EHRC does legal support

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26.09.17 Update on the EHRC legal support project

click to go straight down to more info on the pilot project

There was a good response to the EHRC (Equality and Human Rights Commission) pilot scheme, and 182 matters were considered for funding.

They were able to offer assistance in 118 of these cases, which involved such areas as employment, education and public services.

What was the outcome of EHRC involvement in these 118 cases?

• 90 were approved for the first stage of funding, covering pre-claim work such as advice, evidence preparation and legal research

• 28 were approved for the second stage of funding, covering preparation for and representation at hearings

• In 24 cases funding was not needed, for example, because the case was settled out of court following the involvement of EHRC.

In total, they provided £189,000 for legal assistance across 94 cases.

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Cases where funding was not provided

In 64 cases, funding was not forthcoming, for various reasons:

• the matter did not relate to the Equality Act 2010 or disability discrimination

• the matter was out of time for legal proceedings

• the case was settled out of court, so funding was not required

• not enough evidence was provided, or further information from the person who applied for help

• alternative funding was found or the request was withdrawn
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Second round of funding announced

As the initial scheme was so successful, the EHRC has announced a second round of funding, which will provide nearly £500,000 to help victims of discrimination in education.

Legal representatives or advisors can request funding or assistance from the Equality and Human Rights Commission on behalf of individuals from 11 September 2017.

The project is intended for cases which:

• relate to discrimination in schools, further and higher education providers or general qualification bodies where Part 6 of the Equality Act has been breached

• relate to discrimination on the grounds of one or more of the protected characteristics outlined in the Equality Act 2010

Support is intended for people who might not otherwise be able to access the legal system. The funding can be used for legal advice, preparatory work for legal cases or representation in court.

The Commission is particularly interested in funding cases where legal proceedings are already underway.

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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 launched 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 EHRCDavid 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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