Ambiguity of Equality Billís belief strand causes confusion

According to a new code of practise published by the Equality and Human Rights Commission vegetarian and vegans should be protected by the belief strand of the Equality Bill. The code of practise explains that beliefs need not be those of the traditional religious sense and can extend to any philosophical belief.

The code published to aid employers before the forthcoming equality bill is enacted states:-

“A belief need not include faith or worship of a god or gods, but must affect how a person lives their life or perceives the world.”

A source of frustration for practitioners is that the new guidance fails to set a test or measure of what constitutes a belief. The government has offered little clarification on what beliefs are covered apart from stating that the issue is for the courts to decide on individual cases.

The ambiguity caused by the code of practise has stifled preparations for the Equality Bill. The recent case of Grainger PLC v Nicholson demonstrates how much ambiguity there is over this issue, where a judge ruled in favour of climate change being a philosophical belief that warranted protection from equality laws.

The whole question of religion is very subjective leaving many practitioners now unsure about delivering compliance on the issue should this requirement stay in the final version of the equality bill. The issue is due to be debated in the House of Lords on March 23rd 2010.

The code does state that beliefs must “attain a certain level of cogency, seriousness, cohesion and importance” but this does not complete the picture. What is obvious is going forward practitioners will need to perceive belief as a wider issue beyond the traditional religions which may interplay in the fulfilment of equality.  
With time running out to get the Equality Bill enacted it doesn’t seem like the government will get tangled in this issue. Practitioners have every right to be annoyed as one of the key aims of the new bill was to simplify equality legislation.


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