Campaigners Rally for Critical Vote on General Equality Duty

Campaigners are urging the public to help stop the government from repealing Section 3 of the Equality Act, 2006 using campaigns on twitter and encouraging them to write to their MP.  This hard-won equality law is due to be abolished on Tuesday 16 April when MPs will be asked to vote about whether or not to repeal it. Removing section 3 would remove the general duty on the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC).

In summary, the general equality duty works to eliminate unlawful discrimination, harassment and victimisation, to promote equality of opportunity and to foster good relations between people. It is powerful because it puts fundamental human aspirations at the centre, recognising a basic desire in all of us to be treated with dignity, equality and respect.
Critics of Section 3 claim that it has created unrealistic expectations with it’s visionary tone,  that it is too vague with no legal purpose, and that it is no longer required as the duty to promote equality and human rights is covered elsewhere in the Act. It has also been criticised for implying that the EHRC is a campaigning organisation.

Many campaigners believe that the Equality and Human Rights Commission must have a defined purpose, to unite its statutory powers and duties, and that the Section 3 duty is vital in making clear both the purpose and the function of the EHRC.

A recent vote in the House of Lords was in favour of saving the general equality duty, which provides the fundamental principles that society should strive for, with 217 lords voting against the coalition government who want to repeal it.

Professor Sir Bob Hepple, one of the authors of the independent review of anti-discrimination legislation which was the foundation for the equality act, argues that it would be a “serious mistake” to repeal section 3. He claims that far from having no specific legal function as the government argue, on the contrary it has a very precise legal function. It assists those who are enforcing and interpreting the act, giving them vital direction that they would otherwise not have.Professor Hepple goes on to say that equality is the most fundamental of all human rights, with all others depending on it, and that it would be missing if we lost Section 3.

Section 3 is also important as it makes certain that the EHRC complies with international standards which allow it to be one of only 10 United Nations Status “A” National Human Rights Institutions in Europe. Professor Hepple has voiced concerns that the UK would struggle to keep our position in the field of international human rights without Section 3.


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