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Deaf prisoner receives substantial compensation for discrimination suffered

A prisoner whose communication problems relating to his deafness were ignored has settled his case

Deaf prisoner succeeds with claim

12 December 2014

A deaf prisoner has received substantial compensation following the settlement of his claim for the discrimination he has suffered whilst in prison. 

The serving prisoner, known as “Mr N”, became deaf whilst in prison.  Even with the help of hearing aids for both ears, he still had difficulties in participating in almost all aspects of prison life.  These difficulties included being able to communicate properly with other prisoners, prison staff and family and friends.

Mr N raised the difficulties he was experiencing repeatedly with the various prisons where he has been an inmate.   He did not know what could be done to help him overcome these difficulties, so he asked for his needs to be assessed by a deaf specialist and for any appropriate aids or services to then be provided.

However, in response, Mr N’s requests were either ignored by the prison or the prison said that it was not their responsibility.  On the few occasions that they did respond to his request, he was transferred to another prison before anything was done.  The result of which was that the whole process of raising his difficulties started all over again.

This was not only frustrating and isolating, but it also threatened to impede Mr N’s sentence progression.  To be able to show a reduction in his risk, he needed to complete an offending behaviour course.   However, the course was a group course and involved group discussions and role play.  Neither of which he could do without help.

Faced with the prison’s seeming indifference to his difficulties, Mr N instructed Benjamin Burrows, a solicitor in the prison law team at Leigh Day, to bring a claim for discrimination.   The claim, which was brought under the Equality Act 2010 against the Ministry of Justice, argued that the failure to adequately assess and provide for his needs amounted to unlawful disability discrimination.

Happily, shortly after the claim was brought, the Ministry of Justice facilitated the assessment of Mr N’s needs and the provision of a number of aids and services.  This included a personal listener, which is worn around the neck and works with a hearing aid to amplify speech.  In addition, the Ministry of Justice agreed to pay him substantial compensation in recognition of their failures.

In commenting on the settlement, Benjamin Burrows, a solicitor in the prisoner law team at Leigh Day said:

“Mr N had a clearly recognisable disability and had easily recognisable difficulties as a result.  These difficulties were all-pervasive.  Yet, when he raised them, they were trivialised or he was made out to be needy.

Mr N’s case showed a complete lack of understanding by the prisons and their staff of their obligations under the Equality Act 2010.  These obligations are pro-active.  As such, they should recognise difficulties or potential difficulties a prisoner is having, and do something about them.

They cannot do what they did in Mr N’s case which is to simply bury their heads in the sand or to blame someone else.”

Mr N’s claim was funded by the Legal Aid Agency, and he was represented by Nick Armstrong, a barrister at Matrix Chambers.

Please contact Benjamin Burrows for further details.

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