Our duties and powers

We have unique duties and powers under the Equality Acts 2006 and 2010 to help us fulfil our mandate. We have specific responsibilities and requirements under the United Nations Paris Principles and the European Union Equality Directives to ensure we maintain our status as an NHRI and European Equality Body.

We are an independent public body and are also fully committed to complying with HM Treasury's 'Managing Public Money' and the Cabinet Office's requirements for non-departmental public bodies. These include specific requirements about what we do.

We must encourage and support the development of a society in which:

  • People's ability to achieve their potential is not limited by prejudice or discrimination.
  • There is respect for and protection of each individual's human rights, and for the dignity and worth of all.
  • Each individual has an equal opportunity to participate in society.
  • There is mutual understanding between groups based on understanding and valuing of diversity and on shared respect for equality and human rights.

We have different duties in the three areas of our mandate.

  • Equality and diversity:  we must promote understanding, encourage good practice, and promote equality of opportunity; promote awareness and understanding of rights through conducting surveys and studies, and publishing independent reports and recommendations to government, Parliament and other competent bodies; provide independent assistance to victims of discrimination; and work towards the elimination of unlawful discrimination and harassment.
  • Human Rights: we must  promote understanding of the importance of human rights through teaching, research and public awareness and educational programmes; promoting awareness, understanding and protection of human rights and efforts to combat discrimination, especially through use of media channels; making recommendations to Government, Parliament and other competent bodies, on existing and proposed laws and processes that will impact on human rights; promoting the harmonisation of national law, policy and practice with international human rights law and standards; encouraging public bodies to comply fully with the Human Rights Act, which incorporates the European Convention on Human Rights into national law; and cooperating with the United Nations and other bodies dedicated to promoting and protecting human rights, including monitoring and reporting on Great Britain's compliance with the following core conventions:
    • Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR)
    • International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR)
    • International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR)
    • Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination (CERD)
    • Convention on Elimination of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW)
    • Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC)
    • Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD)
    • Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (CAT)
    • European Charter of Fundamental Rights
  • Good Relations: we must promote understanding of the importance of good relations; encourage good practice; work towards the elimination of prejudice, hatred and hostility; and work towards enabling participation.
  • Across all three areas of our mandate we must:
    • Monitor the law: scrutinize the effectiveness of existing statutes.
    • Monitor progress: identify relevant changes in society; define the outcomes we seek and indicators of progress; monitor progress and publish a report on progress to Parliament.
    • Plan ahead: prepare and publish a plan of activities, priorities and principles; consult and involve the public and take account of representations;  and review and revise the plan as necessary.

We are guided by the law and international principles in the way we meet the core requirements in our mandate.

We can:

  • provide assistance to those taking legal proceedings in relation to equality
  • take legal cases on behalf of individuals or intervene in litigation to test and extend the right to equality and human rights
  • apply to the court for injunctions and interdicts where we consider it likely that an unlawful act will be committed
  • conduct inquiries, investigations and assessments to examine the behaviour of institutions
  • enforce the public sector equality duty, issuing Compliance Notices where we believe the law has been breached
  • award grants to organisations
  • provide education and training to make individuals and institutions aware of their rights and responsibilities
  • produce guidance and statutory codes of practice to support individuals and organisations to comply with the law and promote good practice, and
  • use our influence and authority to lead new debates, building our arguments from the evidence we collect and publish.

We are able to address areas that fall outside or between our formal mandate, such as social and economic disadvantage, and to reconcile areas of conflict that may arise between our mandates.

We are also required to organise ourselves and operate in particular ways.

We must:

  • have an infrastructure that allows us to carry out our functions and be accountable and transparent regarding the way we operate and spend public money
  • have adequate funding to allow us to be independent of the government; and not be subject to financial control which might affect our independence, while still complying with HM Treasury's 'Managing Public Money'
  • be politically impartial, including being entitled to consider any issue falling within our competence, without the need for authorisation
  • act independently to establish the facts, including being entitled to hear any person or gather any evidence needed to consider matters falling within our competence
  • be pluralist and have stable mandates for the members of our Commission, provided for by law, and publicise our decisions and concerns, as well as meet regularly; and
  • co-operate with non-governmental organisations, judicial institutions, professional bodies and government departments.

Our regulatory principles

The Commission considers our duties and powers to be mutually reinforcing so that we can be an efficient and effective regulatory body and achieve our objective: a fairer, more equal Britain. In addition to complying with the Hampton Code of Practice for Regulators we have developed own regulatory principles to guide our approach.

We:

  • aim to lead society's understanding of new challenges in equality and human rights, being mindful of the challenges organisations face in embedding rights in their activities
  • are committed to openness, transparency and accountability through clearly articulated and publicly reviewed annual plans with stated strategic priorities.
  • help organisations and individuals comply with the law and follow the highest standards of practice, using our range of regulatory tools appropriately, proportionately, firmly, promptly and effectively
  • ensure our actions are evidence-based, proportionate, consistent, accountable and transparent in both deliberation and outcome
  • use our resources in the most efficient, effective and economic way, targeting them where they are most likely to have the greatest impact, and
  • work in partnership with other businesses, organisations and regulators, while maintaining our independence.

Our statutory committees

The Equality Act 2006 requires us to have a Disability Committee because of the highly distinctive nature of disability equality law. The Disability Committee has decision making powers in relation to those matters which solely concern disability, and the Commission must seek the advice of the committee on all matters which relate to disability in a significant way.

The Commission’s remit and structure reflect the different legal and constitutional positions in Wales, Scotland and England, and the way we work must take into account the distinctive and diverging political and policy agendas across the three nations. To ensure the three-nation remit operates effectively, the Equality Act 2006 requires the Commission to have statutory Scotland and Wales Committees. Decisions in respect of a range of the Commission’s powers are formally delegated to these Committees and the Commission is required to consult the Committees on all aspects of its work that affect people in Wales or Scotland.

In Scotland, the Commission shares its human rights remit with the Scottish Human Rights Commission (SHRC). We cover human rights issues arising from matters reserved to the Westminster Parliament; and the SHRC covers issues arising from devolved matters, unless they consent for us to handle them. In practice, the two Commissions work in partnership on a number of human rights issues.

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