Heading to the Court of Appeal (2016)

Fair Access to Colchester – Appeal to be heard on 13th December

Why this case affects disabled people everywhere in England

A case will be heard at the Court of Appeal on the 13th December which will have implications for the lives of disabled people the length and breadth of England.

In 2013 Essex County Council decided to ban cars from Colchester High Street. Sound familiar? It’s happened in a range of town centres, with local authorities believing that pedestrianisation, or semi-pedestrianation will revive the fortunes of town centres.

Sounds good? Yes, except in many cases these council schemes has involved the removal of access to disabled parking bays – and often the provisions offered in compensation are far from ideal.

This is exactly what happened in Colchester. There had previously been a number of disabled parking bays in the High Street, and further parking in Head Street (on yellow lines).  The scheme would lead to the loss of 36 bays in a central location, which offered level access to the main shopping areas. In ‘compensation’ the council said that blue badge holders could park in car parks approximately 450 and 250 metres away from the town centre, both accessed via a steep hill, and one by a very unreliable lift which is often out of action for weeks at a time.

Not much use, you are probably thinking, if you are one of the very many blue badge holders who can walk less than 50 metres. You’re probably also thinking, ‘Surely this must breach Local Authorities’ responsibilities under the Equality Act?

After spending some years trying to reach a compromise in regards to the location of the alternative parking spaces, in 2013 Essex County Council published experimental traffic orders that brought these changes into law. Within a few days Fair Access to Colchester asked for a judicial review of the decision, with a case that was the first to ask the High Court to consider the Equality Act duties to disabled people within the context of Traffic Regulation Orders.  A key part of the case was the claim that the orders breached section 29 of the Equality Act 2010, and that the council had breached the public sector equality duty. As a result of the legal action, the scheme was stopped.

The case was heard in February 2014, with Chris Fry at Unity Law representing the group. Jade Hamnett of Fair Access to Colchester (FA2C) was the lead claimant, but Unity collected a wide range of impact statements from local disabled people.

The judge found that the council had not breached the public sector duty and had carried out a legal consultation, and in regards to section 29 of the 2010 Act he said that,

The clear intention of Parliament was that claims under s. 29 ‘must’ be brought in the county court.

He said that any appeal should be put before the county court. But there’s a big problem with that:  taking the case to the county court would only enable the claimants to claim for damages, as they would not have the ability to quash the orders. The High Court is the only one with authority to take that action, which is why the action was brought to that court.  A positive decision at the county court would not change the situation in law and it would have no implications for future decisions taken by Local Authorities.

What is really needed is clarification – and strengthening – of the law, which can only arise from High Court judgements.

Therefore Jade and FA2C have taken the case to the Court of Appeal. It’s taken over two years to reach the court, but the case is now booked for the 13th December. If the group win it will have ramifications for councils everywhere. For too long they have been allowed to get away with actions that are not far short of ‘cleansing’ our town centres of disabled, elderly and frail people. If this appeal is successful it will mean that councils will have to take the needs of disabled people properly into account when re-engineering town centres in future. And yet – in keeping with the experiences of many groups representing disabled people fighting such schemes – Essex County Council have tried to paint Jade as a ‘complaining lone wolf’ rather than as someone representing thousands of people in the local area.

Jade says:

“It’s important that we all remember that this isn’t just a local issue about parking – it has a much wider potential impact for disabled people across the country. The appeal now won’t look at the rights and wrongs of the decision in Colchester, but purely on the law around judicial reviews being heard in the High Court. This has the basis to impact many other cases that try to apply the Equality Act to Judicial Reviews in this way – particularly people with disabilities, so we are really keen to fight this and try and make it easier for other cases in the future.”

It would be great if people could come along to the court to show support for Jade and Fair Access to Colchester. The appeal will be heard at Court 75 at the Court of Appeal on Tuesday 13th November starting at 10am. The Appeal Court is at Royal Courts of Justice, The Strand, London, WC2A 2LL.

If you’d like to read more about the original case you can find a summary here: http://www.localgovernmentlawyer.co.uk/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=17336:dispute-over-traffic-orders-and-equality-duty-set-for-court-of-appeal&catid=1:latest-stories