On 18 January, the Supreme Court handed down its decision in First Group Plc (Respondent) v Paulley (Appellant)  UKSC 4 illustrates a case for which in the words of Lord Sumption, ‘there is no ideal solution.’
On 24 February 2012, Mr Paulley, a wheelchair user, tried to board a bus operated by First, but was unable to use the designated space as it was occupied by a woman with a sleeping child in a pushchair.
Although the bus driver asked the woman to fold the pushchair and move, she said that the pushchair could not fold and as a result would not move. The driver informed Mr Paulley that he could not board, as there would be no way for the wheelchair to be secured safely. Mr Paulley subsequently boarded the next bus, some 20 minutes later.
Proceedings were issued by Mr Paulley for unlawful discrimination on the grounds of his disability; although he was initially successful, First appealed and the matter ended up being considered by the Court of Appeal and then the Supreme Court.
The Supreme Court has allowed the appeal- but not in full. It only went so far as stating that First’s policy requiring that a driver only request a non-wheelchair user to vacate the designated space (without taking additional steps to enforce the request) was unjustified.
If the non-wheelchair user refuses, and the driver feels that the refusal is unreasonable, the Court stated that they should ‘consider further steps to pressurise the non-wheelchair user to vacate the space, depending on the circumstances.’ That being said, the case and its outcome will no doubt result in a policy review by transport companies, and new guidance being issued to employees.
The case is interesting not least for the remarks made by the Justices. Lord Sumption remarks that ‘the ideal solution’ would be to change the law and create an obligation upon non-wheelchair users to move ‘unless the driver reasonably considers that they have a sufficient reason not to do so.’
In something of a postscript to the case, the media has reported a more recent instance of a wheelchair user being unable to board a bus between Wakefield and Leeds, due to a pushchair occupying the designated wheelchair space.
In the Paulley case, Lord Sumption stated that ‘there are limits to what the law can achieve in amending lawful but inconsiderate behaviour.’ It is certainly a particularly problematic area in which to legislate- and it remains to be seen whether Parliament feels it can do so.