Can you help us to help others?
We can shine a light on some of the key areas of inequality facing our society, writes David Isaac
The Equality and Human Rights Commission has a vision to help create a fairer society. It’s not an easy task. These are still difficult times for some of the most disadvantaged people in our society and the commission needs to be a robust defender of people’s rights and a muscular enforcer when they are threatened.
Each year we have resources dedicated to supporting strategic legal cases with the potential to clarify and reinforce people’s rights. These are often test cases that seek to explore different elements of equality and human rights law.
Under our test case strategy we have furthered individuals’ rights and driven real change in the law, something which is currently needed more than ever.
For example, we are supporting Doug Paulley’s case against FirstGroup. We are awaiting a judgment from the Supreme Court but, if successful, it will give wheelchair users occupying disabled spaces greater legal protection, benefitting thousands of people across the country who rely on public transport.
By their nature, test cases involve a degree of risk and many will settle, so we need more referrals.
Using the findings from our ‘Is Britain Fairer?’ report we have identified ten key areas of interest where we believe use of our legal powers can bring about change.
Our team has already been speaking with a range of organisations to try and find the right cases but we are interested in hearing from anyone else who may have a case involving the Equality Act 2010 relating to the following areas:
Accessibility issues for disabled people, including transport, housing, independent living, pubs and restaurants, sports grounds, and communications;
Employment. Discrimination in recruitment and career progression with a focus on age and inter-generational fairness, pregnancy and maternity, religion or belief, and the use of positive action;
Identity-based abuse and hate crime, including violence against women and girls;
Access to health and social care services, in particular for those with or at risk of having a mental health condition;
Access to services generally in relation to age, gender reassignment, religion or belief, and sexual orientation;
Access to benefits with a focus on disproportionate use of sanctions, failures to make reasonable adjustments in eligibility assessments, and the impact of benefit changes on refugees and asylum seekers, and on children;
Immigration detention, in particular cases concerning mental capacity or vulnerable detainees (such as victims of trafficking), duration and conditions of detention, and unlawful use of restraint in all detention settings;
Education. Bullying, exclusions, access and attainment with a focus on disability, gypsies and travellers, and gender reassignment issues relating to schools;
Access to civil justice with a focus on the impact of legal aid changes, barriers to bringing discrimination and judicial review cases, and particular problems experienced by disabled people; and
The criminal justice system. Treatment of children, young people and transgender people, including protection from slavery/labour exploitation.
Even if we can’t support a case, we are able tackle systemic and widespread non-compliance with the Equality Act through our range of enforcement powers. The focus of our regulatory role is to help organisations achieve what they should, not catch them out if they fall short. However, when this approach fails we can step in to require organisations to change policies and practices that don’t comply with the Equality Act. For example you may have experience of claims routinely being settled whilst knowing that the wider problem remains.
If you’re a member of the legal profession, or an adviser, and you think you may have a case that interests us please do get in touch. All we need are basic details and one of our legal team will gladly give you an indication of whether it’s something that we might be able to work with you on.
All cases will need to be prioritised in line with our strategic litigation policy and we can’t promise to get involved every time. However, even where we can’t we’ll use the information you give us to inform our future priorities.
With your help I am confident that we can shine a light on some of the key areas of inequality facing our society, but more importantly we can take the necessary action to tackle these issues and make Britain a fairer society.
David Isaac is chair of the Equality and Human Rights Commission and a partner at Pinsent Masons
Further information about the Equality and Human Rights Commission’s legal work, including its compliance and enforcement policy and strategic litigation policy, can be found at: www.equalityhumanrights.com