Lords to debate school dyslexia diagnosis

The Law Lords are set to decide if a school's failure to diagnose and treat dyslexia is a personal injury, writes Roger Pearson.

The legal status of dyslexia is to be argued before the Law Lords.

Lords Steyn, Clyde and Millett have given leave for an appeal which will focus on whether the failure to diagnose dyslexia can provide grounds for a personal injury claim under the Supreme Court Act 1981.

The case centres on a schoolgirl's claims against Clwyd County Council that the head teacher of her primary school did not realise that she suffered from dyslexia and failed to refer the matter to a specialist.

Rhiannon Anderton was a pupil at the primary school in question from 1983 to 1990.

As a preliminary to the action, lawyers sought pre-action disclosure by council solicitors of her educational records. They argued, initially successfully, that disclosure should be made under section 33(2) of the Supreme Court Act 1981, which provides for such information to be made available by those who are likely to be party to a personal injury claim.

The council opposed the application, arguing that the evidence put forward in support of it did not disclose that Anderton had suffered personal injury.

On the initial application that argument was rejected by Master Prebble in the High Court and an appeal by the council against that ruling was dismissed by Mr Justice Steel in the High Court in February 1998.

However, his decision was reversed by the Court of Appeal in November last year. Lords Justices Stuart-Smith, Otton and Tuckey held that the medical evidence fell far short of establishing that Anderton had suffered any psychiatric injury as a result of what had happened.

And they said that even if dyslexia could be regarded as impairment of her mental condition, it had not been caused by the council. It was a congenital and constitutional condition, which had not been exacerbated by failure to diagnose it. In those circumstances, the failure to mitigate or ameliorate the consequences of the condition could not be regarded as a personal injury.

The earlier order for disclosure was set aside.