Obituary: Caroline Gooding

Obituary: Caroline Gooding

Agnes Fletcher pays tribute to her friend and a phenomenal force in the disability rights movement.

Caroline Gooding, who has died of cancer, was a lawyer who was passionate about disabled people’s rights. She was also active as a socialist, feminist, trade unionist, gay rights activist and internationalist.

Caroline was studying history at Cambridge when she was disabled by a stroke at 22. She went on to do legal training and completed her LLM thesis at Berkeley in California, birthplace of the independent living movement. In the States she studied the Americans with Disabilities Act and returned to the UK fired up with how the law could combat disability discrimination.

Her pioneering book, Disabling Laws, Enabling Acts: Disability Rights in Britain and America, was published in 1994. As happy using the arcane language of legislation as she was on the street demonstrating, Caroline was central to drafting and campaigning for the private members’ bills that were eventually reflected in the disability discrimination acts of 1995 and 2005.

Caroline also wrote the first guide to the DDA, and wrote, or co-wrote, books on disability rights in Europe and on the law for lesbians and gay men.

She was a special adviser, leading on legislative change and campaigns to implement the DDA, at the Disability Rights Commission for seven years. She helped to craft the disability equality duty, now part of the public sector equality duty. It was in this context that I knew her and worked with her. A number of people have noted that Caroline never needed to wear a suit to be credible or to feel confident. Those of us who consciously – or not – clothe ourselves to signify particular meanings (authoritative, feminine, unconventional) have much to learn from her. She was always entirely herself: no arrogance or vanity; no false modesty or ingratiating compromise; sure in her beliefs, her analysis of what needed doing and what could be done. With her intellect and learning, it was an engaging and effective combination.

Among her other roles, she was an associate of the Employers’ Forum on Disability (now the Business Disability Forum) for 18 years, she practised as a solicitor, and chaired the Trade Union Disability Alliance (TUDA) for more than 10 years. She was vice-president, at the time of her death, of the Discrimination Law Association. When the DRC closed, Caroline supported the new Equality and Human Rights Commission in drafting statutory codes and other guidance on the Equality Act.

Caroline Gooding, lawyer and activist born 7 March 1959; died 19 July 2014

Tributes to Caroline Gooding from colleagues and friends

“I met Caroline in the early 90s, during the height of the campaign for anti-discrimination legislation. I was immediately struck by her intelligent legal analysis of our situation and what needed to be done practically to make our case. If this wasn’t impressive enough, she was also a true fellow freedom fighter, prepared to sit in the road alongside all radical disabled activists and wave a placard. Not many can combine the personal, political and professional in one being – Caroline could. She was as comfortable round a high level Board table as she was wearing a Rights Now T-shirt shouting for equality, alongside the grassroots disability movement. I learnt from her during my early political years and can only hope to emulate her in some way, as I navigate the political terrain in parliament. She was my friend and legislative mentor. A great loss on every level”.

Baroness [Jane] Campbell

“I first met Caroline when she came to work for RADAR in the early 1990s. Caroline assisted the government on the drafting of the Disability Discrimination Bill. As might be expected, she was excellent at that and also at managing the fractious disability politics that were so much part of that era. The first Code of Practice under the DDA had her fingerprints all over it. It did, of course, become the template for all subsequent Codes of Practice.”

Sir Bert Massie.

“She was a very fine person indeed and did so much for disabled people. I can hardly believe she is no longer among us.”

Bob Niven

“Caroline had exceptional skill at translating radical theoretical insight into radical legislative action, all done with humour and a genuinely unself-conscious humility. I wasn’t sure whether she ever realised what a phenomenon she was – not that she would have cared a hoot anyway.”

Nick O’Brien, former Director of Legal Services, DRC

“She was an incredible colleague at the DRC, strong-minded, funny, a pioneer of disability rights, great to work with”

Liz Sayce, former Director of Policy and Communications, DRC and now CEO, Disability Rights UK

“A phenomenal force in the disability rights movement.”

Catherine Casserley, barrister, friend and former DRC colleague

“Caroline did things differently. She was hugely influential at a very senior level but I never saw her in a suit. She didn’t compromise in order to make people think that she was important.”

Marie Pye, former Head of Policy at the DRC

“She combined a passion for the history of the disability movement, a forensic interest in the law and always carried a twinkle in her eye which conveyed a warm and giving spirit. Knowing that I play some folk music she turned up at our house and duly presented me with a CD collection of Caribbean folk music. That was her – always reaching beyond herself, always looking at what gave meaning and pleasure to others. Her courtesy toward all was unfailing. To me she simply was the ‘best of British’ – always seeking justice for the ordinary person (especially the disabled person), always willing to lend a helping hand and never afraid to speak her mind clearly, calmly and with devastating effect.”

Professor Gerard Quinn, Centre for Disability Law and Policy

“After the Disability Discrimination Act was passed but before the DRC was set up, there was a gap in enforcing the new legislation. Caroline and I set up the Disability Discrimination Act Representation and Advice Project in July 1997, and she became its first director. With her customary skill, Caroline secured funding for the project and a distinguished panel of pro bono lawyers was set up. The Project accepted more than 100 referrals from advice agencies and selected the strongest test cases for our panel. It also provided an information exchange for disability law experts.”

Michael Rubenstein, publisher, Equal Opportunities Review

“She was such a remarkable person, so knowledgeable and wise and so generous in her support for so many of us. Caroline made a remarkable contribution.”

Dame Philippa Russell, former DRC commissioner and now Chair, Standing Commission on Carers

“Caroline made me proud to be part of the same movement. Caroline was one of the handful of people I’ve known who didn’t let their realism make them give up on what idealism demanded AND who didn’t let their idealism stop them recognising what was realistic. Everyone who met her was struck by her combination of intelligence and commitment and she managed to combine these qualities with being a nice person to be around.”

Richard Exell, trade unionist and former DRC commissioner

“Caroline was an exceptional combination of campaigner and theorist, and always supportive. She achieved much in her life.”

Will Bee, former DRC commissioner

“Caroline was a fantastic manager and colleague. She knew how to give you freedom to learn and develop new skills but also when to advise and support. I’ve never met anyone as dedicated to their work as Caroline and her work has made such a difference to the lives of disabled people in the UK.”

Natalie Doig, part of Caroline’s team at the DRC

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