Deaf Leeds woman takes Government to High Court over lack British Sign Language interpreters at Covid briefings
A deaf woman from Leeds has begun a High Court challenge after complaining about a lack of British Sign Language interpreters at Government Covid briefings.
Katie Rowley, 36, is taking legal action against the Cabinet Office and seeking compensation.
Ms Rowley says the Government has breached obligations to make broadcasts accessible to deaf people under equality legislation. She wants a “declaration of unlawfulness” and compensation for “injury to feelings”.
Ministers are disputing the claim.
A judge is overseeing an online trial expected to end later today.
Mr Justice Fordham is considering rival arguments from lawyers representing Ms Rowley and the Cabinet Office. Barrister Catherine Casserley, who is leading Ms Rowley’s legal team, told the judge that there were more than 70,000 deaf people using BSL in England.
“Since March 2020 the Government has been delivering certain key information to the public by means of live briefings, including scientific briefings,” she said, in a written case outline.
“The defendant has chosen to meet the needs of BSL users in accessing those briefings not by the provision of a BSL interpreter ‘on platform’, in an inclusive way which enables the interpretation to be in effect repeated whenever the briefing is shown, as is the case in Wales and in Scotland, for example, but by other means.
“The principal means is by having reached an ‘agreement’ with the BBC who provide BSL interpretation ‘in vision’, shown on the BBC News Channel.”
She told the judge that the issue was “on-going”.
Miss Casserley said Ms Rowley argued that the Government had failed to meet accessibility obligations under equality legislation.
She added: “By way of final relief the claimant seeks a declaration of unlawfulness and a mandatory order that the defendant provide an on-platform interpreter.
“The claimant also seeks compensation for injury to feelings.”
Miss Casserley said Ms Rowley’s claim was supported by the Royal Association of Deaf People.
Barrister Zoe Leventhal, who is leading the Cabinet Office legal team, said the claim should be dismissed. She said “damages for injury to feelings” were “not merited here”.
Solicitor Chris Fry, who is representing Ms Rowley, said before the hearing that he was also representing about 350 other deaf people who have made similar claims.
He said those cases were on hold pending the outcome of the Rowley case.