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18 April 2011 Public Interest Law Clearing House (PILCH)

By Swaab


Our involvement with PILCH goes back seven years. This organisation refers individuals and organisations to member law firms like Swaab, where lawyers volunteer to provide pro bono legal assistance in matters which involve marginalised people or which are clearly in the public interest.  

The lawyers in our firm have worked on a broad range of matters for PILCH, including a number of animal welfare cases. Our involvement in PILCH reflects the strong humanitarian bent of the firm. It is important to us that even though we are a commercial law firm, we are motivated by more than the mere quest for profit.


Disability and human rights

One significant case referred to us by PILCH was related to disability and human rights. Litigation partner Tean Kerr acted for a physically disabled woman in a wheelchair who filed a complaint before the Human Rights Tribunal against two large developer companies.  

The woman had visited show homes which had been built by the developers and found that they were completely inaccessible to people in wheelchairs. There were no stairway ramps to allow access, the corridors and doorways were all too narrow to accommodate a wheelchair and the design of the homes entirely ignored the potential needs of disabled people.  

Furthermore, the developers had given no consideration to offering disabled persons alternative layouts with features like wider hallways, stairway ramps, wall handholds and railings. When the woman asked the developers to alter their plans to accommodate her specific needs, she was faced with disproportionately expensive ‘customisation fees’ which put such modifications out of her reach.

Property developers implement disability friendly policies  

In the course of the mediation before the Human Rights Tribunal, the developers acknowledged the validity of the woman’s position and agreed to make it their internal policy always to give proper consideration to the needs of the disabled.  

The developers agreed to prepare new show home plans incorporating potential customised additions to suit disabled people. They also agreed to ensure that such modifications would not be prohibitively expensive. Further, they gave an undertaking that in future, a certain percentage of their show homes would be disability friendly, with ramps for wheelchair access, wider passageways and doorways and bathrooms fitted with appropriate railings. 

Swaab Attorneys is proud that by providing pro bono assistance in matters referred to us by PILCH, we can continue to help give access to justice to those who need it and create changes to benefit our society.


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This article is not legal advice and the views and comments are of a general nature only. This article is not to be relied upon in substitution for detailed legal advice.

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