'Paulley Principle' established over wheelchair spaces on buses


A new legal principle for disabled access on buses has been established following a Supreme Court decision on Wednesday.

The Supreme Court awarded a partial victory to wheelchair users in their fight for priority use of designated wheel chair spaces. 

Dubbed the ‘Paulley principle’, the Supreme Court's decision found operators are under obligation to apply ‘pressure’ to non-wheelchair users to vacate the designated space; however it found operators could not force non wheelchair users out of the space or off the bus.


In this landmark case, Mr Paulley took action against operator First Bus after he was denied access to a bus to Leeds in 2012 when a woman with a baby in a pushchair refused to move from the designated wheelchair user space, arguing that her pushchair would not fold up.

A Leeds County Court judgement, which found in favour of wheelchair user Mr Paulley, 36, was overturned by the Court of Appeal. The Supreme Court today unanimously upheld the appeal of Doug Paulley in his fight against First Bus,

Today's judgement accepted Mr Paulley’s case ‘that First Group’s policy should have gone further’ and that it was ‘not enough to simply request’ the non-wheelchair user vacate the space.

‘Some further step to pressure the non wheelchair user would be appropriate’ the judgement found, including saying they are required to move or the bus driver refusing to drive on.

However the judges accepted the non-wheelchair user could not be forced to move or vacate the bus and that passengers are not under a statutory obligation to move.

Mr Paulley and his legal team said this was a ‘major decision’ that ‘will change the culture around disabled access in the fullness of time’.

 David Isaac, chair of the Equality and Human Rights Commission, which supported Mr Paulley at the court cases, said: 'This is a hugely important decision that has helped clarify the current state of the law and will give and will give confidence to thousands of disabled people in Britain to use public transport.'

First Bus managing director Giles Fearnley said: ‘We welcome today’s decision from the Supreme Court. It has ruled that bus drivers are not required to remove customers from vehicles, which was a key issue for us. This provides welcome clarity for bus operators, our drivers and our customers.

‘This was clearly a difficult case for the Supreme Court with six different judgments, and we look forward to receiving further clarity around the decision when the court publishes its Order. In response, we will implement any necessary changes.

‘We recognise how important it is that bus services are accessible for all customers and we lead the industry in improving bus travel for customers with all disabilities. We are therefore also pleased that the Supreme Court found that we did not discriminate against Mr Paulley.’

Supreme Court judgement on changing the law

Lord Toulson said:

'By way of postscript, the Court of Appeal made critical comments about the present state of the law in this area. The divisions of opinion in this court may be thought to reinforce the desirability of it receiving fresh legislative consideration.'

Lord Neuberger refers to 'the advisability of reconsidering the state of the law in this area.'

Lord Sumption said:

'The difficulty in this case is that the Conduct Regulations deal with the obligations of passengers at paras 5 and 6, without imposing any obligation on them to vacate the wheelchair space when it is required by a wheelchair user. […]

'The ideal solution, if there is one, would be to change the law so as to create an obligation on the part of non-wheelchair users, enforceable in the same way as the rule against anti-social behaviour, to move unless the driver reasonably considers that they have a sufficient reason not to do so.'

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