August 6, 2019 11:11 am Published by

Discrimination is still widespread, in spite of considerable changes in social attitudes.  The Women and Equalities Parliamentary Committee held a detailed enquiry and its report of 30 July 2019 is called ‘Enforcing the Equality Act: the law and the role of the Equality and Human Rights Commission.’   The report declares that there needs to a fundamental shift in how equality law is enforced so as to speed up the move towards equality.

At present legal cases are usually brought by individuals and this is such a difficult task that few are brought.  The law may be good, but if breaches are not challenged that law has little influence.

The Committee want to move away from reliance on individuals bringing discrimination claims, which it says harks back to the 60’s and 70’s.  The Committee urge that there should be more publicly funded enforcement.   It recommends that the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) should be used a public tool to beat up those who continue to discriminate.

The Committee’s recommendations include:

  • The EHRC should be bolder in using its unique enforcement powers and have public money available to back high costs for strategically important cases.
  • Ensure that public bodies (such as regulators and government departments) who have powers to change the way in which employers, public bodies and service providers operate, use their powers to eliminate discrimination and to advance equality.
  • Develop a “critical mass” of legal cases to inform employers and organisations about their legal duties and make adherence to existing equality law a priority for all organisations.

The committee also makes recommendations in relation to individual litigation, including making damages go beyond compensation of the victim, to include a penalty payment to punish those guilty of discrimination.

If these recommendations are accepted, then individual justice, state intervention and the proper use of public money by an un-elected body, will depend very much on the agenda and judgement of the EHRC.  It is to be hoped that inclusive fairness for everyone will prevail, protecting genuine tolerance and free speech, and proportionately balancing the rights and freedoms of all individuals.

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This post was written by Frances Barker