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Ensuring Equity in Legal Proceedings: Analysis of Reasonable Adjustments for Disabled Litigants in Christian Abanda Bella v Barclays Execution Services Limited & Ors [2024] EAT 16

 

The case of Christian Abanda Bella v Barclays Execution Services Limited & Ors, heard in the Employment Appeal Tribunal, centred on the appellant’s plea to record tribunal proceedings, grounded in his disabilities and the necessity for reasonable adjustments. Bella, citing anxiety, depression, PTSD, paranoia, and psychosis, sought permission to record a preliminary hearing due to the impact of these conditions on his memory, focus, and mood. Initially denied by an Employment Judge, a subsequent decision permitted HMCTS to record the hearing, prompting scrutiny of the Employment Tribunal’s duty to accommodate disabled individuals.

 

Key legal principles featured in the case include:

 

  1. Duty to Make Reasonable Adjustments:
    • Tribunals, as established in Rackham v NHS Professionals Ltd, are required to make reasonable adjustments for disabled participants.
    • Although not directly bound by the Equality Act 2010, employment tribunals, as emphasised in J v K, must consider disabilities under general law.

 

  1. Guidance in Recording Tribunal Proceedings:

 

    • Section 9(1) of the Contempt of Court Act 1981 prohibits recording instruments without leave, forming the basis for recording requests as reasonable adjustments.
    • The case of Heal v University of Oxford provides a framework for considering recording requests due to disability-related difficulties.

 

The Employment Appeal Tribunal identified significant errors in the initial tribunal’s approach:

 

  • Dismissiveness of Psychotherapist’s Evidence: The judge inadequately considered the opinions of Bella’s psychotherapist.
  • Misinterpretation of the Utility of Recordings: The vital role of recordings for Bella’s effective participation was overlooked.
  • Non-compliance with Heal Guidelines: The tribunal failed to fully consider the factors outlined in Heal v University of Oxford.

 

Consequently, the EAT found these errors compelling, leading to Bella’s appeal being allowed. The decision to deny recording as a reasonable adjustment was deemed unlawful.

 

In conclusion, Christian Abanda Bella v Barclays Execution Services Limited & Ors underscores the imperative for courts and tribunals to accommodate disabled litigants, ensuring fair access to justice. The case reinforces adherence to established frameworks, such as Heal v University of Oxford, when evaluating requests for reasonable adjustments due to disabilities. It emphasises the tribunal’s duty to give due weight to professional evidence and avoid substituting its judgments on the effects of disabilities without proper consideration, highlighting the importance of lawful handling of disability-related requests. Finally, it is important to remember that the Employment Appeal Tribunal is a superior court, equivalent to the High Court making it a ‘court of record’. Any disabled person/ litigant should consider citing this case if any requests for reasonable adjustments are rejected by, for example, First-tier Tribunal (Special Educational Needs and Disability).

 

The judgement in Mr Bella’s appeal can be found here:

https://assets.publishing.service.gov.uk/media/65d87add54f1e7001a165903/Christian_Abanda_Bella_v_1__Barclays_Execution_Services_Ltd_and_Others__2024__EAT_16.pdf

 

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AnnaEnsuring Equity in Legal Proceedings: Analysis of Reasonable Adjustments for Disabled Litigants in Christian Abanda Bella v Barclays Execution Services Limited & Ors [2024] EAT 16