LIFE BITE: Blind woman wins landmark NI Court challenge over kerb height

apple-150579_1280A recent ruling before NI’s High Court highlights how the legal actions of an individual can help both effect change and highlight the need for equality in our society.

On 12th May 2017, a blind woman from Lisburn won a landmark High Court challenge against Lisburn & Castlereagh City Council’s plan to reduce kerb heights in Lisburn city centre as part of  the city’s regeneration scheme.

This regeneration scheme is aimed at transforming the streets in the centre of Lisburn and creating new paving and kerbs around the Bow Street and Market Square areas of the city centre.

Joanna Toner had taken a legal case against Lisburn & Castlereagh City Council after fearing that the scheme would result in her being excluded from parts of her own city centre due to the risk of stepping out and being hit by traffic.   Joanna commented;  “If you can’t tell where the path ends and the road begins you’re just not safe from stepping out into traffic.”  She was supported in her challenge by Guide Dogs NI and the Royal National Institute of Blind People in Northern Ireland.

The Court ruled that the Council had breached its legal duty to ensure equality for disabled people, particularly the blind, and quashed the Council’s decision to lower the kerb height.

In his judgment, Mr. Justice Maguire said: “There is clear evidence that the blind or partially sighted as a group of disabled people were likely to be affected by the way the scheme was designed and built.”

Mrs. Toner was delighted with the outcome of the case and commented that; “The Council have to take into consideration the needs of disabled people in every decision they take.”

Our legal system in Northern Ireland plays a primary role in ensuring that the rights of people like Mrs. Toner are protected within society.
Judicial Review is a type of Court proceeding in which a Judge reviews the lawfulness of a decision or action made by a public body.  The decisions of our government, local authorities and other public bodies are all able to be challenged via our Court system if it can be shown that the decision made was  unlawful.
For more information on Judicial Review, please feel free to contact us here confidentially or email us on

A Guide to Management Companies


If you have bought a property such as an apartment or a house within a new development, there are likely to be common areas for you and other home owners to enjoy. 

These common areas may be as practical as a lift in an apartment block or alternatively could be a communal green or garden in a housing development.

But who is responsible for the common areas contained in your property?  Here’s all you need to know…

Who is in charge of maintaining the common areas?

The upkeep of these common areas is organised by a Management Company.  This is a company which is set up by the developer of the apartment building or housing development.  Each property within the apartment block/housing development will have one share each in the Management Company.

The Management Company will be responsible for the upkeep and maintenance of the common areas and insurance covering these areas. The Management Company will meet annually in order to allow residents to address issues of concern such as litter or noise.   It is worthwhile attending these meetings as there may also be discussion on issues which may affect the costs that the Company incurs each year – for example, costs relating to the frequency of works such as weeding or window washing, or the replacement of items of large expenditure such as lifts or remote control gates and doors.

Who pays for the maintenance of the common areas?

The Management Company is funded by way of a ‘service charge’ which you, along with the other residents of the apartment block/development, will be obliged to pay annually.  It is important that you account for this expense when considering whether a property is affordable for you.  The service charge can be substantial, especially where there are lifts to maintain or Block Insurance to pay in respect of an apartment block.

What happens if I don’t pay my service charge?

As with any other company, the non-payment of service charge can result in the Management Company failing which can have severe ramifications when you either attempt to get insurance or ultimately sell the property.  This can be a particular problem in the case of apartments. While a well-run Management Company can be of great benefit, when they cease to function, homeowners can find themselves greatly out of pocket and inconvenienced trying to have a new Management Company set up.  It is important that you should consider this risk when deciding if a property is really for you.

RFlinnRuth Flinn is a Solicitor in the Property Law Department of Francis Hanna & Co Solicitors. She is experienced in all areas of residential conveyancing. For more information on management companies, please contact us below or contact Ruth on 

LIFE BITE: Other explanation for alleged Shaken Baby Syndrome highlighted in recent England case.

apple-150579_1280A recent case in England has highlighted the importance of fully and thoroughly investigating cases of suspected Shaken Baby Syndrome.

Shaken Baby Syndrome’ is one of many names given to an injury normally termed as ‘Abusive Head Trauma’.

This is an injury which is normally caused by someone (most often a parent or other caregiver) forcefully shaking a child or striking a child’s head against a surface.   It is presumed that many cases of Shaken Baby Syndrome occur when the caregiver cannot get the baby to stop crying and, out of frustration or anger, shakes the baby.   Unfortunately, this shaking can have the effect of causing brain damage to a very young child.

Last year, a young couple in England, Craig Stillwell and Carla Andrews, had their baby daughter Effie removed from their care for almost 8 months after Social Services were concerned that an injury akin to Shaken Baby Syndrome had been caused to Effie’s brain.

Effie collapsed last August 2016 aged five months and at the hospital, Mr Stillwell was arrested by the police and accused of causing grievous bodily harm to her.   The local Council took the case to the Family Court, alleged a non-accidental injury had been caused to Effie and they sought an Order for her to be placed in care.  Effie was placed in foster care whilst the case was investigated and her parents were only allowed to see her three times a week for 90 minutes in a supervised environment.

It was only when Effie’s mother Miss Andrews researched what could have caused the bleeding in her daughter’s brain and after subsequent medical tests, that it was revealed that Effie suffered from a rare medical condition known as Ehlers-Danlos syndrome type IV (EDS).   This is a condition which causes “thin and translucent skin, easy bruising, vascular and arterial rupture”.

Upon discovering this alternative cause of the injuries to Effie, the Court case was withdrawn and Effie was returned home to her parent’s care.

Miss Andrews told the media that it was “amazing” to have her daughter back home but that she and her partner had been treated “like monsters” at the hospital and that the whole ordeal was “heartbreaking”.

The couple were not going to take any action against the local Council but wanted to raise awareness of the condition.   Miss Andrews said: “I feel bitter towards the hospital. I know they have to do their job but they should’ve gone about it differently.”  Mr Stillwell added: “We want to get the awareness out there that these connected tissue disorders do exist.  They may be invisible but they can cause a lot of damage and they do mimic child abuse and shaken baby syndromes.”

Unfortunately, the Courts here in Northern Ireland see cases of suspected Shaken Baby Syndrome.  The above example highlights how important it is in each case to explore all other possible causes of the injury and to ensure that there is minimal delay in collecting medical evidence from experts in this field.
If you require any further information on Shaken Baby Syndrome or non accidental injury, please feel free to contact is confidentially here