A deaf woman has won her court case over a lack of sign language interpretation at two government COVID-19 briefings last year in England.
Katie Rowley took legal action against Cabinet Office minister Michael Gove, arguing that Number 10 was breaching its duty under equality laws to make broadcasts accessible to deaf people.
Similar coronavirus updates by heads of government in Scotland and Wales always include live British Sign Language (BSL) interpreters alongside the people speaking.
Lawyers representing Mr Gove disputed Ms Rowley’s claim, arguing for example that BSL was available for the briefings via outlets such as the BBC News channel.
Judge Mr Justice Fordham said on Wednesday that the absence of any sign language – on television and online – for two COVID briefings on 21 September 2020 and 12 October 2020 constituted “discrimination” against the Leeds woman.
Ms Rowley, a self-employed actor and writer in her 30s, will get compensation, with the amount to be determined by a county court.
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Her lawyers had sought damages for “injury to feelings” and argued she should receive several thousand pounds.
However, the judge added that while government still doesn’t use live interpreters, its provision of superimposed “in-screen” BSL interpreters on its online and social media channels meant it was making “reasonable adjustments” for deaf people to access the briefings.
He therefore ruled the government was not “in present or continuing breach” of equality legislation.
A Cabinet Office spokesman said after the ruling: “Our priority has always been to reach the largest possible audience with important public information, and we will continue to ensure that British Sign Language interpretation is made available during COVID-19 briefings.”
Officials said there had been more than 170 COVID briefings and “only two” had been found to be unlawful.
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