Disability and the Police (Part 2)

When I read the case of Finnigan v Northumbria Police [2013] EWCA Civ 1191, available here I was really not sure what to think of it. The case concerns a deaf person, whose house was searched three times by the police. The police knew Finnigan was deaf, but did not bring a British Sign Language Interpreter with them, when conducting the searches.

The legal issue before the Court of Appeal was whether Finnigan was the victim of unlawful discrimination in the conduct of the three searches in that (in breach of section 21B of the Disability Discrimination Act) the Chief Constable failed to comply with the duty imposed on her by section 21E to make reasonable adjustments to her practice, policy or procedure.

Finiggan claimed that the relevant practice, policy or procedure (PPP) of the police is for officers to communicate in spoken English when they conduct searches of premises. This PPP made it unreasonably adverse for a deaf person when subjected to the detriment of a police search. The Chief Constable failed to take such steps as were reasonable to change the PPP so that it no longer had that effect.

The Court of Appeal held that in the present case, it was clear that the policy, procedure of practice of the police was to communicate in spoken English. It followed therefore that the Chief Constable was obliged to make reasonable adjustments to that PPP, so that conducting searches would not have a detrimental effect on deaf persons.

So, how can the duty to make reasonable adjustments be met in these cases? I quote para. 36 of the judgment:

Like any other public authority, the Chief Constable is under a duty to take such steps as are reasonable to change her PPPs so as to eliminate or reduce their detrimental effect on deaf persons. One way of doing this in relation to her PPP of officers’ communicating in spoken English would be for a BSL interpreter to be in attendance or on standby every time there is a search of premises occupied by a person known or believed to be deaf.   But there may be other reasonable steps that could be taken to achieve that result: see Roads at para 13.   Effective communication may be possible with some classes of deaf persons by other means, for example, with the assistance of officers skilled in lip-reading and sign language.  That this is a realistic possibility is strongly suggested by the judge’s findings on the facts of the present case.  It is important, however, to keep in mind the distinction between (anticipatory) changes to a PPP which are applicable to a category or sub-category of disabled persons and changes which are applied to individual disabled persons on an ad hoc basis.  The duty to adjust a PPP is to be judged by reference to the former, and not the latter.

In the present appeal, even though the Chief Constable did breach her duty to offer reasonable adjustment (by providing a BSL interpreter, or having an officer who could lip read etc.), the Court of Appeal held that no detriment was suffered by Finnigan in his ability to communicate with the police during the searches.

 In my previous post on this issue, here, I was considering that the policy issues of the case. I consider that best practice in the police should be to train some, if not all, police officers in British Sign Language. If you do know of such practices, such as the Plymouth police learning Makaton, please contact me.

However, I did some research, and there seems to be an issue which has slipped through the cracks in the judgment before the Court of Appeal, precisely because the case involved house searches. Imagine a scenario whereby there is an arrest warrant for a person, that the police know is deaf. The police apprehend the suspect without effectively communicating with him, the suspect is brought to the police station and a BSL interpreter is brought in with some delay. This deprivation of liberty, without  promptly informing the suspect in a language she understands, would be a violation of Art. 5(2) of the ECHR:

“Everyone who is arrested shall be informed promptly, in a language which he understands, of the reasons for his arrest and of any charge against him.”

I think I have not fully exhausted the legal and policy issues that this case touches upon. If you have any research pointers about BSL, similar cases, due process in criminal law, best practices of the police, please get in touch!

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The Academic as Student: Report from the Open University Front

One of the life-affirming decisions I made since relocating to the UK was to enroll at the Open University for a Master of Arts in Art History. A complete change of subject and discipline for me. So far, nothing new. There are a lot of people who do the same thing each year. However, my position is slightly different than most people. I am also an academic. So, I found myself in a Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde position: I would slip out of the lecture theatre, where I would expound, say, the intricacies of Tort Law, and hop on the Tube to attend a tutorial in Art History in central London.

Despite the fact that the OU is a distance learning HE institution, and that the course I am attending is a postgraduate one, my return to the student desks has made me much more self-reflective about my teaching practice and the way that I organise the modules for which I am responsible.

The obvious example here is too much assessment. I do not wish to criticise the OU, as it is restructuring the Art History MA, but this year I had to write 6 essays of 2500 words on different books and topics. How much honing can critical skills suffer before the student is saturated with repeat tasks? Read the question, interrogate the question, find bibliography, read bibliography, brainstorm, do a draft structure, write a draft, restructure if needed, do some extra research if required, read the extra research, revise and edit, submit? Each month, it was the same story.

For the life of me, if I were an undergraduate student in Law and had to do four essays in Term 1, I am not sure if I would have the patience to do this. But again, my self-reflective attitude tells me that I should not be too judgmental of the UK system. There is an age gap as well as an experience gap here. I can’t remember how it was for me when I was 19, reading Law at the University of Athens. But I do believe that over-repetition does little to help.

Proof of that was my horrible experience during the exam. Yes, exams. Because the OU , in its infinite wisdom considers that 6 essays are not enough in the first year of the Art History MA. Bless them. I had to haul myself to a Victorian dance hall/ music venue in Central London, right after an early morning seminar at Uni, where I had to spend three hours answering 2 questions out of 7. Did I revise, I hear you ask? No.

Simple and shameless no. Out of the 6 essays required of me, I did only 4. The last two I was too fed up to do. As a poor substitute to revision, I just read the course material the previous night and on the Tube. The depth of student engagement, I am now convinced, is inversely proportionate to the extent of assessment imposed on the student.

So what have I learned from my experience? I cannot change the rules at my Uni about the one essay in Term 1 and the exam in Term 2. I provide my students far greater opportunities to informally engage in writing formative, voluntary, short essays to practice questions/scenarios on BlackBoard (for want of a better way to do this). And then I shall hope that this kind of relaxed engagement makes it fun for them to practice writing and hone their critical skills and knowledge. So much fun, that when my students will have to write the ‘official’ string of essays for all the modules in their Level, they will maintain some of that enthusiasm throughout the assessment marathon. It remains to be seen. 

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Disability and the Police

In contrast to my previous blogs, where I bored my (few) readers to death with my views on disability issues, in this blog I will not pontificate. But rather, I will ask questions, and return to the issue discussed here once I have done my research.

I was very intrigued last night to read a curious case: Finnigan v Northumbria Police [2013] EWCA Civ 1191, available here. The case concerns a deaf person whose house was searched by the police, without the presence of a BSL interpreter. The court held that the absence of a BSL interpreter did not disadvantage Finnigan in communicating with the police during the search.

The case got me thinking about two things:

1. What is the status of BSL under English law? Can deaf people claim that BSL is a minority language? If so, would there be an issue of direct discrimination, if the police, knowing that the person is deaf, chose not to bring in a BSL interpreter during a house search?

2. Best practice. Why aren’t police officers trained in BSL? Or are they?  By that I do not mean that all police officers should learn BSL, if that is deemed too expensive or impractical. But having one officer in each police station that knows BSL would be sensible. Could it then be argued that by not having at least one police officer who knows BSL, the police is indirectly discriminating against deaf people?

Over to you! Any comments or suggestions, very, very welcome!

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Alberta Eugenics Awareness Week (AEAW) 2013 ~ Oct 16 – Oct 22, 2013

Living Archives on Eugenics Blog

Please join us in Edmonton at the University of Alberta for a series of events throughout Wednesday October 16 to Tuesday October 22, 2013 that mark:

Alberta Eugenics Awareness Week (AEAW) 2013 ~ Oct 16 – Oct 22, 2013

Wednesday Oct 16 – Rob Wilson, University of Alberta, Standpoint Eugenics.  Brown-bag lunch co-sponsored with the Dept. of Educational Policy Studies.  Noon-1:30pm, 7-102 Education North.

Thursday Oct 17 – Eugenics and Indigenous Perspectives.  Discussion panel co-sponsored with the Faculty of Native Studies.  Panelists: Tracy Bear, Joanne Faulkner, Jerry Kachur, Noon-1:00pm, 2-06 Pembina Hall.

Friday Oct 18 – 1) Persons’ Day Panel: Feminism, Motherhood and Eugenics: Historical Perspectives. Panelists: Wendy Kline, University of Cincinnati, Erika Dyck, University of Saskatchewan, and Molly Ladd-Taylor, York University. Noon – 1:00 pm, Henderson Hall, Rutherford South. Wheelchair accessible. 2) Wendy Kline, University of Cincinnati, “The Little Manual that Started a Revolution:…

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