University of Bristol Found Guilty of Disability Discrimination in Landmark Case: Failure to Make Reasonable Adjustments for Student with Mental Health Disabilities.

Citation: [2024] EWHC 299 (KB)
Judgment on


The High Court case of the University of Bristol v Dr. Robert Abrahart (Administrator of the estate of Natasha Abrahart, deceased) delves into profound issues surrounding disability discrimination within an educational setting, as articulated under the Equality Act 2010. It encapsulates themes relating to the duty to make reasonable adjustments, discrimination arising from disability, and indirect discrimination, as well as addressing the intersection of such statutory duties with the common law of negligence.

Key Facts

Natasha Abrahart, a student at the University of Bristol, tragically took her own life due to what was identified as substantial difficulties related to mandatory oral assessments forming part of her Physics course. The case brought by her father contends that the University failed to make reasonable adjustments for Natasha’s disability, which included depression and social anxiety disorder, ultimately discriminating against her contrary to Sections 15, 19, and 20 of the Equality Act 2010.

Several adjustments, including the removal of oral assessment requirements and the provision of written questions in advance, were proposed but not implemented. The University primarily defended its position by highlighting the process-driven requirements imposed by its regulations and the perceived necessity for medical evidence before adjusting assessment methods.

The High Court’s examination centred on whether the University breached the duties imposed by the Equality Act 2010 and whether the claim for negligence was tenable.

Duty to Make Reasonable Adjustments

Central to this case is Section 20’s duty to make reasonable adjustments, where the anticipatory nature of the duty is particularly highlighted. It requires educational institutions to proactively mitigate substantial disadvantages experienced by disabled students, compared to their non-disabled peers.

Knowledge of Disability

The issue of actual or constructive knowledge was pivotal, as detailed under Section 15(2) and applied in the context of disability arising discrimination. The court examined if the University knew, or should have known, facts constituting the student’s disability, such as the long-term adverse effect of impairment on day-to-day activities.

Indirect Discrimination

Section 19 deals with indirect discrimination claims, focusing on the application of general provisions, criteria, or practices and whether they are proportionate means for achieving legitimate aims while causing group disadvantages.

Justification and Proportionality

Both direct discrimination (Section 15) and indirect discrimination (Section 19) claims involve an assessment of whether the unfavourable treatment or PCP is justified, looking at the proportionality between the aims and the severity of their effects.


The court also considered the established principles of negligence and duty of care. It evaluated if the University owed Natasha Abrahart a duty of care, particularly in relation to academic assessments, and whether it assumed responsibility for her welfare in this context.


The High Court concluded that the University failed to comply with its duty to make reasonable adjustments, representing a breach under the Equality Act 2010. The judgment highlights a series of missteps by the University, noting the cessation in the implementation of adjustments due to the lack of Disability Support Summary and medical evidence. This was considered unreasonable given the clear manifestation of Natasha’s difficulties and the University’s anticipated role in providing support.

Additionally, the finding of indirect discrimination under Section 19 was upheld, notwithstanding a differing approach to justification between Sections 15 and 19. However, the negligence claim was not conclusively addressed given the successful discrimination claims and the possibility of a re-trial.


The case exemplifies the imperative for educational institutions to take a proactive and accommodating approach toward disabled students. The anticipatory nature of the duty to make reasonable adjustments demands institutions recognize and cater to the special needs of disabled students without necessitating a formal diagnosis or the initiation of complex procedures. Furthermore, the case underlines the scope and influence of knowledge in establishing liability under the Equality Act 2010, especially regarding the requirement that entities must not remain oblivious to disabilities that they ought to have been aware of, emphasizing the role of the institution in upholding equality among all students.