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Little Mix concert: case on BSL interpreters

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Last updated 25th September 2021.

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.

2021, County Court. Summary of judgment: Discrimination in access to events: is there a duty to provide live sign language interpretation at music concerts? (cloisters.com)

Facts

Three deaf mothers were taking their daughters to a Little Mix concert. They contacted the organiser in advance about reasonable adjustments, including British Sign Language (BSL) interpretation. The organiser initially refused to arrange a BSL interpreter, offering three “carer tickets” 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 organiser confirmed that a BSL interpreter had been booked. However it turned out this was only to interpret Little Mix, not any of the announcements or the two support acts.

Held by the County Court: the organisers of the concert had discriminated against the three deaf mothers by failing to provide BSL interpretation of the whole concert.

County Court judgment

This is based on the summary of the judgment at Discrimination in access to events: is there a duty to provide live sign language interpretation at music concerts? (cloisters.com), which has more detail.

The County Court held that having a BSL interpreter at live music events was reasonable in general, and in the circumstances of the case. 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. This applied all the more since one claimant had emailed the organiser about it nearly 2 months in advance.

If the organiser had anticipated the adjustment, it could have absorbed the cost into the overall costs of the concert. In any event the cost was reasonable (less than 1/200th of the overall concert costs).

The court rejected the organiser’s 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.

The court accepted that deaf people were unlikely to be able to access concerts of this nature in a musical sense or appreciation, which meant that 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.

The court rejected arguments by the organiser that the claimants’ auxiliary aids and lipreading ability were sufficient to enable them to experience the concert, and that offering a “carer ticket” so that the claimants could bring their own interpreter was sufficient reasonable adjustment.

The County Court said: “where concerts of this magnitude and size of 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.” However, it refused to say anything about whether this would apply to festivals, which are different in nature to a single-stage music event.

Compensation

The claimants were awarded £5,000 each for injury to feelings.

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 – and 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.

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