College of Law defeats discrimination claim in appeal court

The Court of Appeal has thrown out a disability discrimination claim brought against the College of Law (CoL) over its examination provision.

Justin Burke, a former College of Law student, went to the appeal court after both the Employment Tribunal and Employment Appeal Tribunal rejected his claims against the CoL and Solicitors Regulation Authority.

He alleged that the respondents were in breach of the Disability Discrimination Act 1995, now the Equality Act 2010, in failing to provide adequate conditions for sitting the Legal Practice Certificate (LPC) exams.

The court was told how Burke, who suffers from multiple sclerosis, had wanted to make arrangements for him to sit exams at home in Brighton rather than at the Guildford premises of the college.

Compromising and recognising that the travel would put him at a disadvantage, the CoL arranged for him to stay at the local YMCA in Guildford and agreed to pay for the accommodation.

Burke’s barristers, 11KBW’s Paul Nicholls and Christopher Knight, argued that better accommodation should have been found. Further concessions were made, including allowing Burke 60 per cent extra time in the exam, his own room, and for exam papers to be provided on cream coloured paper.

When he failed the exams, however, and was refused concessions by the LPC Board of Examiners, Burke launched a claim against the CoL and SRA stating that further arrangements should have been made under statutory legislation.

According to the judgment this included “that Mr Burke be permitted three clear days at home to complete each examination”.

The EAT ruled that there was no requirement to make adjustments to the time requirement because there was no obligation to under the SRA rules. “In any event adequate reasonable adjustments had already been made,” the EAT found.

At the CoA Lord Justice Kitchin, giving the substantive ruling, agreed.

He stated: “In my judgment the employment tribunal did engage with the issue of the reasonableness of the adjustments to the time requirement. It identified the effects of Mr Burke’s disability and how they placed him at a disadvantage compared to others and it explained that the various adjustments made by the respondents, when taken together, addressed those effects.

“The tribunal went on to explain that the respondents treated Mr Burke with courtesy, dignity and respect throughout, that they were always open to suggestions of appropriate further adjustments and that they reviewed and revised his learning contract periodically at his request. In doing so they met his legitimate concerns.”

11KBW barristers Nicholls and Knight were instructed by the Bar Pro Bono Unit for Burke.

Matrix Chambers’ Helen Mountfield QC was instructed by Sarah Richards of the CoL legal services unit. Mills & Reeve associate Anna Youngs instructed No 5 Chambers’ Tim Sheppard for the SRA.