UK govt loses court case over sign language interpreters

London, United KingdomUpdated: Jul 28, 2021, 07:36 PM IST

An umbrella featuring Britain flag (representative image). Photograph:(Reuters)

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Fordham said the omission constituted 'discrimination' as it breached the 'reasonable adjustments duty' but found the government was not 'in present or continuing breach'

A deaf woman on Wednesday won a court case against the UK government for failing to provide sign language interpreters at televised COVID-19 briefings.

The ruling is the latest setback for the UK government in its legal battles against citizens suing over its handling of the coronavirus pandemic.

Judge Michael Fordham ruled in favour of citizen Katie Rowley against the Cabinet Office for not providing the interpretation during broadcasts on September 21 and October 12 last year.

Fordham said the omission constituted "discrimination" as it breached the "reasonable adjustments duty" but found the government was not "in present or continuing breach".

Campaign group The Good Law Project took it to court amid accusations of inadequate transparency and cronyism relating to the procurement of contracts for personal protective equipment.

In June, the High Court ruled against senior minister Michael Gove for unlawfully awarding a contract worth more than £560,000 ($777,000, 658,000 euros) for virus-related communications to a firm without going through proper procedures.

And state auditors last year found the government failed to account clearly for spending on supplies and services during the pandemic worth £18 billion.

Rowley, a self-employed actor and writer in her thirties from Leeds in northern England, wanted compensation for "injury to feelings".

Her lawyers claimed she should receive thousands of pounds in compensation, and a lower court will award damages at a later date.

Only two of more than 170 COVID-19 briefings were unlawful because British Sign Language was not provided, according to officials.

"Our priority has always been to reach the largest possible audience with important public information," said a government spokesperson.

"We will continue to ensure that British Sign Language interpretation is made available during COVID-19 briefings."

Televised pandemic briefings by the UK's devolved authorities in Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland have included British Sign Language interpreters on screen.

The London High Court case comes at an inopportune time for the UK government, which on Tuesday launched plans to improve access to public transport and taxis for people with disabilities.