Former CoL student hit with £10,500 costs of discrimination claim

A former College of Law (CoL) student must pay the £10,500 costs of the CoL in defending a disability discrimination claim brought over its examination provision.

The Court of Appeal ordered the payment after Justin Burke lost his appeal against the rejection by both the Employment Tribunal and Employment Appeal Tribunal of his claims against the CoL and the Solicitors Regulation Authority.

He alleged that the respondents were in breach of the Disability Discrimination Act 1995, now the Equality Act 2010, in failing to provide adequate conditions for sitting the Legal Practice Certificate (LPC) exams.

The court was told how Burke, who suffers from multiple sclerosis, had wanted to make arrangements for him to sit exams at home in Brighton rather than at the Guildford premises of the college.

Instead, the CoL arranged for him to stay at the local YMCA in Guildford and agreed to pay for the accommodation.

Burke’s barristers, 11KBW’s Paul Nicholls and Christopher Knight, argued that better accommodation should have been found.

Further concessions were made, including allowing Burke 60 per cent extra time in the exam, his own room, and for exam papers to be provided on cream coloured paper.

When he failed the exams, however, and was refused concessions by the LPC Board of Examiners, Burke launched a claim against the CoL and SRA stating that further arrangements should have been made under statutory legislation.

The EAT ruled that there was no requirement to make adjustments to the time requirement because there was no obligation to under the SRA rules. “In any event adequate reasonable adjustments had already been made,” the EAT found.

Dismissing Burke’s appeal against that decision earlier this month, Lord Justice Kitchin stated: “In my judgment the employment tribunal did engage with the issue of the reasonableness of the adjustments to the time requirement. It identified the effects of Mr Burke’s disability and how they placed him at a disadvantage compared to others and it explained that the various adjustments made by the respondents, when taken together, addressed those effects.” (3 February 2012)

In a further judgment handed down yesterday, ordering that the costs of the CoL should be paid by Burke, Kitchin LJ noted that the CoL had only sought counsel’s brief fees, and not the costs of in-house solicitors in preparing the case.

Kitchin LJ declined an order that the costs should be stayed pending an application to the Supreme Court for permission to appeal.

“The suggestion that requiring the appellant to pay the costs of this appeal would have the effect of stifling any further appeal is unsupported,” the judge said.

11KBW barristers Nicholls and Knight were instructed by the Bar Pro Bono Unit for Burke.

Matrix Chambers’ Helen Mountfield QC was instructed by Sarah Richards of the CoL legal services unit. Mills & Reeve associate Anna Youngs instructed No 5 Chambers’ Tim Sheppard for the SRA.