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Court Guidance on Public Sector Equality Duties

Disabled parking spaceIn a case which gives useful guidance on the limitations of the scope of the equality duties owed by public authorities, a disability campaigner, who said that she would be effectively exiled from Colchester’s main shopping area if blue badge parking bays were dispensed with, has had her judicial review challenge dismissed by the High Court.

Jade Hamnett, who needs a walking stick and struggles to stand for more than 30 seconds, insisted that, in adopting proposals for the pedestrianisation of two busy streets in the town, Essex County Council had failed to meet its duty under the Equality Act 2010 to have due regard to the impact of the scheme on disabled people.

Council proposals to provide 32 new disability parking spaces in car parks around the city were simply not a good enough replacement for the 35 blue badge slots that would be lost, because of the distances involved and Colchester’s hilly topography, she argued.

However, in dismissing her challenge, the Court noted that, although there was no doubting the importance of the public sector equality duty, it was a ‘procedural duty’ that did not control the substance of public authority decision making. It was clear on the evidence that the Council had in fact taken full account of the various matters required of it by Section 149 of the Act.

The Council had performed two equality impact assessments before adopting experimental traffic regulation orders which had the effect of banning private cars from parking in two streets during busy shopping periods. Changes to the scheme had been made in the light of objections from disabled drivers; private consultants had been employed to look into the matter and Colchester Borough Council had also carried out its own detailed assessment.

The scheme, which was adopted after extensive consultation with affected groups, had been suspended pending the outcome of the litigation and the Court noted that the fact that it was experimental, rather than permanent, also indicated that the Council had acted with an open mind. Whilst acknowledging that the decision would ‘no doubt be disappointing’ for Miss Hamnett, the Court found that the Council had taken its equality duties seriously and properly performed them.