The statutory equality duty in section 75 of the Northern Ireland Act 1998 was one of the safeguards in the Belfast/Good Friday Agreement which was actually implemented. There has however been a strategic concern for some time among members of the Equality Coalition that notwithstanding significant pockets of good practice the equality duty is regularly flaunted by many public authorities. This issue has come into sharp focus in relation to austerity cuts and other decisions effecting economic, social and cultural rights in recent years. Practices of persuasion and engagement with public authorities have not resolved the problem and Equality Coalition members have collectively come to the view that only robust enforcement of the duties it likely to provide redress. Whilst there is some increasing potential to challenge failures to comply with the equality duty through judicial review, the main enforcement mechanism for the duty remains through complaints, investigation and enforcement powers vested in the Equality Commission. However few complaints are ever made, a relatively small number of Investigations have been taken forward, many significant breaches are not being investigated and patterns of non-compliance are recurring. Some complaints and enforcement interventions however enjoyed significant success, demonstrating the potential of the duties when compliance challenges are made.
This research conducted by the Equality Coalition has overviewed the application and impact of the enforcement powers over the section 75 equality duties, documenting their scope, usage and precedents set whilst making recommendations to civil society and the Equality Commission as to how the powers could be used more effectively in future.
This event will launch CAJs new ‘Equality Duty Enforcement Project’ which has appointed a coordinator and will work to assist Equality Coalition member groups and others in taking complaints and other interventions to ensure the equality duty is complied with.
The Equality Coalition, co-convened by UNISON and CAJ, is the umbrella representative body for the equality sector, composed of NGOs and trade unions from all of the section 75 categories and beyond.