EHRC does legal support
A new departure for the EHRC (Equality and Human Rights Commission)
I have always thought of the EHRC acting at a political and global level, to help shape policy and law, advise governments, wave red flags when necessary.
So I was intrigued to discover that they have recently completed a legal pilot scheme, where they have taken direct action, supporting individuals who have experienced disability discrimination.
If your Chair is a lawyer, legal powers are likely to take top spot
David Isaac, Chair of the EHRC since May 2016, who is pictured here, is a lawyer by profession. Not surprisingly, he is keen to put the legal powers of the organisation to better use.
As well as pursuing their traditional remit of very strategic interventions, only where a case seemed likely to clarify the law and benefit a large number of people, they accepted referrals for legal advice on behalf of more individuals.
This meant that they became involved with more than 100 cases out of 150-plus that were passed to them for consideration.
The cases related to discrimination in employment, education and access to services for disabled people, and so far, the organisation is pleased with the results they have achieved.
They have provided over £250,000 of legal assistance, enabling disabled people who face discrimination to access justice.
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Funding for legal action drives accessibility improvements
One example given is that of 11-year-old Owen Porter. A wheelchair user with cerebral palsy, Owen can’t catch the train at his local station, because it doesn’t have disabled access.
Owen’s family depend on public transport, so travelling to hospital appointments or going for a day out is much more difficult than it ought to be.
Funding from EHRC will allow him bring action against Network Rail, to ensure that the station is made wheelchair accessible.
Improving access to transport seems to be a theme, as they were also involved with the high-profile case of Paulley versus First Group, which helped establish better protection for wheelchair users travelling by bus.
The pilot scheme is closed to new cases now, but they will be announcing two further projects later in the year.
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The Equality Act isn’t just about court cases
Anyone involved with improving access recognises that a court case is very much a last resort.
The person bringing the action wants to use the organisation’s services just like any customer – explanation and negotiation are much more effective in achieving this aim, and hopefully in most cases, formal legal action won’t be necessary.
As part of their legal work, EHRC also gets involved in this sort of informal, pre-enforcement activity.
For example, they are working with Premier League clubs to improve accessibility to football grounds for wheelchair users and other disabled fans.
Regular readers will know that many of the top-flight football clubs have been lagging when it comes to accommodating disabled fans, though all but three (Birmingham, Chelsea and Watford) are now expected to meet the deadline of August 2017 for making adequate provision.
As David Isaac explains:
This type of legal work – often unseen and behind the scenes – has lead to some of the biggest changes in company policy and services to people. We would much rather work in partnership with businesses, rather than against them, but when we need to be more forceful we are not afraid to use our legal powers to drive change.
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Further reading and resources
Earlier this year, powerchair-user Esther Leighton took action against seven businesses in Cambridge whose premises were inaccessible – more here
You can read about equality campaigner Doug Paulley’s approach to enforcing rights under the Equality Act here
There is a podcast interview with solicitor, Jonathan Fogerty, including helpful advice about using the Equality Act, which you can listen to here
There is a section of Independent Living dedicated to Disability access
You can find out more about the work of the EHRC on their website (it will open in a new browser window)
If you believe you have been discriminated against on grounds of disability, or indeed any other characteristic covered by the Equality Act, you can get advice from the Equality Advisory Service (the link will open in a new browser window)
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