, and the second accessible toilet in the court building had no soap dispenser.
Now Paulley has been told he has won his case against the courts service for refusing to provide an accessible alternative to telephone mediation, although he said the judge found there was no discrimination in the other access issues he faced before the hearing.
This time, he was awarded £600 compensation for injury to his feelings, the lowest level possible.
An HM Courts and Tribunals Service spokeswoman said in a statement: “HM Courts and Tribunals Service takes every reasonable step to ensure that access to our information and services is accessible for court users with disabilities.
“Our staff have been reminded of our reasonable adjustment policy and the equality and diversity guidance issued to all court and tribunal staff.”
She said later that, as the first claim was settled out of court, there was no ruling on whether discrimination had taken place.
She was not able to comment on Paulley’s latest victory in time for the deadline set by Disability News Service.
Paulley said his case demonstrated one of the key problems with the Equality Act: that victims of discrimination have to enforce the act themselves.
He said: “You can’t complain to a statutory body and ask them to enforce the act. In these cash-strapped days, it’s nigh on impossible to get legal aid.
“Even with a no-win, no-fee solicitor, funding is an issue due to recent changes in court rules.
“So our right under the act to reasonable adjustments to reduce or remove the barriers we experience can generally only be enforced by us, ourselves, without representation.
“If we don’t do it, then nobody will, and the Equality Act is purposeless and powerless.”
He added: “There is a particular irony that the [courts service] itself has many access problems.
“It is not good that when we do try to enforce our rights through the courts, we experience barriers caused by the [courts service].
“I am glad to have had the opportunity to force the [courts service] to improve on this issue, albeit probably only in my corner of the country.”
Paulley is now writing a guide called Legal Suage for Crips, on how to take companies and other organisations to court for disability discrimination without a solicitor.
The guide will eventually be published on his website.
14 May 2015
News provided by John Pring at www.disabilitynewsservice.com