Disability, Reasonable Adjustments and the Scottish Legal Profession

Student thesis: Doctoral ThesisDoctor of Philosophy

Abstract

It has been 27 years since the enactment of the Disability Discrimination Act 1995 and 12 years since the enactment of the Equality Act 2010, and disability discrimination is still a major problem in the workplace. Disability rights law has been slow to evolve and respond to disability discrimination. Before the enactment of the EA 2010 the government had the opportunity to change the definition of disability which is based on the medical model of disability. Despite criticisms from Disabled People’s Organisations (DPOs) and the disabled community this definition did not change. The EA 2010 entitles a disabled person to reasonable adjustments if they disclose their disability to their employer. The employer must know about the employee’s disability or be reasonably expected to know before a disabled person is entitled to them. Reasonable adjustments can only go so far to support a disabled person to fully participate in work, and non-legal mechanisms will be needed to work alongside the law.

This study focuses on how the EA 2010 protects disabled graduates and solicitors to access and develop a career within the Scottish legal profession. Disabled people deserve to have professional careers and not just a job. The study interviewed disabled graduates and solicitors and examined the case law as part of the doctrinal methodology. Many of the participants have experienced discrimination and stigma when they have disclosed their disability to their employer. Many of the participants did not want to disclose their disability because they feared it would impact negatively on their career prospects. Reasonable adjustments are seen by many in the legal profession as privileges instead of vital support for disabled solicitors. Through the qualitative interviews the participants faced many barriers in the legal workplace including stigma and bullying, old fashioned and engrained working practices and lack of promotion opportunities and access to courts and offices. This study found that there needs to be a shift in the negative culture towards graduates and solicitors. There is an ableist culture present within the Scottish law profession and legal mechanisms such as reasonable adjustments cannot tackle this problem alone. Non-legal mechanisms are needed in conjunction with legal solutions. The legal sector must stop equating disability with a lack of ability and embrace disability diversity. This study brings doctrinal methodology together with qualitative findings to make recommendations to improve the representation of disabled people in the Scottish law profession.
Date of Award2023
Original languageEnglish
SupervisorAlice Belcher (Supervisor) & Edward Hall (Supervisor)

Keywords

  • Disability
  • Reasonable adjustments
  • Scottish Legal Profession
  • Equality Act 2010

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