Campaigner defeats third government department on accessible information

0

A disabled campaigner has won his third legal case against separate government departments over their failure to provide information in accessible formats.

Graham Kirwan had already secured victories over the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) and the Department of Health.

DWP previously paid him £1,700 damages for refusing to communicate by email over his personal independence payment claim, and in 2015 he was responsible for persuading NHS England to publish its first accessible information standard, thanks to another legal action.

Now he has secured a confidential sum of damages from the Ministry of Justice (MoJ) over its failure to provide accessible versions of the forms he needs to take legal action for disability discrimination under the Equality Act.

Kirwan, who is partially-sighted, has computer software that can magnify text, but it does not usually work with scanned or PDF documents.

He had tried in 2015 to access forms from the HM Courts and Tribunals Service (HMCTS) “form finder” web pages but they were only available in PDF format.

He asked HMCTS to make all its forms available in both PDF and Word formats on its website but was told instead to contact his local court every time he required a form.

But this “reasonable adjustment” meant it sometimes took six weeks for a form to arrive, while on most occasions he never received it.

Kirwan eventually launched a legal case against the Ministry of Justice (MoJ), which continued to insist that asking Kirwan to request forms from his local court was a reasonable adjustment.

He pointed out that the court system was seriously under-resourced and that he was often facing delays of up to six weeks to secure forms that non-disabled people could download in minutes.

He also pointed out that disability discrimination claims under the Equality Act must be lodged within one day short of six months, so the lengthy delay could be crucial in deciding whether he secured access to justice.

Kirwan continued to push for a centralised system that provided disabled people with “a single point of contact and a prompt turnaround for requested forms”.

MoJ finally conceded defeat and agreed to set up “a robust system whereby a court user can directly request and receive accessible forms promptly”, and to pay Kirwan damages and court costs.

HMCTS has set up a centralised email address for requests for court forms and guidance in alternative formats ([email protected]) and says all such forms will be sent out within a maximum of 10 days.

A Ministry of Justice spokeswoman confirmed the legal settlement.

Kirwan says forms he requests in accessible formats are now arriving within 48 hours, thanks to the new system.

He said: “I understand that the solution may not be ideal, especially as I originally wanted all forms on the site to be available in multiple formats.

“It is now up to larger organisations with much more resources then me to push for bigger change.

“I believe that in the circumstances the new system is much more efficient then that proposed by the MoJ and is a step in the right direction.”

But he added: “There are still massive hurdles to overcome for disabled users of the civil justice system.

“The judiciary is not bound by the Equality Act and it is extremely difficult to get respondents and defendants and specifically the legal profession to correspond in an accessible format.”