Only 16% of British courts accessible for wheelchair users

Disabled parking: Limited availability

Only a small minority of courts in England, Wales and Scotland are accessible to wheelchair users, research by a London personal injury firm has found.

Bolt Burdon Kemp said that when 11 different criteria covering a range of disabilities were applied, the figure fell to only 2%.

The law firm used the government’s Court Tribunal Finder to measure 444 court buildings on whether they provided facilities such as accessible toilets, hearing loops and witness support.

Only 16% had wheelchair access within the courthouse, disabled parking spaces nearby and an accessible toilet. Bolt Burdon said only one court in Scotland could offer all three, 10 in Wales and 59 in England.

Researchers commented: “Of course none of this takes into account the fact that you may find the toilets or lifts are out of service or that all parking spots have been filled on the day of your court appearance.

“Some courthouses may also have security gates that are too narrow for most wheelchairs.”

The law firm said only eight out of the 444 courts tested (2%) met all 11 of its accessibility criteria.

Courts were much better at providing hearing loops and welcoming guide dogs into the building. Over three quarters provided these facilities in England and Wales (77% and 82%), and 69% in Scotland.

They were less well equipped in terms of witness support, with 22% offering witness services such as a vulnerable witness waiting area separate from the public waiting area, or a quiet room for people with anxiety and other mental health issues.

Two-thirds of courts in England, 62% in Wales and a mere 8% in Scotland had baby changing facilities.

“When the issue of accessibility in courthouses is discussed, wheelchair access and availability of working lifts tend to be the main factors that are considered,” researchers said.

“However, many of our clients face additional barriers as they attempt to pursue justice. Clients who have issues with hearing or seeing may not be aware of all that is being said or done in court.

“For our clients who have mental health issues or learning difficulties, the court process can bring additional trauma and anxiety. We also have clients who are busy parents, who may find it difficult to juggle childcare with going to court.”

Bolt Burdon Kemp has created an “interactive walkthrough” of a British court, focusing on accessibility needs of clients, to help reassure clients who might feel “anxious, nervous or overwhelmed” at the prospect of going to court.

At each stage, beginning with getting to court, the virtual tour considers the issues faced by people with a range of disabilities and what they might expect.

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