Disabled people accessing Courts and Tribunals
Courts and tribunals are service providers or public functions which means they are subject to the Equality Act in England, Wales and Scotland (or DDA in Northern Ireland). If courts discriminate against disabled people or fail to make reasonable adjustments, we can make a complaint of disability discrimination.
Despite our legal rights, in practice getting access to courts can sometimes be more difficult than it should be with physical and attitudinal barriers. We hope this page will help you do your research and do some preparation so you are able to deal with any barriers you encounter.
Bag searches and banned items
Due to the high risk of violence from a minority of court users, all court buildings will have extensive security. This is a lot like an airport, so you will have to walk through scanners, may be wanded and your bags may be searched or scanned too.
You need to take all metal objects out of your pockets, so if you can organise this in advance that will make things easier. If you have any metal implants or disability equipment that can’t be put through the scanners, you should explain this to the security staff.
Certain items are not allowed in court buildings. A list of banned items for England and Wales is published so you can avoid taking these items with you to court.
Banned items can include tools commonly carried by wheelchair users. While some items can be handed over to security and returned to you when you leave the court, if the item (such as a multi tool) has a knife on it, then it is rarely given back to you that day. You have to apply to get it back in writing and can wait several weeks for it to be sent to you. You may have to go and collect it from a local police station.
Known access issues for disabled people entering court buildings
Many of the courts use outsourced security staff who in our honest opinion are poorly trained (probably related to casualised contracts and poor training and working conditions). This means that security staff may have very poor disability awareness and not know how to communicate or deal with disabled people. They may try to refuse disabled people access into the courts with our mobility aids, medical equipment, service dogs and more.
We at Reasonable Access have experience of court security staff trying to refuse people access with TPN (medical feeding) equipment, wheelchair trays, manual wheelchairs and assistance dogs as well as doing stupid things like talking to deaf people from behind and pointing or gesturing to visually impaired people.
Dealing with disablism by court security
Be prepared to politely but firmly stand your ground.
Whatever happens, do not allow court staff to take aids or equipment away if it may put your health or safety at risk.
If you have medical needs, or don’t wish to discuss your access needs in public, you should ask to have the discussion about these issues in a private space.
If your impairment and needs are not visible, then disclose as clearly as you can. For example “I am deaf, please face me and speak clearly when talking“. Do not let staff pressure you to taste medical liquids or disconnect any medical equipment that puts you at risk. If you need to carry banned items like needles for medication, explain that these are medical items that you need to carry at all times. If you have an assistance dog, be prepared to remind staff that assistance dogs cannot be refused access.
If frontline staff are not helpful
If front line staff are being difficult, ask them to get their manager who may be better. If the manager is not helpful, then ask for the court manager or someone senior to be called.
If you are involved in a hearing (i.e you are the litigant or a witness for example) then you can insist that the judge’s clerk or the judge themselves is bought down to ensure you get access as you are being “prevented from getting access to justice”.
Information about physical and other accessibility for courts
You can get some information about court buildings including physical access and services online using:
- England and Wales Court Finder.
- Scottish Court finder.
- Northen Irish Court Offices information and interpreter services for deaf people
The English and Welsh courts provide very basic text and graphical disability access information listed under the “Building Facilities” heading. The Scottish and Northern Irish courts have access information listed in a very long page. Having the relevant page bookmarked on your smartphone might be useful to you.
In practice, we know that published court access information is not always 100% accurate so it can be worth visiting the court in advance. Most courts allow access to the public where you may be able to ask staff some basic questions or look round the relevant public areas. Quieter times are likely to be 10:30-1pm or 2:30pm to 3:30pm.
If your access needs are more complex, you have more questions or you don’t wish to just turn up, you can contact the court to arrange a visit in advance.
If you cannot access the Court’s published information or can’t find what you need, then Contacting courts
Phone and email contact details for courts are usually found on the relevant webpage. If there isn’t a court manager contact, use the general enquiries details. Start your communication as early as possible as the court staff are very busy and it may take a few attempts to get through by phone, or emails may not be responded to for a few weeks. It can be useful to courts to get feedback (both positive and negative) about disabled people’s experiences. They may not be aware that there are problems at the front-line as practice is often very different to official policies.
Giving feedback about experiences
Phone and email contact details for courts are usually found on the relevant webpage. If there isn’t a court manager contact, use the general enquiries details.
Start your communication as early as possible as the court staff are very busy and it may take a few attempts to get through by phone, or emails may not be responded to for a few weeks.
It can be useful to courts to get feedback (both positive and negative) about disabled people’s experiences. They may not be aware that there are problems at the front-line as practice is often very different to official policies.