University of Bristol v Abrahart: equality watchdog responds to judgment in landmark case

Published: 14 February 2024

The High Court has today (14 February 2024) ruled that the University of Bristol failed to make reasonable adjustments for a 20-year-old female student who suffered social anxiety.

The court also determined that she had been indirectly discriminated against and discriminated against on the grounds of disability.

As Britain’s equality regulator, the Equality and Human Rights Commission’s intervention in this tragic case was welcomed by the judge.

The case, The University of Bristol v Dr Robert Abrahart , arose from the University’s appeal against a May 2022 ruling by the Bristol County Court that the University contributed to the death of Natasha Abrahart, by discriminating against her on the ground of disability contrary to the Equality Act 2010.

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

The University was also aware she had sought medical treatment for her mental health.

Natasha sadly took her own life in April 2018, on the morning she was scheduled to deliver a presentation to fellow students and lecturers.

The EHRC was able to intervene in this case under s30 of the Equality Act 2006.

Baroness Kishwer Falkner, Chairwoman of the Equality and Human Rights Commission, said:

“We welcome this judgment and today our thoughts are firmly with Natasha’s loved ones.

“As the equality regulator, we assisted the court in determining how universities should approach their duty to make reasonable adjustments, bearing in mind the anticipatory nature of that duty.

“While we will take time to consider today’s judgment in full, it provides clarity on the approach universities should take in relation to what parts of an examination or assessment should amount to competence standards.

“This case will help ensure universities benefit from clearer guidance on their duties under the Equality Act, when they arise, and where the competence standard exception can be applied.

“We also hope that current and prospective disabled students will feel empowered by this judgment, which provides them with clarity on what they should expect from their university.”

Notes to Editors