Inns-based chambers risk falling foul of disability laws

Chambers housed in the Inns of Court are struggling to comply with new laws governing the treatment of disabled people that were introduced this month.

The new laws, which form part of the Disability Discrimination Act 1995 (DDA), mean employers and service providers are now required to treat disabled people identically to the able-bodied or face litigation.

The legislation applies equally to those providing a service from a listed building, such as barristers in the Inns of Court. Such providers have to get planning permission in order to make necessary changes, but cannot use the fact that their building is listed to avoid fulfilling the requirements.

Major General David Jenkins, the under-treasurer for Gray’s Inn, which owns four squares around Holborn, told The Lawyer: “[The proposed changes] are going to cause us great difficulties. I have a management committee meeting soon, at which I am going to ask for a new lift [at the Inns’ main office] and seek to open discussions with English Heritage and Camden Council [about the impact of the legislation].”

English Heritage recently produced new guidance on improving access to historic buildings, providing suggestions for owners to allow disabled entry without damaging the building’s fabric.

Robin Allen QC, joint head of Cloisters Chambers and special adviser to the Disability Rights Commission, said of the new legislation: “There will for certain be litigation. A lot of people have had their head in the sand for a long time about it.”

Any business that provides a service to the disabled must now make “reasonable adjustments” to allow full physical access. If it does not, the disabled person who is inconvenienced can claim for breach of the DDA.

The laws are the final stage of the implementation of the DDA, which has been introduced gradually over the past eight years.