Table of contents for Disability Discrimination
- Catching up – Disability Discrimination and possession
- Disability and tenancy – More on Malcolm
- On impotent landlords and disability.
- Disability discrimination – the comparator
- DDA and mandatory possession
- S v Floyd and a disability defence
- Adjourning pending Malcolm in the Lords
- And now Malcolm!
- Malcolm in brief
- Comments on Malcolm in the Lords
Oh dear, oh dear. That could have gone better.
I’m not going to go into great detail on the five separate judgments from the House of Lords in LB Lewisham v Malcolm  UKHL 43, but I do want to look at where it leaves us and what the problems are with the judgments.
The headline result is that:
- For an eviction to be unlawful due to disability discrimination under s.22(3)(c), the eviction must be for a reason that, in the mind of the landlord, is related to the disability.
- To be discriminatory the treatment must be less favourable for a reason related to the disability. The comparator against whom the treatment is measured is someone who has acted, or not acted, in the same way but is not disabled. So, for example, someone who has rent arrears, or has illegally sub-let, if that is the position of the disabled person.
- It is still possible (by a majority) to raise disability discrimination as a ‘defence’ against mandatory or ‘undefendable’ possession claims, but the circumstances in which this will be possible will be extraordinary.
This is a reversal of all the key points of the Court of Appeal judgment (see previous discussions listed below). What is worrying is the way in which the Lords approached the appeal and with it the impact of their decision, which will extend way beyond housing law.
Their Lordships are very concerned about the practical results of the Court of Appeal judgment. On a number of occasions, for example, it is said that X ‘is difficult to accept’ (para 14), or ‘very difficult to accept’ (para 28), or even ‘the unacceptability of these logical conclusions[…] suggests, or perhaps shows, that the conclusions must be based on an erroneous premise’ (para 29). This latter phrase indicates the problem with the approach taken by the majority, reasoning a posteriori to what the Disability Discrimination Act ‘must mean’. In doing so, they do considerable violence to the Act and to settled case law.
The issue is s.24(1) which defines discrimination for the purposes of s.22(3) – the eviction clause. S.24(1) reads:
For the purposes of section 22, a person (‘A’) discriminates against a disabled person if –
(a) for a reason which relates to the disabled person’s disability, he treats him less favourably than he treats or would treat others to whom that reason does not or would not apply; and
(b) he cannot show that the treatment is justified.
However, exactly the same formulation appears at s.5(1) – employment; and s20(1) – Goods and services. Their Lordships’ view of the meaning of s.24(1) therefore impacts on every other part of the act. Some of the judgments appear to be completely oblivious to this. Nine years of settled employment case law has just gone down the pan.
Baroness Hale’s judgment alone takes note of the broader issues of the drafting and intent of the Disability Discrimination Act. As she points out, unlike race and sex discrimination statutes, there is no indirect discrimination in the DDA, although it was undoubted intended to cover indirect discrimination. Baroness Hale suggests that this was because indirect discrimination would not extend far enough to cover ‘reasonable adjustment’ (see paras 73-75). She points out the history of the bill where the specific phrase at issue, ‘to whom that reason does not apply’ was introduced by amendment (para 79) and specifically to make the comparator a person who was not in the same position as the disabled person.
For this reason, Baroness Hale finds the Novacold interpretation was exactly what Parliament intended. There was no indication that the three instances of the same wording in the act should be treated differently.
The specific problem for services and premises – which was the provision facing the Lords here – is the very narrow range of possible justification for the alleged discriminator. Where employment related discrimination is open to a range of justifications for the treatment, the section on eviction only has the specific justifications set out at s.24(3). This means that s.22(3) has a more draconian impact than the same formulation of discrimination at s.5(1). This is bad drafting on amendment, certainly.
Baroness Hale points out that subsequent legislation, 2003 Amendment Regulations, left s.5(1) terms intact in the new s.3A(1), but added a new s.3A(5) which provides for direct discrimination where the disable person and the comparator are of the same ability. There is no possibility of justification for this.
What the Lords have done is effectively render s.3A(1) and s.3A(5) identical, giving the option of justification where Parliament had intended there to be no justification possible. [Edit. I have been rightly and firmly corrected by a large posse of employment and disability lawyers in the comments below. No it doesn’t, because anything that is arguably direct discrimination will almost certainly be caught by s.3A(4) with s.3A(5) – no justification for unfavourable treatment on the ground of disability. Meaning that, until further cases or legislation that s.3A(1) is possibly absolutely pointless.]
The Court of Appeal held by a majority that no knowledge of the disability was required by the landlord for the eviction to be unlawful. On a strict construction of s.21(1) via Novacold, this seems right. However, a broad range of justification would mitigate the effects. Baroness Hale would rather see a close connection between the disability and the reason for the landlord’s behaviour. She suggests that an awareness, at least, of effect of a policy or action on a disabled person would be required (paras 84 – 85). She points out that showing a justification requires a knowledge of the disability. Baroness Hale’s eventual suggestion is in accord with the EHRC view – the Court should have discretion whether ot not to grant a possession order, having weighed up the facts and interests. The easiest way to achieve this would be an amendment under regulations to expand the list of available justifications to the landlord.
The cases would then turn on the closeness of the connection betwene the disability and the landlord’s reasons for acting as they did – the more obvious the connection between the disability and, say, rent arrears, the more difficult it would be to recover possession or rent.
Although not a wonderful solution, Baroness Hale’s is by far the least damaging and most sane. It would also have the merit of keeping discrimination ‘defences’ to possession alive in a broader, but not ridiculous, range of circumstances than the majority view. Unfortunately, she was in a minority of one in her reasoning, even if she came to the same result.
The Lords have quite obviously gone against the intent of Parliament and left a hell of a mess. The effects of bad drafting are for Parliament, or the Government via regulations to put right. Quite what happens now is anyone’s guess. One would hope for a prompt response by Parliament to sort out the problem, but one might hope in vain.
[I should point out that in all of this, I agree with Francis Davey’s comments on my ‘Malcolm in brief’ post. Link below]