Three years ago, on 1st September 2017, Cate and her friends went to the Little Mix event at the South of England Showground as part of a birthday treat which turned out to be the start of an unprecedented legal battle.
Cate’s Mum Sally Reynolds and her friends Victoria Nelson and Sarah Cassandro are Deaf and were only able to follow part of the event, and only after issuing an application for an injunction in the County Court. The Little Mix events Promoter refused to accept that British Sign Language Interpreters were reasonably required, and when challenged with legal action threatened the families with costs liabilities of over £100,000.00.
Today 16th September 2021, Judge Avent in the Central London County Court handed down a Judgment which criticised the behaviour of the LHG Live (which changed its name to Live in the UK and is owned by Liz Hobbs) and found them guilty of unlawful discrimination under the Equality Act.
The Judgment makes it plain that service providers are required to provide Sign Language Interpreters for Deaf service users.
Commenting on the success of the case, Sally Reynolds said:
“All we wanted was the same access to the event that everyone else had. The cost of the Interpreter was peanuts to Liz Hobbs’ team, but her response to our request was so hostile that we had no option but to ask the Court for a ruling.
Over the life of this case, me, Victoria and Sarah and our families have put up with criticism, ignorance, and threats. Thanks to Judge Avent we feel thoroughly vindicated for bringing the action.
We didn’t just bring this action for us though, we brought it on behalf of the Deaf Community who are routinely denied access to Interpreters in everyday situations. If you’re deaf and like us use BSL to communicate, we hope that you will take this Judgment with you when you next book tickets for an event, or an appointment at your local store, law firm, doctor etc. Deaf people have rights and it is about time that service providers recognise that we have the same value as everyone else.
We are so pleased that as a result of this case, Deaf people will be able to access live music and entertainment.”
Chris Fry acted for Sally, Victoria, and Sarah, he recently also succeeded in a claim against the Government for failing to provide BSL interpreters through the Covid pandemic. Adding to Sally’s comments, Chris said:
“Being Deaf doesn’t mean you should expect second best. I hope that this decision will help people who use BSL as their first language will see that change is possible with the right legal help and support. I would like to thank Judge Avent for his careful and important decision, Catherine Casserley for her expert, astute and caring assistance and Sally, Victoria and Sarah for giving me the opportunity to represent them.”
Gideon Feldman, Head of Programmes for the live event accessibility charity Attitude is Everything, said:
“Promoters and event organisers budget for crew, artists, sound systems and security (amongst other thing) when putting on shows, and we hope that following this case all promoters will budget for access requirements. Live music should be accessible for everyone and we urge all event organisers to seek expert advice to ensure that it is.”
Chris Fry is an award-winning disability rights lawyer who works closely with the Royal Association for Deaf people to help promote access and inclusion. He is one of the only lawyers whose work spans the private and public law and is responsible for the leading authorities including in the Supreme Court.
Chris runs his own private practice through Scott Moncrieff & Associates in London and regularly undertakes work on a pro bono and No Win No Fee basis subject to capacity.
As a matter of reality the case is concerned with an important and rather fundamental issue as to what access and, in turn, the extent of such access, deaf people might have under the Act in order to experience and participate in large open-air concerts otherwise attended by hearing people.
Acknowledgment of the status of British Sign Language (Paragraph 74):
BSL is a mainstream means of communication for a significant section of society.
No thought given to the likelihood of Deaf people attending concerts (Paragraphs 139 and 140):
Overall, the thrust of Lives’ position in relation to the support acts was that there was insufficient time to deal with the issues which arose. I reject that contention. Whilst I found it slightly surprising to learn that Live had not previously, until Ms Reynolds wrote in August 2017, been asked to provide a BSL interpreter at a concert, a considerably greater concern was the fact that Live appeared to have given no thought whatsoever to the possibility of deaf people attending one of their concerts and, therefore, to have given any consideration to what reasonable adjustments might need to be made.
They had certainly considered that disabled people would attend because, as Mr Hobbs exhibited, the diagrammatic plan for the event incorporated a disabled viewing area at the front of the stage. But I have reservations as to whether there was any real contemplation or thought given in relation to deaf people.
Ms Reynolds request was seen as a nuisance (Paragraph 143).
I find that the correspondence discloses that Live’s position was generally reticent and that they viewed Ms Reynolds request more as a nuisance than something which they should have been proactively pursuing. This culminated in the somewhat remarkable statement in the email of 9th August 2017 (see: paragraph 24 above) that no interpreter would be provided at all.
The Provision of BSL will always be more than likely a reasonable adjustment (Para 155):
Where concerts of this magnitude and size of being provided for a particular band, with or without support acts, for one night only at a specific geographic location, it seems to me generally speaking that the provision of a BSL interpreter will always be more than likely a reasonable adjustment to make or provide.
The importance of a Declaration of discrimination (Para 158):
I will exercise my discretion to grant a Declaration. In my judgment this is a remedy which is as equally important, if perhaps not more so, to the remedy of damages because there is then a public recognition of the discrimination which is taken place and a vindication of the claimants’ action. I also note that Live never apologised for their approach to this matter and a Declaration will give Ms Reynolds, Ms Nelson, and Ms Cassandro some satisfaction in that regard.
A vacuum of ignorance and understanding (Para 166):
Live sought to impose what it considered to be solutions in a rather high-handed manner and in a vacuum of ignorance and understanding as to any of the claimant’s disabilities and needs. There was no enquiry from Live at any point as to the extent and nature of their disabilities.