Wheelchair spaces at the Supreme Court hearing

There’s a lot of interest in the court case being heard in the Supreme Court next Wednesday, 15th June 2016FirstGroup Plc (Respondent) v Paulley (Appellant), on “the reasonable adjustments which a bus company is required to make to accommodate disabled wheelchair users.” The number of wheelchair users supporting this case is humbling. It creates practical problems for the Court due to the number of wheelchair users who would very much like to be there.

The Court have been exceptionally helpful in working out how many wheelchair users they can accommodate. They’ve removed benches to make as many wheelchair spaces as possible, so the limiting factor is how many people they can evacuated in an emergency via their two lifts. They can take 14 wheelchair users: 8 in the court room and 6 in another room with live video link. (This is more than in any other court that I’m aware of, and for that matter most other public buildings.)

The Court have worked with the legal team to work out the least unfair way of allocating these limited spaces. (We’re in a classical dilemma: we have to attempt to choose the least worst “solution” as no solution is acceptable. There will always be more wheelchair users wanting to attend than can actually be accommodated.)

I’d like to sit in the court room if possible 🙂 so that leaves another seven wheelchair spaces in the courtroom. The legal team and I wanted to make sure that wheelchair users who have had a particular, personal impact through supporting our case and/or me (through its very long 4½ years history!) can be present, so after much agonising and soul-searching we have decided to allocate those seven spaces to specific, named people.

I very much don’t want to give the impression that we are selecting “the great and the good” or in any way dissing disabled people’s amazing support for the case (and for me). It has overwhelmed me, and moved me to tears, that so many disabled people have shown such incredible support for this case. We’re not intending on creating a “hierarchy” or saying that some are more important than others; it’s not our intention at all. This is just a practical measure, partly for my support on the day (I shall be extremely nervous!), and to deal with the fact that there are limited wheelchair spaces. So I very much hope wheelchair users wanting to attend aren’t too upset or disappointed that these spaces are reserved.

There remain the other six spaces in the separate room with a live video link. In an unprecedented move (after discussion with my legal team), the Supreme Court have decided to run a ballot. This is partly at my suggestion, as otherwise there would be a “first come first served” approach, where the first six wheelchair users in the queue would be allocated the spaces. I didn’t think that would be fair, as many disabled people are limited by realities of care provision and accessible transport as to how early they can get to the court. Also I don’t want disabled people to have to wait outside in whatever weather at horrendous o’clock in the morning (particularly as there would still be a chance that they still wouldn’t get in.)

Details of the ballot are on the Supreme Court website. People wishing to attend should email or phone the Court to give their name and contact details, by 5pm on Monday (13th June 2016). Then at 5pm on Monday, the Court will draw names out of a hat and will contact those that have been successful. Wheelchair users who have not been contacted will not be able to sit in the Court.

The phone number to register is 020 7960 1500 (or as people using text relay will know, 18001 020 7960 1500 for minicom / NGT users) and the email address is enquiries@supremecourt.uk. Please tell them that you wish to register your name for the ballot for the Firstbus case wheelchair spaces.

Those not able to attend in person will be able to watch and listen to the Court proceedings live on the Supreme Court website. The video footage will also be available to watch on their website from Thursday, 16th June.

Access details

The Supreme Court website has some access details, but I visited the Supreme Court myself on Tuesday to have a recce.

The hearing is in the biggest court room, Room 1. I understand that it can accommodate 80 non-wheelchair users, on top of the 8 wheelchair spaces. The wheelchair spaces are at the back (except for me, as I will sit with “my” lawyers at the front.) I tested the loop system with the staff; it is a very good loop system. It is a little quieter right at the back (which is obviously not great for wheelchair users with hearing impairments). I raised this with the staff, and they are attempting to move the equipment so that the back has better coverage. The lighting in the room is good.

The alternative room with the live video feed has moveable chairs, so you can rearrange them if necessary. When I was there the television didn’t have an audio loop on it; but the staff are working on putting one in before the hearing. As far as we are aware, there will not be BSL interpretation or live speech to text reporting.

There is level access at the front door, but then a wheelchair lift or a short flight of stairs. Visitors will be searched before being allowed into the building. Both the Courtroom and the alternative room are accessible by lift. There are two lifts (one operable by anybody, the other only by staff with the relevant key card.) Each lift can accommodate one wheelchair user at a time, plus perhaps two or three non-wheelchair users.

There are three wheelchair-accessible toilets. These seem to be Part M compatible. The space next to the pan is clear and the emergency red cords hang down to the floor. They are on the ground floor, the second floor (where our courtroom is) and the lower ground floor (where the cafe is.) There are also regular toilets on the second floor and the lower ground floor. There isn’t a Changing Places toilet and there is no hoist.

There is a café which serves limited snacks and hot and cold drinks, and souvenirs etc. This has moveable seating and good lighting.

NB: the above are my amateur observations and I am not an access surveyor. For more detailed information, I recommend you contact the Supreme Court.

I’m very excited! and hope all goes well.

One Reply to “Wheelchair spaces at the Supreme Court hearing”

  1. Thanks for the explanation and the access information. And of course for the years of effort pursuing this landmark case.

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