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Government Sets Date For All Courts To Be Accessible
By Dave Reynolds, Inclusion Daily Express
September 15, 2004

JOHANNESBURG, SOUTH AFRICA--The wheels of justice may grind a bit more quickly for people with disabilities in South Africa, now that all courts have been ordered to become accessible.

Department of Justice and Constitutional Development Commissioner Charlotte McClain-Nhlapo announced Wednesday that her department has agreed to provide "interim relief" to a quadriplegic attorney in order to settle a lawsuit.

Esthe Muller, a civil litigator, filed a complaint last October with Equality Court claiming the courts kept barriers in place making it difficult or impossible for her to do her job. One court postponed one of her cases because she could not get into the room. At another court she had to be carried down a flight of stairs to get into the courtroom.

"The government made the laws about not discriminating against disabled people, but by not making courts accessible to the disabled, they are discriminating against us," Muller told The Star last week.

"It's embarrassing for my client to have his lawyer carried into court. It's also embarrassing for me," she said.

In February of this year the departments of justice and public works reached a settlement to make all courts in the country accessible.

However, it took until this week for the parties to agree on a date by which courts needed to comply.

According to McClain-Nhlapo, courts now have three years to actually become accessible. In the meantime, "if the court has stairs then the magistrates can come down to hear cases . . . they can be innovative with their solutions," she said.

Under the agreement, at least one courtroom in each building would have to be made wheelchair-friendly, and at least one restroom would have to be provided specifically for people with disabilities.

The department has six months to come up with a plan to make the courts accessible. The plan will then be monitored every six months to see how the courts are progressing.

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