A recent newspaper article told the story of James Purdie. Mr Purdie is a disabled person who uses a mobility scooter. Despite having travelled by train in the past Mr Purdie was recently told that he was not permitted to travel on the train because his scooter was too big.
Being a disabled person, Mr Purdie is covered by the Equality Act 2010. This means that he is protected under the “Services and Public Functions” sections of the Equality Act 2010.
These provisions are designed to prevent those providing services discriminating against a person requiring a service by not providing that person with the service. These provisions, colloquially known as the “goods and services” provisions of the Equality Act, are much lesser known than the sections of the Equality Act relating to employment and recruitment.
These claims are fairly rare in Scotland. The reasons for this are not the easiest to fathom, however, the fact that the provisions are relatively unknown is bound to be a factor, along with their technical nature. The fact that they require to be lodged in the Sheriff Court is another problem, in our view, added to a concern that the value of compensation awarded is often small in comparison to the effect of the discrimination suffered, not to mention the stress associated with Court proceedings.
The result being that service providers are more likely to discriminate without fear of it hitting them in their pockets.
A well-known example of a successful case was when in 2014 Robert & Nathan Gale took on G1 Group after being refused entry to Polo Lounge because Robert was using his wheelchair at the time. On winning the case they were awarded £2000 compensation.
This seems like a very small amount of compensation in circumstances where they were refused entry on a discriminatory basis. Will a £2000 penalty really stop a business acting on a discriminatory basis? Questionable we’d say.
All of this makes us question whether these “goods and services” claims should be heard in the Sheriff Court in the first place. Surely they sit better within the Employment Tribunal?
There has long been a movement for expanding the jurisdiction of the Employment Tribunal in order that it can hear all claims arising from the Equality Act 2010. As well as employment claims and “goods and services” claims, there are also claims that can be brought regarding premises and the provision of education services as well as a range of ancillary matters.
The Employment Tribunal has the benefit of highly specialised Employment Judges. Employment Judges are specially trained in discrimination law and how discrimination can effect individuals. Employment Judges are unable to hear discrimination cases until they have undergone a specific set of specialist training relating to discrimination. This highly sophisticated training means that Employment Judges may be best placed to determine an appropriate level of compensation for someone, like Mr Purdie, who has been refused train travel because of his disability. Discrimination can have a profound effect on an individual and only specially trained Judges will be equipped with the knowledge and skill to understand this.
An “Equality Court” would also allow groups of people who have been discriminated against to bring claims together – a class action (for want of a better word) – in a way that cannot currently be done in the Sheriff Court. In our view this would allow the many hidden provisions in the Equality Act to come to the fore and be used to the benefit of everyone.