The High Court has allowed four disabled individuals to bring a judicial review challenge of how the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, Thérèse Coffey, conducted the consultation on a proposed new national strategy for people with disabilities.
The government announced its new plan, the National Strategy for Disabled People, in April 2020. According to the government, the strategy aims to deliver "practical changes that will remove barriers and increase participation" for disabled people.
As part of the plan, the government said the Cabinet Office's Disability Unit worked closely with "government colleagues, disabled people, disabled people's organisations, charities and businesses". However, claimants are challenging the government on the basis that limited information was provided about the strategy in the consultation and a survey for the strategy was designed in such a way “as to preclude proper and effective response”.
According to the claimants, the majority of the questions in the survey – published in January 2021 – were multiple-choice, with only four questions allowing free-text responses, three of them being limited to 100 words and the other to 250 words. Additionally, none of the questions outlined any proposed content for the strategy or sought views on such content, the claimants say.
Data gathering was the focus of the survey's question, according to the claimants, who also complained that access to the survey was solely online, with easy read copies required to be printed and posted by participants.
A third ground being brought by the claimants also claims that there was a failure to consult with Disabled People's Organisations in relation to the strategy.
Doug Paulley, one of the claimants in this challenge, said: "I am pleased that we have permission from the Court as it shows that the Court recognises this is a serious issue. The consultation was deeply flawed and raises concerns as to the government's wider approach to the National Strategy. It would be counterproductive for the government to publish the strategy now, having been aware of our concerns on consultation since February. I hope the Secretary of State reconsiders her position and carries out a proper, well designed consultation with disabled people and their organisations, to ensure the National Strategy includes the views of those directly affected by it."
Shirin Marker, a solicitor at Bindmans LLP who is acting for the claimants, said: "In granting permission, the Court has understood the importance of this issue, which is of potentially huge significance to disabled people. We hope that the Secretary of State will now recognise the sense in delaying publication of the strategy until after the Court has ruled on whether an unlawful consultation has taken place, as any strategy predicated on unlawful consultation may itself be subject to challenge."
The claimants are represented by Jamie Potter, Shirin Marker and Amy O'Shea of Bindmans, and Steve Broach and Katherine Barnes of 39 Essex Street chambers.
The government’s strategy has not yet been published.