Unity Law has won a landmark case in the Supreme Court for disabled bus passengers, giving them priority access over the wheelchair spaces on buses.
The niche Sheffield firm, which specialises in discrimination cases, has represented Doug Paulley, a wheelchair user, for over five years in his pursuit of a claim against bus operator First Group.
Paulley tried to get on a bus to Leeds at Wetherby bus station in 2012. The only available wheelchair space on the bus was occupied by a mother with a pram who refused to move to make way for Paulley since the pram could not be accommodated elsewhere on the bus.
The bus driver asked the mother to move but she refused and, as a result, Paulley could not get on and had to wait for the next service. He brought a case against FirstGroup, arguing that the operator’s “requesting, not requiring” policy, which saw drivers only asking passengers to move out of disabled spaces, was discriminatory.
The Supreme Court has ruled that the policy is a breach of the Equality Act, meaning that immediate changes need to be made by First Group and other transport companies to promote a more accessible service.
Chris Fry, the managing partner of Unity Law, said: “This decision delivers cultural and practical change for disabled people. It establishes what we are calling the ‘Paulley Principle’ which is that bus companies have to give priority use to disabled customers over the wheelchair space.
“The old minimalist policy of requiring bus drivers simply to request someone move will give rise to claims for compensation. We expect to see an immediate difference to the way that disabled passengers are treated.”
Fry praised Paulley’s courage in taking the case forward on behalf of disabled people, and the Equality & Human Rights Commission for recognising the strategic importance and value of protecting him from the costs of litigation. He also paid tribute to “the outstanding team” of Robin Allen QC and Catherine Casserley at Cloisters Chambers.
“It has been fascinating for us to have so much support from national charities, members of the House of Lords, and we’re aware that Parliament has been awaiting the outcome of the case with regard to the Bus Services Bill,” added Fry.
“We hope that Parliament will strengthen rights of disabled passengers further when further amending access regulations.”