Single Equality Bill Consultation Released

The Government's proposals for a Single Equality Bill for Great Britain have finally been released. The proposals have been developed as a result of the Discrimination Law Review, launched in 2005, to consider the opportunities for creating a clearer and more streamlined discrimination legislative framework.

As it stands, the various discrimination laws can be found in a range of places; Acts of Parliament, Regulations and Orders adding up to a total of nine major pieces of legislation and around 90 pieces of ancillary legislation. This makes it difficult, not only for the general public but also the legal profession to know exactly what the law is. Discrimination law has formed over a period of 40 years, and as a result is lacking in consistency, says the Government, with interest groups sharing this view. A Single Equality Bill is now being proposed in order to improve and consolidate the current discrimination laws. The Consultation Paper then canvasses a number of proposals for incorporation into such a bill.

Part 1 contains proposals to simplify and standardise the definitions and tests that are used in discrimination law; and importantly, to simplify and harmonise the exceptions that exist, currently, this can prove to be a tricky area. Further attempts at harmonisation include the way the law treats public functions and public services. Another area in need of harmonisation includes the definition of indirect discrimination. The Government also hopes to bring the law of equal pay into the Single Equality Bill and update it in line with case law.

The second part of the paper outlines the attempts to create more effective law. Views are being sought on proposals to allow a wider range of balancing measures to effectively address entrenched discrimination and disadvantage, extending the coverage of the public sector equality duties and the improvement of equality practice in the private sector. It also aims to improve the handling of discrimination cases in the courts.

Part 3 outlines aims to modernise the law. The grounds, which form the basis of protection from discrimination, are: age, disability, race, religion or belief, sex (including gender reassignment, married person/civil partner status, pregnancy and maternity) and sexual orientation. The protections provided for each of the different grounds vary. Proposals for modernisation in this area include extending the prohibition of age discrimination for adults in areas outside employment, strengthening and clarification of prohibitions on discrimination by private clubs, and the strengthening of protection on grounds of pregnancy and maternity, and gender reassignment in the supply of goods, facilities, services and premises and the exercise of public functions.

The consultation attempts to reassure that it aims to provide the necessary protection against unfairness while taking a proportionate approach to the regularity burdens this will impose on private, public and voluntary sector businesses, authorities and organisations. Public reaction has been mixed, some have commented that this bill merely "tinkers" with the current law, whilst others have hailed it as filling the "gaping holes" which exist, especially in relation to age discrimination.

The consultation period closes on September 4th 2007. Copies of the paper can be downloaded from the Department of Communities and Local Government website at www.communities.gov.uk.