FLSU aids quest for disabled access to churchyard

14 Apr

A 15-year struggle for disabled access to a Highlands churchyard could be on the brink of success, thanks in large measure to the Faculty's pro bono service.

Council officials had told campaigners that it was the responsibility of St Andrew's Church, Golspie, Sutherland, to provide access to its premises.

However, there was "a marked change of stance" after an Opinion by Sir Crispin Agnew, QC - arranged through the Faculty's Free Legal Services Unit (FLSU) - and officials are now drawing up plans for a ramp at the six steps which lead into the churchyard.

"With the new-found willingness by Highland Council, I feel confident we are going to achieve our objective of having disabled access to the churchyard, largely due to the assistance we have received from the FLSU," said Hugh Johnston, a church-goer who has led the campaign for the last year.

In the past, a lack of access has caused upset and anger. One wheelchair user said he had to sit outside the churchyard, at the side of the A9, to watch a close friend's funeral.

Mr Johnston said: "St Andrew's Church has been trying for some 15 years to achieve disabled access to the churchyard, not only for services of worship but also on behalf of the disabled in the community wishing to attend funerals and weddings, and people wishing to trace ancestors in the old burial ground or those just wishing to browse in a historic public place."

Various possibilities were explored but by last September the council had announced that the project was closed, adding: "You should note that the council has no responsibility to provide access to a disused cemetery or churchyard, and as main user, the Church is responsible for providing disabled access to its premises."

Since then, Mr Johnston pointed to "a marked change of stance". He added: "In between, there has been some local publicity in the Northern Times but a factor which I think is pivotal to 'unlocking the door' is Sir Crispin Agnew's Opinion which was sent to the council.

"We have had a most constructive meeting with council officials...we are well and truly 'on the way'."

Sir Crispin Agnew said: "I was delighted to have been able to help St Andrew's Church...I am very happy to offer my services through FSLU to help any charitable organisation with disability issues that require legal advice."

Mungo Bovey, QC, FLSU Convenor, added: "I am pleased that the pro bono efforts of the Scottish Bar are again bearing fruit and I congratulate Sir Crispin and the others involved in this socially important case."