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Supreme Court to rule next week on disability discrimination and public services

The Supreme Court will next week hand down a key ruling on the reasonable adjustments which a bus company is required to make to accommodate disabled wheelchair users.

The appellant, Doug Paulley, in FirstGroup Plc v Paulley UKSC 2015/0025 is a permanent wheelchair user who had attempted in 2012 to board a bus operated by FirstGroup.

A sign on the bus asked passengers occupying the wheelchair space to "please give up this space if needed for a wheelchair user".

On the day in question, the designated wheelchair space was occupied by a woman with a baby in a pushchair. Upon being asked by the bus driver to move, pursuant to company policy, she refused saying that the buggy would not fold.

The driver took no further action and Mr Paulley was unable to board the bus, which significantly delayed his travel plans. He then sued FirstGroup for unlawful discrimination over its ‘requesting, nor requiring’ policy.

Mr Paulley won his case at Leeds County Court, but lost at the Court of Appeal.

Giving the judgment of the court, Lord Justice Lewison said that what was at issue was whether the bus company must have a policy to compel all other passengers to vacate the wheelchair space irrespective of the reason why they are in it, on pain of being made to leave the bus if they do not, leaving no discretion to the driver.

The Court of Appeal rejected this approach.

A seven-justice panel – comprising Lord Neuberger, Lady Hale, Lord Kerr, Lord Clarke, Lord Sumption, Lord Reed, Lord Toulson – heard the case at the Supreme Court on 15 Jun 2016. Their judgment is due to be handed down on 18 January.

Mr Paulley is being advised by Unity Law. The Equality & Human Rights Commission has intervened, arguing that the Court of Appeal decision, by focusing on individual cases, “weakens the duty to make reasonable adjustments and will have consequences for disabled people if left unchallenged”.