It must be Christmas there is snow on the ground! Although I do recall not that many years ago when we had snow at the beginning of the cricket season! So this is the final blog until 30 December by which time many of you will have gained a few pounds, questioned the amount you spent and be preparing for the new year resolutions! I hope that you all have a really good time over the Christmas period and you are able to relax for some of the time!
Now down to business! This week we’ve seen developments concerning the Equalities Bill, Hate Crime and Assisted Suicide.
Disabled peers ready for battle on equality bill
Three disabled peers say they will fight to ensure that the equality bill does not lower the level of protection for disabled people currently provided by the Disability Discrimination Act (DDA).
Baroness [Jane] Campbell, Baroness [Rosalie] Wilkins and Lord [Colin] Low were speaking during the second reading of the bill in the Lords.
Each welcomed the bill – which streamlines existing equality laws – but warned that parts of it provide less protection than the DDA.
Baroness Campbell said the bill could “genuinely transform opportunities over time” but gains made through the DDA must not be “lost in translation in the equality bill”.
She said she was particularly concerned that the public sector duty to promote equality would be weaker on disability equality than the DDA.
And she said the bill fails to make it “absolutely clear” that service-providers cannot charge to provide reasonable adjustments.
She also expressed concern that an immigration measure in the bill could lead to seriously-ill disabled people being denied entry or leave to remain in the UK “in contravention of the most basic human rights”.
Baroness Wilkins said she was disappointed the bill had not adopted a more “social model” definition of disability, to improve on the current situation where discrimination can only be proved if an impairment has lasted a year.
She said it was “a travesty” that so much tribunal time was wasted “arguing about how disabled someone is, rather than focusing on the discrimination that may have taken place”.
But she said she was “delighted” the bill would make it illegal for landlords to prevent reasonable requests from disabled tenants to make physical alterations to communal hallways and entrances, so they are not “imprisoned in their own home”, something she has campaigned for since 2004.
Lord Low said parts of the bill were “particularly welcome to disabled people”, including its reversal of the 2008 Lewisham v Malcolm Lords ruling, which “threatened to wreak so much havoc with the concept of disability-related discrimination”.
But he said several parts “remain of concern to disabled people”, including a clause that “explicitly authorises an exam system that disadvantages disabled candidates” and says minimising this is “merely desirable, not necessary”.
And Lord Low said he would table an amendment to “introduce an explicit duty to provide accessible information”.
Baroness Royall, for the government, said she was “carefully” considering the comments of the three peers, and others, on the public sector equality duty, and would discuss further the issue around reasonable adjustment costs.
Still no justice on disability hate crime, say professionals
The criminal justice system is still failing to take the issue of disability hate crime seriously enough, according to a poll of professionals.
Nearly 50 delegates from local authorities, the Crown Prosecution Service, police forces, central government and voluntary organisations attended theOvercoming a Crisis of Justice conference on disability hate crime.
During a voting session at the conference – organised by Westminster Briefing – nearly four-fifths of delegates said the criminal justice system failed to take disability hate crime as seriously as other hate crimes.
Nearly seven in ten said the court process was “unfriendly and inaccessible” to disabled people.
And 86 per cent said they believed that not enough was being done to ensure that disabled people were seen as targets of hostility, and not just “easy targets”.
But nearly half the delegates said that tackling disability hate crime was high on the agenda in their local area.
Katharine Quarmby, author of the Getting Away With Murder report on disability hate crime, who spoke at the conference, said there was a feeling of “real disappointment and frustration” that the criminal justice system was still failing to treat disabled people equally.
She said: “It was an audience of very highly-skilled professionals with a really good understanding of what’s happening on the ground.
“If they are so disappointed in the criminal justice system, it really shows that the system hasn’t changed.”
Quarmby said the conference also underlined the urgent need for research to discover what motivates offenders to target disabled people in hate crimes.
But she said she was encouraged that criminal justice agencies appeared to be much clearer that lower-level harassment of disabled people often develops into something much more serious, such as hate crime murders.
Stephen Brookes, coordinator of the National Disability Hate Crime Network, who chaired the conference, said he was encouraged that delegates had recognised the importance of taking such harassment seriously and “looking more systematically at this lower level of crime”.
Guidance on assisted suicide law ‘must be toughened’
New guidance aimed at clarifying the law on assisted suicide must make it clear that nearly everyone who helps a person to kill themselves will be prosecuted, according to leading disabled activists.
Not Dead Yet UK (NDY UK) was responding to a public consultation on interim guidance published by the director of public prosecutions (DPP) in September.
The DPP laid out interim guidelines for England, Wales and Northern Ireland after the Law Lords backed Debbie Purdy’s demand for the law to be clarified.
Purdy, who has multiple sclerosis, wanted to know in which circumstances her husband would be prosecuted if he helped her end her life at the Dignitas assisted suicide centre in Switzerland.
But NDY UK – whose members are disabled people campaigning against assisted suicide – says pro-euthanasia campaigners are trying to use Purdy’s case to “change the law by the back door” by “creating the impression that those who assist in a suicide will be immune from prosecution”.
NDY UK’s views have been endorsed by a swathe of influential disabled people’s organisations, including the United Kingdom’s Disabled People’s Council, RADAR and the National Centre for Independent Living.
Many disabled campaigners were angered by the interim guidance, which lists factors to be considered in deciding whether to prosecute.
It says a prosecution is less likely if the victim had a terminal illness, a “severe and incurable physical disability” or a “severe degenerative physical condition”.
But NDY UK says in its response to the consultation that a presumption that anyone assisting in a suicide would be prosecuted would protect those who feel pressured to kill themselves and reassure them that society valued their lives.
It would also send a message to those working in palliative care and hospices that their work was valued and “put the brakes on a growing negative culture, which does not value the lives of all people equally”.
And it would ensure the policy does not discriminate against disabled people, sending out “a very clear message that all people should be protected under the law, in the same way, with the same respect”.
NDY UK says the DPP should only be able to decline to prosecute if the suspect only assisted after “protracted and persistent pressure from the victim”.
NDY UK says this is the “only potentially acceptable factor against prosecution”, although there should be evidence that the suspect resisted this pressure and sought help from professionals to try to avoid the suicide.
A final policy is expected in the spring.
News provided by John Pring at firstname.lastname@example.org