The Paulley Case: The Bare Bones

FirstGroup Plc (Respondent) v Paulley (Appellant) [2017] UKSC 4

The Paulley judgement was delivered by the Supreme Court on Wednesday 18th January 2017. The ruling is met with disappointment because of a lack of clarity as to what should happen when a non- wheelchair user refuses to get out of the designated wheelchair space. The judges, however, did say that more needs to be done. Here is a summary of the case:

  •  Doug Paulley, a permanent wheelchair user, wanted to board a bus operated by FirstGroup Plc but the designated wheelchair space was occupied by woman with a baby in a pushchair. The woman would not move the pushchair when asked by the driver following company policy and she said that the baby was asleep and the pushchair would not fold. The policy made the wheelchair space available on a ͞first come, first served͟ basis and said that the driver only had to request that the person get out of the space if it was required by a wheelchair user. There was also a sign on the bus asking passengers occupying the wheelchair space to “please give up this space if needed for a wheelchair user”. The driver took no further action meaning that Paulley was unable to board the bus, which significantly delayed his travel plans after he missed his train. Paulley sued First Group Plc for unlawful discrimination on disability grounds. The case concerned questions of what reasonable adjustments a bus company is required to make to accommodate disabled wheelchair users.


  •  The county court did not make it clear whether a more forceful request to move would have led to Paulley not being disadvantaged and so he was not entitled to damages.


  •  Making First Group Plc use more direct language in its signage would be unreasonable. There is no real prospect that would have made any difference and the review suggests that polite notices are more successful.


  •  Bus driver should do more than ask the person in the space and pressurise the non-wheelchair user to vacate the space if the person unreasonably refuses. The driver should make an assessment as to what is reasonable by bearing in mind the circumstances. This includes the reasons why the person will not move, the needs of the non-wheelchair user, whether the bus is full or has vacant places, whether the bus is on time, the frequency of the service and (possibly) the character of the driver.


  •  The driver should make a stronger request to vacate and refuse to drive the bus on for several minutes, if it is appropriate, to get the non-wheelchair using person to move out of the space.

  • There are circumstances in which enforcing a rule that any non-wheelchair user must always get out of the wheelchair space would be unreasonable, such as when a vulnerable person occupies the space or the space is needed for mobility aids.


The interpretation of the Paulley case and any relevant views are that of the author and may not be shared by other Regard members.