Melinda Talbot filed a complaint against St Patrick’s College at Prospect Vale after she claimed the school discriminated against 15-year-old Abigail and treated her differently to other students.
Interstate law firm Clayton Utz initially agreed to act pro bono for the family, but withdrew from the case in March this year because COVID-19 restrictions made it “impractical and inappropriate” to continue.
According to a Federal Court of Australia judgment, Ms Talbot asked for a 16-week adjournment so she could find another pro bono lawyer or work out how to defend herself.
But she has not been able to secure help in that time – an issue she said was compounded by ongoing COVID-19 restrictions – and also Abigail’s health had seriously deteriorated and urgently needed to see a neurologist.
Justice Duncan Kerr said Ms Talbot – who was pursuing the school board and its principal Anthony Daley along with the Catholic Archdiocese of Hobart – claimed St Patrick’s had no proper basis for treating her daughter differently.
According to the judgment, the school pleaded that any extent it treated Abigail different was “by way of reasonable adjustments to ensure that she was not treated less favourably than a student without a disability”.
But the judge said neither proposition had yet been tested in the Federal Court, but that Ms Talbot had been left with no practical choices available to proceed.
At a hearing earlier this month, Ms Talbot – representing herself in court – said she believed her case would succeed, but didn’t have financial means to bear the costs if she failed.
She also said Abigail was now under the care of specialists and was on a hospital waiting list, to the point her enrolment at St Patrick’s had become irregular and had since terminated.
Justice Kerr granted Ms Talbot’s application to discontinue proceedings.
The school had applied for their legal costs to be paid, but Justice Kerr declined to award costs – noting Ms Talbot was left with no choice but to discontinue, and that St Patrick’s legal bills were so far “relatively limited”.
Originally published as Mum of girl with Down syndrome ends legal fight