Adjustments for court meetings and hearings
If you are a disabled person
- involved in a court hearing,
- having a meeting in the court buildings or
- plan to attend a hearing as a member of the public
you have the right to request reasonable adjustments to do this.
We have another webpage on getting physical access to the courts. This page is about dealing with more complex adjustments to hearings and meetings themselves.
In our view, you should not have to ask for access in advance or obtain medical letters for bringing assistance animals, bringing mobility aids or medical equipment with you to court – although you can do so if you wish to.
Legalities of adjustments in courts
Courts are service providers under the Equality Act and DDA. This means that they have an anticipatory duty to make reasonable adjustments for disabled people. This means that court premises, policies and practices have to be as accessible as possible. They also need to provide “auxiliary aids and services” as needed.
“Judicial function” is actually exempt from the Equality Act and DDA. However this may only apply to certain aspects of the work judges do. They are also bound by at least two pieces of case law to follow the guidance in the Equal Treatment Bench Book.
Equal Treatment Bench Book
Equal Treatment Bench Books contain detailed information about likely barriers to court faced by people with different medical conditions and impairments. They also contain stuff that affects other marginalised groups like trans or race issues – well worth a read!
We recommend downloading the relevant bench book and searching it for your condition or impairment to get ideas of adjustments you can request from courts. If your impairment isn’t listed, look for something similar, or similar solutions and refer to that.
Requesting adjustments from the courts
You will find contact details for the court on the relevant webpage, usually phone and email. If there isn’t a listed court manager, use the general enquiries details.
Start your communication as early as possible as the court staff are very busy so it may take several attempts to get through by phone, or emails may not be responded to for a few weeks.
It can be useful to follow up any phonecalls or meetings with emails so there is a record of your requests. We have had constructive experiences with sending a clearly laid out email explaining issues, outlining adjustment requests and directing the reader to the relevant parts of the Equal Treatment Bench Book.
Courts run largely on very strict rules to ensure people’s legal rights are met. This can lead to court-staff almost robotically refusing any request that seems to be a bit different. This is rarely malicious.
We recommend that you challenge unreasonable refusals gently and firmly, and repeat your request. It may be helpful for you to explain the nature of the barriers that you face or anticipate, as staff may then become more understanding or be able to make suggestions you had not thought of.
Escalation or judicial orders may be needed
Another reason to make your reasonable adjustment requests early is that in some cases your request may need to be escalated to more senior staff or a judge to make a decision. While courts are service providers, sometimes they will refuse requests (especially those which cost money or change normal procedure) unless a judge makes a ‘legal order’ which can usually be done as a ‘paperwork process’
Even after a senior person or judge is involved we have found that courts can try and insist you accept a different (often cheaper or easier) adjustment instead of what you asked for. If this alternative is not suitable, respond to the the court politely and firmly to explain why the alternative adjustment is not suitable.
Case studies of adjustments
We are currently doing informal research to find examples of good and bad practice which we will upload here soon.