Leeds woman wins court challenge over lack of sign language for Downing Street Covid briefings

A deaf woman who took High Court action after complaining about a lack of British Sign Language interpreters at Government Covid-19 briefings in England has won a compensation fight.

Wednesday, 28th July 2021, 11:46 am
Updated Wednesday, 28th July 2021, 11:48 am

Katie Rowley, who is 36 and from Leeds, took legal action against Cabinet Office Minister Michael Gove

Ms Rowley, a self-employed actor and writer, said the Government had breached obligations to make broadcasts accessible to deaf people under equality legislation.

Ministers disputed this and lawyers representing Mr Gove said Ms Rowley’s claim should be dismissed.

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Katie Rowley, who is 36 and from Leeds, took legal action against Cabinet Office Minister Michael Gove (Photo: Pippa Fowles/10 Downing Street/Crown Copyright)

A judge based in London made a ruling in Ms Rowley’s favour of Wednesday.

Mr Justice Fordham said the absence of any British sign language interpretation for “data briefings” on September 21 2020 and October 12 2020 constituted “discrimination” against Ms Rowley.

He said damages would be assessed by a judge in a county court and added that the Government was not “in present or continuing breach”.

Disability charity Sense said the ruling was a "vital step forward" in ensuring information is accessible to everyone.

The charity's chief executive, Richard Kramer, said following the ruling: "The government briefings were essential to know what was going on and how to keep safe, but were not accessible to thousands of people who use British Sign language as their first language.

"Katie, and everyone behind this campaign, have done an incredible job, not just at securing this result, but raising awareness of the need for accessible information, which can rarely be as important as during a global pandemic.

"We hope that this will now lead to the government reviewing its provisions for disabled people to ensure that they have the same access to information as everyone else.”