The law is an ass

This post was originally featured on North of the Stupid Line.

RAD Deaf Law Centre’s stint the Solicitors Group Law 2012 was a real eye opener for me this week. An event that took place over 3 days, I was there with RAD colleagues for 2.

The conclusion I came to after my second day (Day 3) was that I am ashamed to be a part of the legal profession. Yes, you read right. Ashamed.

For such a well-educated profession, solicitors and barristers can be really stupid when it comes to Deaf people.

One solicitor asked me “how did you pass your exams?” after staring at me in shock for a few seconds when I told her I was a solicitor myself.

Another solicitor said to his colleague: “can you sign?!” when approached by us to discuss our services, suggesting that he thought we were naive enough to try and attend an event and use “sign” without any interpretation and try to communicate with delegates that way.

We had a lot of brush offs and “not interested, thank you”. Granted. we weren’t the only exhibitors to get that sort of response, but you’d have thought solicitors and barristers would have been polite, open-minded and friendly, all good skills for a professional who deals with clients every day. One even said: “I don’t want THAT”.

Needless to say, the attitudes of most made Jeff, Laura, Daniel and myself (and the interpreters) feel uncomfortable, at least initially, but as we were selling our services, couldn’t very well tell them what we thought. Words bandied around by the team included “snobbish”, “ignorant”, “unprofessional”.

It wasn’t all doom and gloom though. Many’s attitude changed when they realised after listening to our sales pitch that there may be money in Deaf people after all, all in the name of making the law work for Deaf people (!).

So. I’m part of this profession. It was certainly an experience.

Deaf Student Lodges Disability Discrimination Claim Against the London Metropolitan University

Since 1st September 2003, colleges of Further & Higher Education have been obliged by the Disability Discrimination Act 1995 (DDA) to supply auxiliary aids and services to disabled students.

John Savva is profoundly deaf. He started his undergraduate degree course in Sept 2005 with the help of a Disabled Students Allowance. He was assessed as needing British Sign Language interpreters at lectures and for group work, and a note-taker at all course related sessions. It was estimated that the standard Allowance would not be adequate by some £10,000, to pay for all his learning support needs.

The Disability Rights Commission’s Code of Practice for providers of post 16 Education envisages “instances when disabled students might need reasonable adjustments to be provided by the institution in addition to those resourced through their disabled students’ allowances”.

The University’s approach was to offer him a maximum, and insufficient, amount of £3,500 per year which they obtained through the Access to Learning Fund. This figure did not take into account his individual needs.

Mr Savva struggled to keep up with his studies, only half of his lectures were interpreted and he was provided with no notetakers. He may have to give up his course if he cannot get sufficient support to meet his needs.

Jocelyn Murphy of the Disability Law Service who is representing John Savva says –

“To my knowledge this is the first case to make use of the auxiliary services provision in the DDA and highlights the barriers deaf students have to undertaking and completing higher education courses”.

My First Mini-Pupillage

I have just finished my second day of a week long mini-pupilage with a very reputable firm of barristers in Cardiff. I’m doing OK in Chambers and not too badly whilst walking along a busy main street between Chambers and Crown Court but the courtrooms themselves, however, are a complete nightmare!!

The crown courts in Cardiff are about 150+ years old. They are made of beautiful Portland stone and have (what I presume is) oak clad walls. The ceilings are very high. The whole place resembles a museum, which is quite ironic really.

In the main foyer where, the graduate and under-graduate crims congregate, sounds to me a lot like a radio that is off-station, just low-level background hum.

The courtroom itself is much the same, until the judge arrives. I sit right behind counsel (looking at their backs, so the sound waves are moving away from me). If I hear 20% of what they have said then I think myself lucky.

I can hear the defendant very well as s/he is right behind me (but all any of them have said so far is ‘guilty’, ‘thank you’ and one ‘f**k off’). Add to this ushers waltzing around for apparently no reason, barristers back and forth dropping files on desks, seat-backs flapping shut and solicitor’s whispering to one another then the whole place starts to resemble a zoo.

The place calms down in time for sentencing and as the judge is facing me then I am able, by a combination of hearing and lip-reading, keep track of what he is saying. This afternoon was a bit annoying as we had a very large clerk (think Eddie Murphy in the Klumps) right in front of a small judge (think Stan Laurel’s physique at Danny DeVito’s height) = total acoustic eclipse! But never mind, the reporter from the regional newspaper was there so at least I can read all about it.

I know that way, way in the future I am more likely to be talking about fraudulent accounting, VAT evasion or computer hacking than the s18/s20 OAPA & the usual possession with intent, but I do seriously have to wonder whether I could faithfully represent the best interests of my client in the middle of this riot.

So back again tomorrow, unless I call in sick. I wonder if they would believe me if I said I had AFS (auditory frustration syndrome).

* AFS, if you didn’t already know, has few physical symptoms, other than raised blood pressure; the suffer will complain of feeling cheesed-off, of having just made the biggest mistake of his/her life; may also be accompanied by repeated dog-walking, chain smoking and/or excessive lager consumption.