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Paulley case is an important milestone – and more legal clarification needed

18 January 2017

DR UK welcomes the Supreme Court decision but believes that the position of wheelchair users in relation to bus transport needs further legal clarification

Disability Rights UK welcomes the Supreme Court decision to uphold Doug Paulley’s appeal but is somewhat disappointed that this only upheld to a limited extent.

The Supreme Court suggests that FirstGroup’s “provision criterion or practice” (PCP) should specify more than simply requesting a non-wheelchair user to vacate a wheelchair space without taking any further steps, depending on the circumstances.

The ruling suggests that, in certain circumstances, a driver should rephrase the request to vacate and refuse to drive the bus on for several minutes.

This is important. It is not enough to ask once. But Disability Rights UK would like to see a further change in the law. In the past we have made recommendations in our response to the Bus Conduct regulations consultation.

We understand that Parliament has been awaiting the outcome of this case with regard to the Bus Services Bill and we would urge that there be amendments to the Bill which will further strengthen and clarify the rights of wheelchair passengers, particularly when bus drivers are confronted by unreasonable passengers. In demanding this we accept that, in most cases, the actions of most bus passengers are reasonable.

For decades wheelchair users could simply not get on any bus – they weren’t physically accessible. After a long and hard-fought campaign, that changed – but if the wheelchair space is taken by luggage or buggies, then the bus might as well still be physically inaccessible. The clock just turns back to the days when disabled people were denied the right to travel. 

We urge bus – and indeed train, tram and underground – companies to bring in designs that offer space for both wheelchair users and buggies.

Meanwhile, we need to understand that whereas luggage can be moved and buggies can be folded up, wheelchairs cannot be folded – that is why we believe further legal clarification is needed.


Doug Paulley v. First Bus Group: Right to Ride Won - statement from Unity Law, Doug Paulley's legal representation

FirstGroup Plc (Respondent) v Paulley (Appellant) [2017] UKSC 4 - link to Supreme Court decision

DR UK summary of the Paulley case

The Paulley case explained - blog by DR UK trustee Daniel Holt

The “Paulley Principle”: A DR UK ambassador’s view - blog by Stephen Brookes MBE