Supreme Court: Wheelchairs beat prams in legal dispute over space on the 99 bus

Seven justices unanimously allowed the appeal, but only to a limited extent

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The Supreme Court has ruled in favour of the disabled appellant in a long-running dispute over whether wheelchairs or pushchairs take priority when there is limited space on the bus.

Today’s judgment stems from a claim brought by Doug Paulley, a disability rights activist.

In 2012, the 38-year-old arrived at a bus station to board the 99 bus to Leeds, operated by FirstGroup. However, he was unable to ride because a woman with a pushchair was occupying the wheelchair space. Complying with company policy, the bus driver asked her to move. When she refused, the driver took no further action. Paulley — who lives in a care home — had to wait about 15 minutes for the next bus and ended up missing his train.

The justices in court this morning
The justices in court this morning

Paulley sued FirstGroup for unlawful discrimination and, at first instance, was awarded £5,500 in damages at Leeds County Court in August 2013.

But the Court of Appeal was having none of it, and rejected the ruling in December 2014. The original judgment, the three judges found, suggests bus drivers are legally bound to eject passengers who don’t move from the designated wheelchair area. In reality, they said, this isn’t legally enforceable so it had to be overruled.

Following some intense advocacy from Cloisters Chambers’ Robin Allen QC and Catherine Casserley for the appellant, and Martin Chamberlain QC and Oliver Jones from Brick Court Chambers, for the respondent, today the seven Supreme Court justices gave their judgment. They unanimously allowed the appeal, but only to a limited extent.

In a summary read out in court this morning by Lord Neuberger, the judges noted the Court of Appeal was correct to conclude FirstGroup could not have a policy which would mean non-wheelchair users must leave the bus. There are a number of reasons why a non-wheechair user might not be able to vacate the wheelchair space, let alone exit the bus.

However, the Supreme Court agreed with Paulley’s submissions that FirstGroup’s policy should have gone further than it did. It isn’t enough for drivers to simply request non-wheelchair users to vacate the space. The court advocated a case-by-case approach, stating that when refusal to vacate the space is unreasonable, drivers should take further steps to pressurise non-wheelchair users to move. In this particular case, this may not have resulted in Paulley being able to catch the 9.40am bus to Leeds.

Lord Neuberger reading out a summary of the judgment
Lord Neuberger reading out a summary of the judgment

It is worth noting that Lord Clarke, Lord Kerr and Lady Hale dissented in part. They argued the first instance judgment should be reinstated, and would have awarded Paulley damages.

It is not often that Supreme Court cases — which tend to be very technical — Paulley capture the attention of the Great British public but this one certainly did. As well as a hearty comments-section debate on our first story on the matter, in Monday’s Metro Talk segment, readers jousted with the legal issues at hand.

In one, a mother wrote “I have seen wheelchair users being refused entry on buses and it has absolutely outraged me… As I see it, I chose to have my kids, whereas people don’t choose to be in wheelchairs”. Another said “This is about common decency. Disabled people should have priority to use the space because buggies can be folded and children carried”.

Taking a different stance, one reader wrote “Do people in wheelchairs expect babies to be put off the bus so they can get on?” Another quipped that nowadays “Nearly half the bus is taken up by pushchair bays… It’s not a bus anymore, it’s a mobile crèche”.

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31 Comments

Gladiatrix

Could someone at LC please correct the errors in the 9th paragraph? ‘approve’ should be ‘approach’ and ‘pressurise’ should be ‘press’.

(1)(7)
LC Apologist

‘Pressurise’ is used in the judgment, and I don’t see ‘approve’ in the article.

(6)(0)
Gladiatrix

It, approve, was there when the article was first posted. Secondly, as humans are solids they cannot be pressured or pressurised.

(0)(1)
LC Apologist

You’re probably right from a traditional linguistic view, but the OED now provides the definition “Attempt to persuade or coerce (someone) into doing something”.

(0)(0)
Jojo

Assuming she’s fit, able and healthy, this mother is an absolute douchebag, pack the pushchair up and hold your kid. Alas, the disabled can’t really pack up their wheelchairs.

Readers, please don’t start bashing me about the potential discrimination against the mother; it is simple manners, helping those out who need more help than you. And also those with kids have priority of seats and you’d hope if the bus was packed, someone would give up their seat so she could take a pew. The argument that ‘I was here first so I shouldn’t have to pack up my pushchair’ epitomises the sense of entitlement that has completely fucker up our society.

People are dicks.

(29)(1)
Leedsbloke

It should be noted that nothing in today’s judgement places any obligation on passengers to comply with requests or requirements by bus drivers or disabled passengers to move or get off the bus. All it means is that bus drivers will have to make two attempts at encouraging someone to give up a place rather than one attempt. The Supreme Court makes the point that bus companies cannot be expected to use force to put existing passengers people off the bus if they fail to give way to a wheelchair. It also makes the point that the police will not be interested, as a non-compliant passenger is not committing any criminal offence.

(0)(0)
Daniel Olive

It is of course open to bus companies to sell tickets on terms that require you not to occupy the wheelchair bay when it is required by a wheelchair user, much as their standard terms presumably exclude your right to travel on the outside of the bus, or in the engine bay, and it seems like they may well be required to do so.

(1)(0)
Leedsbloke

Whatever terms and conditions for tickets state, bus companies will still have no legal power to use force to put a non-compliant passenger off a bus. As the SC confirmed today: : “The Recorder’s judgment effectively required a policy that could lead to a non-wheelchair user being ordered off the bus. The Court of Appeal was right to reject this.” The police have no interest in a civil dispute between a bus company and a passenger about whether or not the passenger is in breach of terms and conditions, so they won’t be entertaining requests from bus drivers to turf passengers off either.

(1)(1)
Anonymous

This kind of makes sense.

If the mother in the pushchair could have packed up the buggy and moved to make room for the wheelchair, then she should have been forced to do so. It’s just good manners.

On the other hand if the bus was so packed that she could not have vacated the space without getting off the bus, why should she as a fare paying passenger be obliged to leave? She may have been on the way to catch a train/go to an important appointment too.

Plenty of able-bodied people are refused entry to buses because they are full and may miss a train as a result.

Surely the universal rule should be to leave plenty of time for your journey?

(6)(1)
Daniel Olive

Because she took a space which was available to her only while it was not required by the class of user it was reserved for. If I sit in the front seats on the DLR, I may have to move.

(2)(2)
Anonymous

Missed the point entirely.

My point was why, IF the bus was full and packed, she (the existing passenger) should be ordered to leave the bus in favour of a disabled passenger who wants to get on?

(2)(0)
Anonymous

I disagree! A buggy user (or any able-bodied) passenger should factor into THEIR journey time the fact that they may be ordered off a crowded bus to make way for a disabled passenger who may not be able to be as flexible with their own travel arrangements due to their diaper.

(1)(3)
Trumpenkrieg

Hey… don’t say that. Let’s make love, not war! ❤️

(1)(1)
Anonymous

Well then, quite frankly, that isn’t equality! It favours disabled people.

Furthermore, I’m presuming you haven’t travelled by us recently?! They have abolished the luggage areas so there is nowhere to stow buggies on the bus. It would also be a health and safety risk to have the buggy in the aisle!

These spaces should come on a first come first served basis!

(1)(1)
Anonymous

The wheelchair space is a legal requirement under the PSVAR to give wheelchair users an opportunity to travel; a buggy space is not, it is provided as a courtesy. If there was no wheelchair space a wheelchair user could not use public transport at all whereas a person with a child buggy would have to fold it up and store it in the luggage rack but still be able to travel.

(0)(0)
A drunk man looks at a thistle

Here’s the real lolz – people on this thread seem to think waking a sleeping baby/toddler up will lead to the child easily being carried by the parent.

My guess is that what actually would happen is the kid would go absolutely berserk – you know what with being woken up – and the sort of blowhards above who are saying ”just carry it” would then be saying ”why didn’t the disabled chap just wait for the next bus so my journey isn’t turned into a screaming hell”.

(0)(1)
Anonymous

The wheelchair space is a legal requirement under the PSVAR to give wheelchair users an opportunity to travel; a buggy space is not, it is provided as a courtesy. If there was no wheelchair space a wheelchair user could not use public transport at all whereas a person with a child buggy would have to fold it up and store it in the luggage rack but still be able to travel.

(0)(0)
Callum Smegal

Wak the pushchairs and the wheelchairs both together to create something amazing. No but seriously they should have the same authority as each other.

(0)(0)
Anonymous

I personally think that they should gain the same authority

(0)(0)

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