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Annie Hayes

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Equality commissions fail to bite

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A damning new report reveals the three government equality commissioners have made no use of five of their ten powers and little use of the remainder.

And the Public Interest Research Unit, which produced the report: Teeth and their use – enforcement action by the three equality commissions, says matters are likely to get worse under the new Commission for Equality and Human Rights (CEHR), which comes into force next year, as some existing powers are weakened.

The Commission for Racial Equality (CRE), the Equal Opportunities Commission (EOC) and the Disability Rights Commission (DRC) share a number of powers that enable them to take action in their own names – rather than supporting individuals.

These include:

  • Formal investigations leading to the publication of a report.

  • Notices requiring information for a formal investigation.

  • Serving non-discrimination notices.

  • Applying for court injunctions in cases of persistent discrimination.

  • Complaining to tribunals about discriminatory advertising.

  • Complaining to tribunals in cases where there has been pressure or instruction to discriminate.

Between 1999 and June 2006 the three commissions between them completed seven formal investigations, served one non-discrimination notice and applied for one court injunction for persistent discrimination.

In addition the DRC has powers to issue binding agreements in lieu of enforcement action – it has issued three; and the CRE can issue specific compliance notices for race equality duties – it has issued four.

Both the EOC and the DRC have ongoing formal investigations.

The report’s author, Rupert Harwood, said: “From the Sex Discrimination Act 1975 to the Equality Act 2006, there has been a good deal of enactment but not a great deal of enforcement.

“The CEHR needs to build on the invaluable work the commissions have done and begin the essential work the commissions should have done.

“The Commission for Racial Equality is set to continue until 2009 but appears to have already begun packing away its enforcement powers. It needs to remember that it has a statutory duty to enforce the equality enactments.”

But although their attitude to direct enforcement is perceived as lacking, the report praises all three commissions for their work on advising ministers, commissioning research, providing information and guidance to the public, and keeping discrimination on the political agenda.


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Annie Hayes

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