Courts accused of disability discrimination

A DOWNEND woman says she was discriminated against at a court where no provision was made for her impaired hearing.

Retired health service and care worker Suzanne Parker brought a civil action to resolve a financial dispute, and her case was heard at Central London County Court on the Strand in September.

But when the case started Suzanne, who uses two hearing aids, found she was unable to follow the proceedings because of the court’s poor acoustics.

She says she alerted the judge that she was having problems hearing him, having already told court staff she used hearing aids before the case started.

However Suzanne says she was offered no help as the case went on, despite raising the issue several times.

She says she was unable to hear all of the questions she was asked, could not hear the summing up and the sound was so poor that her step son-in-law, who accompanied her to court, also had problems following the proceedings.

Suzanne said: “I said straight away ‘I’m sorry your honour but I’m finding it difficult to hear’, to which he replied ‘Yes, the sound is not very good in these courts’, and just carried on with the case.

“I felt disadvantaged and discriminated against. 

“I do not feel I would have necessarily won if I could have heard better, but the lack of ability to hear clearly definitely put me at a disadvantage.

“I’m usually a very confident articulate person, having been an NHS employee and manager for 40 years, but I felt awkward and ill at ease in an already stressful situation.

“I feel aggrieved that, in spite of me raising the issue several times during the hearing, no attempt was made to help.

“Surely a microphone could have been provided for the judge or alternatively the judge perhaps could have come down from the bench and sat nearer to us? There were only four people in court.

“In this enlightened age, I think it’s disgraceful.”

A His Majesty’s Courts and Tribunals Service spokesperson said: “Like all our sites, the Central London County Court follows national guidance on providing reasonable adjustments for users with disabilities.

“People who require additional support to fully participate in hearings can inform the court in advance of any adjustments they need – including hearing enhancement systems.”

The spokesperson said requests can also be made during a case but the court had no record of Suzanne asking for adjustments for her disability, although there was a record of her telling the judge she had two hearing aids, and that the judge said he would “speak up”.

Suzanne has contacted the Royal National Institute for Deaf People and Disability Rights Commission.

She said: “I want to highlight my difficulties to spare anyone else in future from suffering the indignity that I was subjected to.”