Requesting reasonable adjustments to help clients feel more at ease when at court
We work with some of the most vulnerable people in our communities. They may have a mental impairment that affects their ability to carry out normal day-to-day activities or protective characteristics such as learning disabilities, mobility concerns, or diminished mental capacity.
For us as family lawyers, this means we need to be extra-sensitive to the support they may need during the legal process.
During court proceedings, a client may need extra support to fully participate at court proceedings. To make sure there is a fair trial, there may be occasions where you feel it is right to apply for reasonable adjustments.
In the context of the Equality Act of 2010, the court has a duty to think about three requirements before applying reasonable adjustments:
- Where a provision, criterion or practice will put a disabled person at a substantial disadvantage in comparison with a non-disabled person, reasonable steps should be taken to avoid this disadvantage.
- Where a physical feature puts a disabled person at a substantial disadvantage in comparison with a non-disabled person, reasonable steps should be taken to avoid this disadvantage.
- Where a disabled person would be put at a substantial disadvantage if there is no auxiliary aid in comparison with a non-disabled person, reasonable steps should be taken to provide the auxiliary aid.
HMCTS gives an indication of available facilities, including wheelchair access and parking facilities, on the Find a Court or Tribunal website. However, this information may not cover everything that can be done to help someone with a disability who needs to go to court.
In addition, reasonable adjustments can be requested for disabilities due to Specific Learning Difficulties. SpLD includes ADD, Dyspraxia and Dyslexia, or those on the autistic spectrum. Rather than physical barriers, people with SpLDs may need adjustments to lighting, or have the option to sit rather than stand.
As well as providing reasonable adjustments for disabilities, the court must also have regard to other issues such as:
- Whether the party or witness suffers from a mental disorder or has a significant impairment of intelligence or social functioning, or is undergoing medical treatment
- The impact of any actual or perceived intimidation (by any other party, witness, family member or associates)
- The issues arising in the proceedings including any concerns arising in relation to abuse
- Whether a matter is contentious
- The age, maturity and understanding of the party or witness
- The social and cultural background and ethnic origins of the party or witness
- The domestic circumstances and religious beliefs of the party or witness
- Any characteristic of the party or witness which is relevant to the participation direction which may be made
- Whether any measure is available to the court and the costs of such measures
Mary-Ann Wanjiku, Associate Solicitor, The Family Law Company