The High Court has this week heard a judicial review challenge aimed at extending “Qualified One Way Cost Shifting” (QOCS) to cover Equality Act cases.
Law firm Deighton Pierce Glynn said QOCS worked very effectively for personal injury claims and introducing the regime to Equality Act cases “would allow disabled people, and others, to challenge discrimination more easily because it would reduce the financial risk and increase access to legal representation”.
The legal challenge, brought by disability campaigner Esther Leighton, was heard by Mr Justice Cavanagh on Tuesday (28 January) at the Royal Courts of Justice on the Strand. Judgment has been reserved.
DPG partner Louise Whitfield is acting for Ms Leighton on the case and instructed Karon Monaghan QC of Matrix Chambers.
The Equality and Human Rights Commission is funding the judicial review “due to its strategic importance in ensuring access to justice for all people”, DPG said.
Ms Leighton, a powerchair user, said she first took legal action after traditional campaigning failed to address the single steps into shops which bar her and other disabled people from participating in everyday life, despite the solution often being an inexpensive removable ramp.
Her cases have resulted in many businesses – from local shops to national chains – starting to comply with the Equality Act, becoming accessible to wheelchair users for the first time.
In the majority of her cases, Ms Leighton has represented herself as the cost of instructing a lawyer was prohibitive. “However, when facing discrimination at the hands of large corporations, which are too complex or distressing for her to handle without representation, she faced serious financial risk. If a case is unsuccessful, paying the other side’s costs can run into thousands of pounds.”
Ms Leighton said: “I can’t pay after filling my car up at many garages because of the single steps they have into their shops, but because of the petrol company’s complex franchise model, it’s impossible for me to challenge it without risking being landed with a large bill. This loophole means discriminatory service providers don’t change their practices as they know they won’t be challenged, resulting in thousands of disabled people being unable to access basic services on a daily basis.”
She added: “I’d be delighted if this case improves disabled people’s access to justice. Ultimately, I wish the Equality Act was adequately enforced so I didn’t have to take cases, as the costs of doing so vastly exceeds any compensation awarded, but until then I will continue to challenge discrimination to achieve the shifts in society we so sorely need.”