Law Centre wants Scout Association to learn from autistic boy's discrimination

Wednesday, September 17th 2014

The parents of an autistic boy are calling for the Scouts to draw up an action plan to tackle discrimination and promote inclusion.

Sheffield Citizens Advice and Law Centre has written to the Scouts’ County Commissioner, on behalf of a Sheffield family, to highlight the lessons that can be learned after a recent court case was settled successfully.

The boy (now 11 years old) had done well in the Cubs but was not allowed to progress to
Scouts because of the way the Scout leaders saw his disability. To make matters worse, when the parents complained of disability discrimination, the Scout Group leadership asked them for a written apology before agreeing to meet with them. 

Sheffield Law Centre took the case on and wrote to the Scout Association to explain how this amounted to unlawful discrimination and the handling of the complaint amounted to victimisation. A county court action on behalf of the boy was eventually settled shortly before trial. The Scout Association agreed to pay him £5000 in compensation. This will now be held by the court until he is 18. 

The boy was later accepted into another Sheffield Scout Group. 

The letter to the County Commissioner calls on the Scouts to learn lessons from this case and to draw on the good practice available in other scout groups in Sheffield. This would improve inclusiveness within the Scouts and avoid future claims of discrimination.

The boy’s mother, Clare Coyne, said:

“My son enjoyed four happy, successful years at Beavers and Cubs. To be told, with no prior discussion, that he was not progressing to Scouts with his friends was devastating. He should be enjoying four more years of Scouting with his friends, within his own community.”

Douglas Johnson, of Sheffield Citizens Advice and Law Centre, said,

“We are calling on the Scouts to learn from this case. Court proceedings could easily have been avoided if the local scout group had handled the complaint better. Organisations need to learn to take complaints of unlawful discrimination seriously and to act on them.”


  1. Sheffield Citizens Advice and Law Centre was formed from the merger of Sheffield Law Centre and other advice centres in Sheffield. It carries out legal casework in discrimination, public law and judicial review, amongst other matters.
  2. The Equality Act 2010 prohibits disability discrimination. It applies to the fields of employment, education, goods and services, associations and public functions. Disabled people can bring a complaint of unlawful disability discrimination in the county court.
  3. Where discrimination has occurred, county courts have the power to award compensation for “injury to feelings” – this is to cover humiliation, embarrassment, inconvenience and stress, even where there has been no financial loss.
  4. Barrister Catherine Casserley of Cloisters Chambers advised on the case.
  5. The claim was brought against the Scout Association, the national body for scouting which supervises local scout groups. The Scout Association is established under Royal Charter and had a turnover of £35 million in 2012-13.
  6. The claim was settled for £5000, which will be held by the court until the scout is 18.
  7. Our letter to the County Commissioner is an open letter and is available on the Law Centre's website [PDF]. 
  8. Sheffield Citizens Advice and Law Centre is a registered charity and provides a range of advice, including specialist casework in housing, employment, discrimination and public law. Public advice line: 0114 205 5055.

For further information on this press release, please contact Douglas Johnson by email or by phone on 0114 253 6759.