Enforcement of Rights under the Equality Legislation in Northern Ireland

10 May 2003

Geraldine Scullion1

In this article I will explain first how the current anti-discrimination law is enforced in Northern Ireland and secondly, explore the role of the Equality Commission for Northern Ireland.

Anti-discrimination law in Northern Ireland2 forbids discrimination in the private and public sector on the grounds of race (defined to include colour, race, nationality, or ethnic or national origins), religion and political belief, sex, marital status and disability. The scope of the legislation differs in relation to each ground, but broadly covers employment, education, housing and the provision of goods, facilities and services. Equality law also includes a duty on public authorities to promote equality of opportunity across nine categories of people.3 There is also a duty on public authorities to promote good relations between religious and racial groups.

Individuals may enforce their rights under the equality legislation, with or without assistance from the Equality Commission [see below]. Complaints are made to either the Industrial Tribunal, the Fair Employment Tribunal or the County Court. The Tribunals and Courts do not investigate the complaint but adjudicate proceedings, which are presented to them in an adversarial manner.

Discrimination in Employment: The Tribunals

Tribunals deal with all employment matters under the equality statutes. The Fair Employment Tribunal deals with complaints in employment concerning religious or political discrimination; the Industrial Tribunal deals with gender, race and disability employment discrimination complaints. A legally qualified chairman sitting with two lay members with industrial relations experience conducts the tribunal hearing. The hearings are public.

The intention behind the establishment of the tribunals was to allow participants access to redress, without the need for expensive legal assistance. The tribunals are authorised to regulate procedure in whatever way is deemed fit and proceedings are meant to be informal; for example, hearsay evidence is admissible. Although state funded legal aid is not available for Tribunal proceedings, most applicants use solicitors and barristers to act for them.

Complaints must be lodged in the Tribunal within 3 months of the date of the act of discrimination, or within 6 months for equal pay claims. Time limits are strictly applied. If the complaint is not lodged within the appropriate time limit, the complainant may lose the right to make their complaint.

Pursuing the Complaint in the Tribunal

After lodging the complaint in the Tribunal, the next step is to obtain discovery of 'relevant and necessary' documents and details of the complaint and the defence. This interlocutory process is intended to narrow down the issues in dispute between the parties and to focus attention on the areas of difference. Evidence at the hearing is presented through the testimony of the applicant and witnesses, and through production of documents and written representations.

Remedies available to the Tribunal include declarations, unlimited compensation and recommendations. Compensation can include financial damages for loss of earnings and injury to feelings. Each side generally pays their own lawyers' costs, which can be very expensive. If the action is unreasonable, the Tribunal can award costs against the party up to a maximum of Ł500. Appeals against the decisions are heard mainly by the High Court. In the first case decision under the employment provisions of the Race Relations (Northern Ireland) Order 1997, the Industrial Tribunal found an employer vicariously liable for the harassment of an English employee by his workmates. The employee's workmates wrote offensive graffiti about him on the company premises. The complainant was awarded financial compensation for the injury to his feelings.4

Discrimination in Education, Housing and Goods, Facilities and Services: The County Court

Complaints about education, housing, goods, facilities and services are heard by the County Court. These complaints must be lodged with the County Court within 6 months (8 months for education claims) of the date the act of discrimination took place.

State funded legal aid is available for County Court proceedings. Eligibility for legal aid is determined by a financial and a merits test. The financial test means that most people with a modest income or savings will not qualify for legal aid.

Before the case is heard, both parties are required to exchange lists of all the relevant documents in their possession and, on request, provide copies.

The applicant, normally through her/his legal representatives, presents her/his case to the judge, gives evidence and calls witnesses. The defendant cross-examines the applicant and, in turn, gives evidence and calls witnesses to defend the complaint.

A judge hears the evidence and determines the outcome of the complaint. The judge may award compensation, issue a declaration that the discrimination has taken place as alleged, and issue an injunction prohibiting further acts of discrimination. The losing party pays the costs of the County Court action. Appeals against the decision are heard by the High Court.

In a small town in Northern Ireland where there is a small permanent Irish Traveller site, a young Traveller boy was excluded from a shop because of his alleged bad behaviour. The boy subsequently received a letter from the shop confirming his exclusion. The letter also stated that the exclusion applied not only to him, but to his entire family. The court found that the decision to bar the boy's parents, brothers and sisters was less favourable treatment on racial grounds. The court held that the family would not have been treated in this way if they had been members of the settled community. The family members were awarded a small amount of financial compensation for the injury to their feelings.5

Statutory Questionnaires

In discrimination cases, the complainant or applicant has the right to serve a statutory questionnaire on the employer or service provider, requesting information about the alleged act of discrimination. The questionnaire must also be served within time limits. Statutory questionnaires are a useful tool before or during proceedings. They may be served before proceedings are lodged, and the answers may be used to determine whether the complainant has a case under the equality legislation. The replies to the questionnaire are admissible as evidence in the proceedings. The Tribunal or Court may be asked to draw an inference of discrimination if the respondent's replies are evasive or equivocal or if she/he deliberately and without reasonable excuse, refuses to reply within a reasonable period.

The Burden of Proof

In all discrimination cases apart from gender discrimination, it is for the applicant to prove on the balance of probabilities that the reason for the less favourable treatment was based on one of the prohibited grounds. While there is no reversal of the burden of proof in direct discrimination cases, the courts and tribunals have recognized that it is unusual to find direct evidence of discrimination. The practice has developed for the tribunal, at the conclusion of the evidence, to make findings as to the primary facts and draw such inferences, including an inference of unlawful discrimination, as it considers appropriate from those facts.6

In indirect discrimination cases, it is with the respondent to prove that the condition or requirement complained of is justified and is therefore not unlawful. In the Sex Discrimination Order, concerning employment cases only, the burden of proof rests with the applicant until the Tribunal is required to infer discrimination in the absence of a clear non-discriminatory reason.7

The Equality Commission for Northern Ireland

Since the 1970s there has been law in Northern Ireland in the field of gender equality and religious and political discrimination. These laws established the Equal Opportunities Commission for Northern Ireland in order to promote gender equality and also the Fair Employment Commission to promote equality in the field of religion and political opinion. Law protecting against discrimination on the grounds of disability and race was introduced in 1995 and 1997 respectively and, in turn, the Commission for Racial Equality for Northern Ireland was established. A Northern Ireland Disability Council was established to promote the interests of disabled people.

In 1998 the UK government put forward a proposal for a single commission for Northern Ireland which would amalgamate the existing equality bodies. The argument to establish a single commission was advanced in the context of strengthening existing legislation to deal with employment inequality in the private and public sector. With employment and unemployment differentials, despite legislation dealing with religious discrimination, still high between members of the two main religious communities in Northern Ireland, it was recommended that new duties to promote equality should be imposed on public authorities and that these duties should be enforced by a more powerful single Equality Commission. This development was set in the context of the wider political development process in Northern Ireland, which culminated in the "Good Friday Agreement" and the establishment of new political structures governing Northern Ireland. As part of the Agreement the government committed itself to making "[...]rapid progress with [...] measures for employment equality [...].and the extension and strengthening of anti-discrimination legislation".

The Northern Ireland Act 1998 set up the new Equality Commission for Northern Ireland which came into being on October 1, 1999. The Commission is an executive non-departmental public body sponsored by the Office of the First and Deputy First Ministers in the Northern Ireland Assembly. The Commission took over the functions of the pre-existing bodies responsible for equality on grounds of race, gender, and religion and political belief. The Commission also assumed new responsibilities for legislation on disability discrimination and for overseeing the new, and unique to Northern Ireland, statutory duty on public bodies in relation to the promotion of equality of opportunity on grounds of race, religion and political belief, gender, disability, age, sexual orientation, marital status and having/not having dependants.


The Commission's mission statement commits it to: "Value and promote respect for diversity, eliminate unlawful discrimination and achieve equality of opportunity for all." The Commission's duties are derived from the four main equality statutes mentioned above, and Section 75 of the Northern Ireland Act 1998. These establish the Commission's duty to:

  • Promote equality of opportunity;
  • Work to eliminate unlawful discrimination;
  • Promote affirmative action (fair employment only);
  • Promote good relations between people of different racial groups;
  • Encourage good practice in the treatment of disabled persons;
  • Oversee the effectiveness of the statutory duties on public authorities; AND
  • Keep the equality legislation under review.

The Commission uses a range of mechanisms to fulfil its duties, including complainant support, investigation and enforcement, education and promotion, advice, information and research.

Functions of the Commission:

The Commission's functions include:

  • Research and advice;
  • Preparation of codes of practice;
  • Information, education and promotion;
  • Advice and assistance to complainants;
  • Investigation and enforcement;
  • Review of employment patterns and trends (Fair Employment and Treatment Order only);
  • Assistance to organisations to promote equality of opportunity or good relations between persons of different racial groups (Race Relations Order only); and
  • Grants for promotional and educational work.

To carry out its functions, the Commission employs 143 staff members in 3 divisions. In the first years of its existence, the Commission maintained separate units based on the four grounds of discrimination. In 2001, the Commission adopted an integrated functional approach rather than an issue-based approach, and it established three divisions, namely an Operations and Corporate Services division, a Policy and Public Affairs division, and a Legal division. The Commission considers this to be the best mechanism for delivering the inclusive equality agenda, making best use of finite resources and achieving value for its money.

Concerns have been expressed that the functional structure of the Equality Commission would fail to meet the challenges of fighting discrimination in Northern Ireland, particularly in areas such as race and disability, where the law is less established. Research undertaken by the Commission for Racial Equality for Northern Ireland in 20008 had highlighted problems caused by members of the black and minority ethnic communities' perception of the Commission as an administrative body which was remote and inaccessible. In a situation where they had insufficient knowledge of the law and their rights, there were concerns that the new Equality Commission would lack a clear race focus and its resources would become even more remote as a source to which members of the community could turn for assistance. There were also concerns that a single Commission would lack the flexibility to respond appropriately to groups facing different types of discrimination and who need different approaches in overcoming the barriers that such marginalised and vulnerable groups in society face when accessing services.

Partly as a result of these concerns, the Commission retained a race development unit with 4.5 staff members. The role of the unit is to develop policies to promote race equality and provide guidance on good practices for employers and service providers. The unit operated a small grants programme to support capacity building with black and minority ethnic groups, but this was suspended in 2002 while a review of the Commission's grantmaking role was undertaken. The unit also encourages liaison and development work with local race equality organisations, the UK government and international networks. Unfortunately, 2 of the staff posts in the unit have continued to be vacant since mid-2002.

The unit maintains a focus on issues relating to the Irish Traveller community in relation to access to services, health, education, the media, policing, housing and accommodation. It works closely with Traveller support groups and other statutory and voluntary organisations working to address discrimination against the Traveller community. For example, a Traveller group in Craigavon was provided with assistance by way of legal representation before a planning appeal which was called when the group requested planning permission to develop a Traveller site in the area. The request generated substantial opposition from the local settled community and the group would have been at an unfair disadvantage in the planning appeal process without the Commission's support.

The unit has also established a Racial Equality Forum, a consultative mechanism which meets every three months and enables the black and ethnic minority sector and the Commission to share information and discuss issues of mutual concern. Other work includes assistance with research on relevant issues, the development of policy on Traveller issues and, in particular, developing through a joint government and non-government Promoting Social Inclusion Working Group, government strategies on accommodation, health and education.9

Legal Assistance

The Commission's legal division staff provides information and guidance on legal rights and availability of assistance to all prospective complainants on discrimination matters.

The Commission may grant an application for assistance from an actual or prospective complainant in relation to proceedings arising from discrimination on grounds of sex, disability, race or religious or political discrimination.

In 2001, the Commission assisted 3,192 legal complaints and enquiries and also received 651 applications for assistance with cases being taken to the Industrial Tribunal and the County Court. Assistance included assistance from in-house legal staff or from private solicitors on the Commission's panel with advice, preparation of cases, advocacy, negotiation and settlement.

Applications for assistance are considered by a legal funding committee which has a discretion to grant assistance to an individual if the application meets the statutory grounds and the legal enforcement policy. In November 2002, the Commission reviewed its assistance strategy and legal enforcement policy in response to the rising number of applications for assistance and finite resources. The statutory grounds are:

  • That the case raises a question of principle;
  • That it is unreasonable for the applicant to deal with the case unaided; or
  • Any special consideration.

In reaching its decision to grant assistance, the Commission will assess the strength of each of the statutory grounds. In relation to the statutory ground concerning "a question of principle", the Commission will have to regard the extent to which the matter raises an issue of legal uncertainty and the extent to which the case meets the overall strategic objectives of the Commission and falls into one or more of its priority areas. In reviewing its enforcement policy, the Commission is seeking to become a strategic enforcement agency, rather than a source of legal assistance for all complainants facing discrimination problems.


As mentioned above, the former Commission for Racial Equality for Northern Ireland, concerned about lack of contact from the black and ethnic minority community in Northern Ireland, commissioned research into the reasons for this under-representation among those seeking the Commission's support or assistance. The research identified barriers for vulnerable groups in accessing the Commission's services. These included the culture and remoteness of the Commission, lack of knowledge about the Commission and the Race Relations (Northern Ireland) Order 1997, and language and communication difficulties. The research recommended that the Commission develop outreach services based in communities, positive action to attract black and ethnic minority applicants and information in different languages.

In response to this research, the Commission designed a community advocacy project to try to address the need to deliver its services in a manner which reflects the needs of its black and ethnic minority constituents. A request for funding to develop this project was rejected by the Office of the First and Deputy First Minister in late 2002. The future of the project, which aimed to make legal support services for the black and ethnic minority truly accessible, is now uncertain.

The Integration Process

On its establishment in October 1999, the Commission's priority was to design and implement a new structure which effectively and efficiently delivered its responsibilities under the equality statutes. This task involved not only finding accommodation in a single suitable building, but reviewing and developing its organisational structure, identifying the best practices of the three pre-existing Commissions which had developed in very different ways and agreeing on new methods of service delivery. This was a considerable challenge and no additional resources were given by the government to the Commission in order to engage in this time consuming and resource-intensive process.

In 2000 the Commission also created, and then in 2002 reviewed its unified legal enforcement policy. This process has clarified its aim of becoming a strategic enforcement agency rather than a legal support agency. In the period of these developments, political uncertainty has continued in Northern Ireland, leading to the collapse of the political structures set up under the Good Friday Agreement in October 2002. In this climate, the Commission is under pressure to maintain its position in fighting discrimination and inequality in Northern Ireland. The focus on the development of efficient internal structures has been a necessary result of the integration process but it remains to be seen how well the single Commission will fulfil its role and impact on the lives of vulnerable people marginalized by inequality and discrimination in Northern Ireland.

The Powers of the Equality Commission

Codes of Practice

 The Equality Commission has the power to issue codes of practice in a range of areas under the equality statutes. The codes of practice include practical and other guidance for employers and service providers on the elimination of discrimination and the promotion of equality. They are admissible as evidence in any proceedings and the tribunals or courts can take their provisions into account in determining any question in the proceedings.

The Commission has issued codes of practice on gender employment and equal pay; it can issue codes of practice on employment and housing in relation to race. The Commission can issue a code of practice in any field under the legislation in relation to disability, religion and political opinion. A list of the Commission's codes of practice and related publications is set out below.10

Commission's Enforcement Powers

The Equality Commission has certain enforcement powers under the equality statutes. These include formal investigations, powers in relation to persistent discrimination, discriminatory practices, instructions and pressure to discriminate, unlawful advertising, and its monitoring powers under the Fair Employment and Treatment Order.

1. Formal investigations
The Commission can conduct a formal investigation in any field under the disability, gender and race legislation. The process is complicated and resource-intensive. It is used where the facts are not disputed and where there is already evidence of discriminatory practices, often written policies or procedures. The Commission can undertake either a "named" or a "general" investigation if it has a reasonable belief that discrimination is occurring. A named investigation undertaken into a particular establishment, e.g. a "named" bank; a general investigation is undertaken into a particular sector, e.g. the banking industry.

The Commission draws up the terms of reference of the investigation, gives notice of the holding of the investigation and, where the activities of individuals are being investigated, provides an opportunity for them to make representations. The Commission has the power to obtain information and make recommendations at any stage up to the conclusion of the investigation.

The Commission is required to prepare a report of the findings of the investigation. There can be agreement in lieu of enforcement between the parties and the Commission. If there is no agreement, the Commission can issue a non-discrimination notice if it is satisfied that the named person has committed or is committing acts of discrimination. A non-discrimination notice requires the employer not to commit unlawful acts and, where appropriate, to inform the Commission about changes made to procedures and practices in order to prevent the recurrence of acts of discrimination. The Commission can take action to enforce a non-discrimination notice (see below persistent discrimination). Under disability provisions, the Commission has the power to require an action plan by the organisation. Investigations are also subject to a time scale.

The Fair Employment and Treatment Order model of formal investigation is different. Under this legislation, the Commission may investigate any organisation connected with employment and conduct an investigation on any aspect of employment or have access to it. There is no requirement for a belief that discrimination has taken place.

In 1980, the Equal Opportunities Commission for Northern Ireland received a number of complaints from married female employees of the Northern Bank that, unlike married male employees, they were unable to obtain house loans at preferential rates of interest from the bank. They also alleged that it was more difficult for women to obtain loans for certain other purposes (e.g. furniture, house improvements) than it was for men.

The Commission conducted a formal investigation into the Bank's policies and procedures and found that the Bank operated a directly discriminatory policy with respect to the grant and refusal of house loans to married female bank officials. As a consequence of the investigation, a number of the officials found by the Commission to have been refused loans unlawfully, had their applications reconsidered. The bank also entered into a three-year agreement with the Commission to monitor its grant of house loans to its employees.

2. Powers in relation to persistent discrimination
The Commission also has powers to seek an injunction restraining someone from acting unlawfully in breach of a non-discrimination notice or within 5 years of a tribunal or court finding of discrimination.

3. Powers in relation to discriminatory practices
Under the Race Relations Order, the Commission can bring proceedings against a person who applies a requirement or condition which results in an act of unlawful discrimination.

4. Powers in relation to discriminatory advertisements/instructions/pressure to discriminate
Proceedings may be brought by the Commission where an advertisement has been published which indicates or might reasonably be understood to indicate an intention to commit an act of discrimination. Proceedings may also be brought by the Commission in relation to unlawful instructions to discriminate or an inducement or an attempt to induce someone to discriminate. The proceedings are to determine that the unlawful act occurred and to obtain an injunction to restrain the party acting unlawfully.

In 1999, for example, the Commission received a complaint from a member of the Irish Traveller community about a poster for a club which declared "no dirty wee tinkers" would be admitted to the club's premises. The expression "tinker" is a derogatory term for Irish Travellers and the poster caused offence to them. The Commission contacted the club under its powers to take action directly under Article 29 of the Race Relations Order. Following negotiation, the poster was withdrawn, an apology was given and a new poster was circulated which welcomed Irish Travellers to the club.

5. Fair Employment and Treatment Order
The Fair Employment legislation places a duty on employers with more than 10 employees to take affirmative action with the aim of achieving fair participation between the two main religious communities in Northern Ireland. Such Employers must:

  • Register with the Commission;
  • Prepare and file monitoring returns on applicants, employees and leavers; and
  • Undertake 3-year periodic reviews of the work-force.

In monitoring this duty, the Commission has power to:

  • Seek undertakings in connection with the preparation of returns;
  • Issue notices for directions in cases of no compliance or no returns;
  • Set "goals and timetables"; and
  • Place a restriction on public authorities entering into contracts with 'non-qualified' persons.

Apart from provisions in the Disability Discrimination Act, there are no conciliation or alternative dispute mechanisms in the equality statutes. The Commission recommends that the new single equality legislation contain some conciliation or mediation mechanism. It is currently consulting on the form of this mechanism.

Constitution of the Equality Commission

The Northern Ireland Act provides for the appointment of a board of between 14-20 Commissioners appointed by the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland. The Commission reports to and is funded by the Office of the First and Deputy First Ministers (OFMDFM) in the Northern Ireland Assembly.

The Board has a full-time Chief Commissioner and a part-time Deputy Chief Commissioner. The remaining 18 Commissioners commit around 2 days each month to Commission business. The Commission is independent of government in the setting of its policy and in the exercise of its statutory duties. The First and Deputy First Ministers are answerable to the United Kingdom Parliament for the policies and performance of the Commission, including its use of resources and the policy framework within which it operates.

The Commissioners' role is to determine the strategic priorities and policies of the Equality Commission, to appoint the Chief Executive and to oversee the work of the Commission and its staff. The Commissioners negotiate and agree on the Commission's 3-year corporate plan and strategic objectives with the OFMDFM. The corporate plan defines how the Commission will carry out its statutory remit and what areas of work it will prioritise. The terms of the Commission's relationship with OFMDFM are set out in an agreed financial memorandum, which establishes internal accounting and auditing controls.

The Commission has an annual budget of Ł6,035,406. In the year ending 2001, the Commission spent approximately Ł3.5 million on staff and members' salaries and around Ł2.7 on operating and other costs.

The Chief Executive is the accounting officer responsible to government for proper spending and record-keeping in accordance with the agreed financial control systems. The Commission accounts to the Northern Ireland Assembly for its spending of the budget against the objectives in the corporate plan. It publishes an annual report of its activities and annual audited accounts.

Appointment of the Board of Commissioners

Commissioners are appointed for a term of three years following public advertisement and the first Commissioners were interviewed for the posts against published criteria. Government civil servants, rather than an independent appointment body, conducted the selection procedure. The personnel specifications for commissioners, in keeping with the desire to attract women and members of the black and ethnic minority communities into public life, were very broad.

The Commissioners operate under an agreed code of practice which sets outs their roles and responsibilities and the principles of public life under which they must operate, including integrity, objectivity, accountability, openness and honesty (the "Nolan principles").

The Commission keeps a register of Commissioners' interests and they are expected to declare any interest when participating in decision-making and to withdraw from discussions in order to avoid a conflict of interest.

Structure of the Board and the Commission

The Board of Commissioners meets as a full body every two months and is responsible for advancing the equality agenda across all the equality grounds. The Board also has sub-committees including a legal funding committee, a policy and public affairs committee, a legal policy committee and a finance committee.

Single Equality Legislation11

Although there is now a single Equality Commission in Northern Ireland, equality law is found in over 70 different legislative provisions. Aware of the impending need to transpose the European Directives into domestic law, the OFMDFM in the Northern Ireland Assembly is considering the development of a single statute to unify anti-discrimination laws. The content and purpose of the draft single equality bill is being widely discussed in Northern Ireland.

Why a Single Statute?

There are major differences between race, sex, religious/political opinion and disability discrimination law in basic matters such as definitions of discrimination, positive action provisions, scope of the legislation, remedies and enforcement procedures. Each statute is also subject to significant but different exemptions. This tangled web of legislative provisions constitutes a significant barrier to the effective enforcement of the legislation. Employers and service providers are often unsure as to the exact scope of their obligations and how to frame policies and practices which comply with all the relevant pieces of legislation. Those who feel they have been subjected to discriminatory actions face a significant hurdle in discovering and enforcing their rights. It is difficult for everyone, whether a job seeker, employee, employer or service provider, to discover their position under the law without resort to expensive legal advice which, in employment cases, is not covered by legal aid. Above all else, in a future in which there will be a greater diversity of grounds for complaint of discrimination, it is essential that the basic concept of equality is easily understood. The best laws are those which work well, and experience shows that laws which work well are those which are easily understood. The Equality Commission for Northern Ireland supports the idea of a single equality bill for Northern Ireland. It believes that uniting equality rights into one bill will affirm that equality is a fundamental principle of universal relevance. Such a bill will also provide the opportunity to strengthen existing equality law and ensure that the lessons learned in one sphere of equality law can be used to benefit all areas.

The Commission considers it is both unnecessary and undesirable to maintain separate and different pieces of legislation. In a single equality bill, although there will be differences for different grounds of discrimination, much of the core of equality law, whether definitions of discrimination, positive action measures, remedies or means of enforcement, should be the same across all the grounds. A single bill would simplify and clarify existing equality law to the benefit of employers and employees as well as customers and service providers. The new bill will include the new rights contained in the European Directives and, it is hoped, expand the list of protected grounds, to include, for example, residence, language, possession of a criminal conviction, national or social origin, birth, parentage, status as a victim or any other status.

The Commission also considers that the single equality bill presents an opportunity to increasingly focus on equality of outcome (rather than equality of opportunity) and provide a mechanism to further mainstream equality within society. The rationale of most UK equality law has been to focus on the prevention of discrimination rather than the promotion of equality. Hepple, Coussey and Choudhury pointed this out in their review of equality law throughout the UK.12 This rationale has stressed the need to take steps to avoid discrimination rather than promote equality and inclusion. The authors conclude that this has encouraged employers and service providers to take an adversarial and defensive approach to their obligations under the legislation rather than mainstreaming the promotion of equality into their policies and practices. While eliminating discrimination remains a central aspect of any equality law, there is also a need, such as that reflected in Section 75 of the Northern Ireland Act, to impose positive duties on public authorities, for steps to be taken which encourage a more positive approach to the promotion of equality. It is hoped that the single equality bill will be more clearly orientated towards the promotion of substantive equality and inclusion and have a greater emphasis on equality of outcome.

The Commission's hope is that having a clear commitment to strong and effective legislation will assist Northern Ireland to pave the way towards a strong and healthy society that recognises and embraces diversity.


  1. Geraldine Scullion is a Senior Legal Officer with the Equality Commission for Northern Ireland and was previously based with the Commission for Racial Equality for Northern Ireland. She worked, until end March 2003, as a legal consultant with the National Council on Ethnic and Demographic Issues, Council of Ministers, Sofia, Bulgaria, on the Council's anti-discrimination legislative project.
  2. The corpus of anti-discrimination law in Northern Ireland consists of: Equal Pay Act (Northern Ireland), 1970 (EPA); Fair Employment (Northern Ireland) Order 1976 as amended by the Fair Employment and Treatment (Northern Ireland) Order, 1998 (FETO); Sex Discrimination (Northern Ireland) Order, 1976 and 1988 (SDO); Disability Discrimination Act, 1995 (DDA); Equality (Disability)(Northern Ireland) Order 2000; Race Relations (Northern Ireland) Order, 1997 (RRO); Sex Discrimination Gender Reassignment Regulations (Northern Ireland) 1999.
  3. Section 75 and Schedule 9 of the Northern Ireland Act 1998 Chapter 47 H.M.S.O. Section 75 places a statutory duty on a designated "public authority", when carrying out its functions, to have due regard to the need to promote equality of opportunity between people of different age, marital status, political opinion, racial group, religious belief, sex, or sexual orientation, those with disability and those with and without dependants.
  4. Robins v, Norfill, unreported, Industrial Tribunal, 1998.
  5. Wards v. JJB Sport, unreported, Newry County Court, 1999.
  6. King v. Great Britain-China Centre [1991]IRLR 513 CA; Glasgow CC v. Zafar [1998] IRLR 36, HL.
  7. The Burden of Proof Directive 98/52/EEC.
  8. See Fee Ching Leong. Building on Strengths. A study to assess the need for community-based information provision and advocacy to address issues of accessibility to appropriate advice and assistance in relation to the legal process for racial groups in Northern Ireland. The Equality Commission for Northern Ireland, 2000.
  9. Examples include, Good Practice Guide - To Promote Racial Equality in Planning for Travellers, 2002; A Wake-Up Call on Race - Implications of the Macpherson Report for Institutional Racism in Northern Ireland, 2002; Racial Equality In Health: Consultation Document, 2002; Raising Awareness of Diversity and Racism - An Activity Pack for Schools and Youth Workers, 2001; Racial Equality in Education: Good Practice Guide 2001; Recommendations for Changes to the Race Relations (Northern Ireland) Order, 2000. For a full list of research documents and publications, see the Commission's website http://www.equalityni.org.
  10. Equal Opportunities Commission for NI. A Guide for Employees. 1994; Equal Opportunities Commission for NI. A Guide for Employers, 1998; Equal Opportunities Commission. Removing Sex Bias from Recruitment and Selection: A Code of Practice, 1995; Department of Economic Development. Equal Pay: A Guide to the Equal Pay Act (Northern Ireland) 1970. 1992; Equal Opportunities Commission for NI. Code of Practice on Equal Pay. 1999; The Equality Commission for NI. Racial Equality: Advice and Assistance, 2000; Commission for Racial Equality for NI. Code of Practice for Employers for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination and the Promotion of Equality of Opportunity in Employment, 1999; Department of Economic Development. Fair Employment in Northern Ireland: Code of Practice, 1989; Department for Education & Employment, Rev. Ed. Jul 2000 (DL160). The Disability Discrimination Act 1995: A Guide for Everybody; Department for Education and Employment, Rev. Ed. July 2000 (DLE 7). Employing Disabled People: A Good Practice Guide for Managers and Employers; DHSS. Code of Practice: Rights of Access, Goods, Facilities, Services and Premises. 1999; D fEE. Code of Practice: The Elimination of Discrimination in the Field of Employment Against Disabled Persons or Persons who have had a Disability, 1996; Department of Economic Development. Code of Practice: Duties of Trade Organisations to their Disabled Members and Applicants; NI Department of Economic Development. A Guide to the Sex Discrimination Gender Reassignment Regulations (Northern Ireland). 1999, ISBN 0 337 09500 0. Contact the Commission's website for further information.
  11. What follows is extracted from the Equality Commission for Northern Ireland's position papers on the Single Equality Bill; for copies of the full position papers, visit the Commission's website at: http://www.equalityni.org. See Hepple, Bob, Mary Coussey and Tuyfal Choudhury. Equality: A New Framework. Report of the Independent Review of the Enforcement of UK Anti-discrimination Legislation. Oxford: Hart Publishing, 2000.


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