Equality watchdog to intervene in landmark legal case

Published: 3 November 2023

The Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) is to intervene in a landmark legal case.

The case, Abrahart v University of Bristol, arises from the tragic death of Natasha Abrahart, a 20-year-old University of Bristol student who took her own life in April 2018.

The High Court has granted (2 November) the EHRC permission to give guidance to the court on how and when universities should make reasonable adjustments for their students.

Natasha died shortly before she was scheduled to deliver a presentation to fellow students and lecturers.

She had a known history of social anxiety, and university staff were aware that she had either missed or struggled to participate in several oral assessments during that academic year.

In a County Court ruling in May 2022, it was determined that the University had failed to implement reasonable adjustments for Natasha and had indirectly discriminated against her due to her disability.

The court found that these actions were not justified.

Additionally, it ruled that there was no duty of care owed by universities to their students, and consequently, no negligence on the University's part.

Recognising the significance of this case and the broader equality implications, the EHRC sought permission from the High Court to intervene.

The EHRC's aim is to provide the court with clear, impartial, and authoritative guidance on the educational institution’s obligations under the Equality Act, and specifically the anticipatory duty to make reasonable adjustments (Section 20, Equality Act 2010) and competence standards (Schedule 13, 4(2), Equality Act 2010).

Chairwoman of the EHRC, Baroness Kishwer Falkner said: "It is important we intervene in this significant and tragic case.

“As experts in equality law, we have followed proceedings closely due to their relevance to a variety of equality issues and potential to have far-reaching implications.

“Our intervention will ensure we can offer the court clear and impartial guidance on equality law, ultimately helping universities to understand their responsibilities under the Equality Act."