A journey through the criminal and civil justice system
Refusals of assistance dogs in taxis or minicabs.
Refusals of wheelchair users trying to use a bus.
Every week there are stories of discrimination in access to transport. The fact that this still happens was one of the key reasons for the creation of DTACS.
When these incidents happen, victims have a few choices about how they want to deal with the matter. They can, of course, decide to do nothing. There are always many good and valid reasons why this may be the best option for them. They may decide to complain directly to the company operating the service. Depending on the service type, they might complain to an authority responsible for regulating the service, for example, the local council. They might decide to speak with a law firm and take their own action.
Whichever option they choose, the important bit to remember is that the ultimate outcome of their decision should be that they feel justice has been delivered. This article, and the ones that will follow, will investigate what it takes to achieve this and whether or not justice is being delivered.
A fair result
When DTACs began it was set up as a complaints and support service for people who had faced discrimination when trying to use certain types of transport in England and Wales.
Over the past few years I am very pleased to say that DTACs has done some good work supporting individuals who have faced discrimination using taxis, minicabs, buses and coaches. We don’t publicise the results because it’s not our place to do that. If others choose to speak about their experiences then that is great but it is down to them, not us, to make this decision.
What we have always aimed for is to make sure that justice is delivered and that there is a fair result at the end of each case. Quite often, achieving this can be stressful and time-consuming for the victim. We are here to offer support because it is so important that providers offering poor or illegal services are held to account.
An uphill struggle
What has been surprising over the past few years (and not in a good way) has been the effort it has sometimes taken to work with authorities and regulatory or court services to make sure individuals have the chance to access justice.
This story (and it will be a story in multiple parts) will try to show why and how access to justice for many people may seem straight-forward on paper, but is, in reality, so difficult to achieve.
It will be a balanced story (it hasn’t all been tough going) and it will give plenty of opportunity for everyone to make comments along the way if they disagree. At the end I hope we can reach some agreements on how to make things better.
This story will take you through an example case from the start to the end. I hope this will show why we think there needs to be some simple changes if we are to make sure that people feel confident they can access justice easily and effectively when needed.
The case will show how the various processes involved in accessing justice can be complicated, potentially expensive, and made more difficult by lots of misunderstandings over what access to justice really means. I hope the story can lead to serious suggestions of how we can change the system so that people can easily access justice.
Lastly, I hope this story doesn’t put people off from making complaints because that is not the idea. The case I will talk about was, ultimately, successful.
However, I do think it is important that we talk about why people are often put off making complaints. The result in this case was fantastic news for the victim but the effort required to get to this point was immense.
It shouldn’t have been so hard.
Some Background to the Law
Unfortunately, it is not possible to fully tell this story without getting a bit technical but I will try to avoid this where possible. When I can’t avoid this, I will try to make things clear but please do ask questions along the way!
First of all, let’s take a quick look at a few laws related to one area of discrimination in transport provision and the two main legal options for dealing with it.
Refusal of Guide Dog
In the case example we will use our victim is a guide dog owner who was refused access by a taxi driver. Taxi and private hire drivers are licensed by local authorities and there are a number of laws covering how they must act, along with national laws that cover all of us.
The Equality Act 2010 says that it is a criminal offence to refuse or overcharge a person travelling with an assistance dog (which includes a guide dog) unless the driver has an ‘exemption certificate’ (whihc can only be issued by the local authority on medical grounds).
In these cases the local authority or the Crown Prosecution Service can take action to prosecute the driver and the operator in the criminal courts. If found guilty, the maximum fine is £1000.
This type of refusal is also discrimination which, under the Equality Act 2010, can be dealt with through a ‘civil claim’ against the driver and operator of the service. Claims for ‘damages’ (an amount of money paid to the victim) can vary depending on the severity of the discrimination. We will talk more about this later.
If criminal proceedings are supported by a local authority or the Crown Prosecution Service there is full support for the victim and all costs are usually covered. This means solicitors fees, drafting complicated documents and serving papers is all taken care of by a legal team.
An individual can also make a civil claim. The big difference here is that in a civil claim, all of the work to get to court must be done, or paid for, by the victim.
A person may choose to follow one of these options and not the other, or they may do both. The two processes are separate.
In the case I am going to discuss you will see how the criminal process worked (in our case, led by the local authority) and what the victim had to do to help this happen.
It is a tale of a few ups and downs but ultimately of very good work by one local authority to make sure that this incident did not go unpunished.
The second part of the story is not quite as positive (although, it did end well). This is the story of what happens when a person makes a civil claim, in this case, a small claim.
It is a tale of long hours spent deciphering court orders, writing emails and cancelling plans. In the end it was worth it but DTACS firmly believes there are changes that could be made to make things much easier whilst making sure that the results are fair and that justice is delivered.
In the next part
The case begins.
What happened and why?
How do you make a complaint to the right person or organisation?
What evidence should you provide?