03 October 2022
Legal Services Agency Reports Findings Following Survey Assessing Disabled Peoples’ Access to Justice
Legal Services Agency’s research shows an urgent need for reform within the legal sector to improve conditions for those with disabilities and neurodiversity.
- Just over half of respondents to a poll carried out by Disability Scotland at the request of LSA said they had faced challenges accessing legal services or the legal justice system.
- Overwhelmingly, respondents to the poll and to surveys carried out by LSA felt that their disability was not understood by legal professionals and therefore appropriate arrangements could not be made, resulting in communication and physical accessibility issues.
With many disabled and neurodiverse people facing issues accessing justice and legal support, the initial findings of research carried out by LSA show a number of issues that are affecting disabled and neurodiverse people when trying to access legal services. Most notably, the research shows that a number of people felt that their disability was not understood by legal professionals and that there was a difficulty in finding solicitors who were able to take on their case, resulting in a lack of appropriate measures taken. One respondent explained that their autism was not understood by their solicitor, resulting in a difficult interview and information provided in an inaccessible format.
Furthermore, the surveys have shown that many law firms and courts are not physically accessible for some disabled clients, resulting in sometimes grossly unfair circumstances. One response cited a lack of lifts in the office which meant they were unable to attend for a meeting. This resulted in the solicitor providing a home visit, however, the respondent was charged £70 for this, despite the office being only 10 minutes from their home.
Communication accessibility is also an issue, with a lack of BSL interpreters, and methods of communication other than telephone or video calls are rarely offered to disabled clients. In the instances where clients are given a BSL interpreter, some have been shocked to find that they were charged for use of the service.
Service providers, including solicitors, are required to make ‘reasonable adjustments’ to their services under the Equality Act 2010 to ensure that people with disabilities are not placed at a substantial disadvantage. What is considered to be a ‘reasonable adjustment’ is context-specific, taking account of a variety of factors including, but not limited to:
- The extent to which the adjustment will remove or reduce the advantage
- How practical it is to make the adjustment
- How affordable the adjustment is for the organisation
- Whether the adjustment could harm the health and safety of others.
Providing a home visit to a client with reduced mobility or providing a BSL interpreter are actions which could be reasonable adjustments depending on the circumstances. If a reasonable adjustment is made under the Equality Act 2010, then it is unlawful for the cost of this to be passed on to the disabled person. Law firms should therefore carefully consider whether the adjustment in question is likely to be considered a ‘reasonable adjustment’ under the Equality Act. If it is, then the adjustment should be made at no additional cost to the client.
The responses to the survey have shown that a number of respondents are put off from seeking legal assistance in the future. The numbers of barriers in place are essentially denying disabled people from accessing vital legal services, leaving many feeling cut off from legal support. Accessibility problems, a lack of understanding and discrimination are issues that disabled people face every day, and when legal support is sought to rectify these situations, often they are made far worse. There is no doubt that the legal sector must improve its treatment of disabled people and ensure that these services are available to everyone.
Legal Services Agency is seeking further responses to the Access to Justice Survey and would welcome responses with anyone who has experience of neurodivergence or a hidden disability. The survey and an easy-read version can be accessed here.