The County Court held that organisers of a music concert had breached the reasonable adjustment duty by not arranging BSL interpreters for deaf audience members for the whole concert, including support acts.
Reynolds & others v Live in the UK Ltd (In Creditors Voluntary Liquidation), 2021, County Court. Case no E89YJ500. Summary and full judgment (reasonableaccess.org.uk).
Three deaf mothers were taking their hearing daughters to an open air Little Mix concert. They contacted the organisers in advance about reasonable adjustments, including British Sign Language (BSL) interpretation. The organisers initially refused to arrange a BSL interpreter, offering “carer tickets” should they wish to provide their own personal interpreter(s), and space in the disabled viewing area.
Two days before the concert, the mothers’ lawyer applied to the County Court for an injunction. On the same day, the organisers confirmed that a BSL interpreter had been booked. However it turned out this was only to interpret Little Mix, from 9pm. It did not include any of the announcements or two support acts before then, starting at 6:30pm.
The claimants found the interpreter engaged for the Little Mix set to be very good. One gave evidence that several other deaf audience members had said how much they had enjoyed her interpretation as well.
Held by the County Court: The concert organisers had discriminated against the three deaf mothers by failing to provide BSL interpretation of the whole concert.
County Court judgment
The County Court held that it was reasonable for the organiser to have to provide a BSL interpreter for the whole event.
The organisers argued there was insufficient time to deal with the issues that arose. However service providers are required to anticipate the needs of potential disabled customers. It was foreseeable that people with hearing loss would want to attend this concert. Therefore the organisers should have planned BSL interpretation. Once the organisers were aware of the requirements of the claimants, it would have been reasonable for them to engage an interpreter. One claimant emailed them about it nearly two months in advance, but they had seen her email more as a nuisance than something they should have been proactively pursuing (§§139-145).
If the organisers had anticipated the adjustment, they could have factored into the cost into the overall costs of the concert. The cost was reasonable, less than 1/200th of the overall concert costs (§§145, 147, 149-150).
The court rejected the organisers’ argument that it was enough to provide BSL interpretation for Little Mix, whom the claimants had paid to see. When other support acts were named they became part of the event, and the claimants were entitled to an adjustment that would enable them, as far as possible, to approximate their experience to that of the other attendees (§§126-128).
About a month’s notice would have given time for an interpreter to prepare for the main act, and leave sufficient time to prepare for any support acts albeit with some songs “on the fly”. It was fortuitous that the interpreter used in this case had already been booked for another Little Mix concert, and so was not unfamiliar with their songs (§§75-82, 148).
The court accepted the claimants’ evidence that because deaf people are unlikely to be able to access concerts of this nature in a musical sense or appreciation, lyrics and words took on a much greater importance for them, both in terms of the songs sung and the artists’ interaction with the audience (§§124-125).
Carer tickets enabling the claimants to bring their own interpreter were not a satisfactory or reasonable adjustment. The level of interpretation that was required would have realistically ruled out bringing a friend along for that purpose. It would effectively mean having to bring a professional interpreter, breaching the rule that disabled people should not have to pay the cost of an adjustment (§§132).
The court also rejected arguments by the organisers that the claimants’ cochlear implants and lipreading ability were sufficient to enable them to experience the concert (§§131).
Concerts more generally
The court made some comments about implications for concerts more generally:
“…firstly, where concerts of this magnitude and size of [sic] being provided for a particular band, with or without support acts, for one night only at a specific geographic location, it seems to me generally speaking that the provision of a BSL interpreter will always be more than likely a reasonable adjustment to make or provide. Obviously, that is contingent upon a BSL interpreter being available (which given the limited supply may not always be the case but if requested in good time may well be) and, if not, then it may be that a live text stream might be an alternative. Where a particular band is touring and playing more than one night at a particular venue it may be that a BSL interpreter can only present for certain dates, advertised in advance. Tickets would then be available on a first-come, first-served basis like everyone else. I specifically make no observations in relation to festivals and the like.”
A witness at the organisers –
“was concerned … that live music would suffer if a BSL interpreter was required at every event. She asked rhetorically how such an event such as Glastonbury could provide an interpreter for every artiste and how a pub employing a guitarist for £50 would be able to afford such an interpreter? She need not have been concerned. As paragraph 7.29 of the [Services] Code [of Practice] makes clear, it is such steps as are reasonable in all the circumstances which have to be taken to make the adjustment(s). In other words, it is case specific.”
The claimants were awarded £5,000 each for injury to feelings (§156-181).
The court commented at §166:
… Live sought to impose what it considered to be solutions in a rather high-handed manner and in a vacuum of ignorance and understanding as to any of the claimant’s disabilities and needs. There was no enquiry from Live at any point as to the extent and nature of their disabilities.
Would the court have issued an injunction (interim relief) before the concert?
Because the organiser had apparently agreed to arrange BSL interpretation, the County Court did not get to decide before the concert whether it should issue an injunction by way of interim relief. See Interim relief injunctions – an update (archive of frylaw.co.uk), which follows on from Is it possible to prevent a service provider discriminating before it happens? (archive of frylaw.co.uk), both September 2017.
- Discrimination in access to events: is there a duty to provide live sign language interpretation at music concerts? (archive of cloisters.com), 21st September 2021
- RAD briefing note (pdf, archive of royaldeaf.org.uk), 16th September 2021
- Deaf mums win Little Mix concert case (disabilityrightsuk.org), 22nd September 2021
- Deaf mum sues Little Mix promoter in sign language row (bbc.co.uk), 2018.