A Northamptonshire councillor who is suing his parish council after a disagreement over an iPad will have his full case heard at a tribunal if he pays a £250 deposit.
Stephen Pointer, who is visually impaired, is pursuing legal action against Brixworth Parish Council “failing to make appropriate adjustments” to his disability under the Equality Act.
It seems to me a matter of common knowledge and common sense that a councillor at any level of a local authority is required to be able to read written materialsJudge David Moore
Mr Pointer claims the parish council should have paid for an iPad to help him read meeting notes, due to his limited sight.
Back in 2013 the parish council offered to ‘gift’ him the device providing he paid the monthly bills for it.
But Mr Pointer argues that requiring him to pay such costs amounted to an infringement of the Equality Act and singled him out for discrimination.
He is also pursuing five complaints of harassment he claims to have suffered at the hands of council members as a result of the ongoing dispute.
At a pre-hearing review in Bedford on Friday, which was held to decide whether to ‘strike out’ or proceed with the legal case, presiding judge David Moore allowed the matter of the iPad to proceed to a full tribunal without a deposit payment.
He said: “It seems to me a matter of common knowledge and common sense that a councillor at any level of a local authority is required to be able to read written materials.”
Though none of his complaints were thrown out completely, to proceed with the harassment matters Mr Pointer will need to pay a £250 ‘deposit order’, which the judge made as he felt the complaints had ‘little reasonable prospect of success’.
During the hearing on Friday, Angus Halden, the barrister acting behalf of Brixworth Parish Council, tried to pick apart the legal case underpinning Mr Pointer’s complaints.
Mr Halden argued that the councillor’s individual complaints were not ‘good in law’ and disputed whether a parish council, which does not have the same powers as a district or county authority and does not pay a personal allowance to its members, would be required to provide Mr Pointer with a reading aid to help with his disability - in this case the £514 iPad.
He also argued the council could not be held responsible for some of Mr Pointer’s complaints over harassment as a ‘body corporate’, as some of the five individual incidents related to comments made outside of the council chamber and via email.
In response, Saara Idelbi, representing Mr Pointer, argued the harassment cases had legal grounding.
One of Mr Pointer’s complaints was that a meeting took place in his absence to discuss whether the council should provide him with the iPad.
Derogatory comments were made about Mr Pointer during the meeting, which Saara Idelbi argued would create an “intimidating, hostile and degrading environment” for him in his role as a councillor, which she argued amounted to an infringement of the Equality Act.
The lengthy legal battle, which first began in July 2013 and was described by Mr Halden as a ‘circus’ at one stage, is set to continue well into 2015, possibly 2016.
In the final stages of yesterday’s hearing, Mr Pointer’s legal team proposed an amendment to one of their complaints, which will have to come back for a re-hearing on June 8 to give Mr Pointer time to re-draft it.