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Supreme Court to hear case on disability discrimination and public services

The Supreme Court will tomorrow hear a dispute on the reasonable adjustments which a bus company is required to make to accommodate disabled wheelchair users.

The case of FirstGroup Plc v Paulley (UKSC 2015/0025) is said to be the first ever to go to the Supreme Court regarding disability discrimination in the provision of public services.

The background to the case was that Doug Paulley, a permanent wheelchair user, had attempted 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".

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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 sued FirstGroup for unlawful discrimination.

The claimant won in Leeds County Court but lost in the Court of Appeal.

A seven-justice panel – comprising Lord Neuberger, Lady Hale, Lord Kerr, Lord Clarke, Lord Sumption, Lord Reed and Lord Toulson – will hear the case in the Supreme Court on 15 June.

Unity Law, which is advising Mr Paulley and the Equality & Human Rights Commission, said the claimant’s case had been that “the policy of allowing anyone to use the space defeats the purpose of its very existence”.

It added: “As well as the practical impact that the case will have in terms of disabled peoples’ right to travel, the case will also develop the caselaw which will provide further clarity as to how disabled people can enforce their rights through the courts as necessary.”

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