Helping make Britain fairer: 10 years of the Commission, 2007 to 2017

10 years of the Commission: the future of equality and human rights

Published: 02 Oct 2017

To celebrate the Commission's 10th anniversary, we asked some of the UK's leading equality and human rights experts about changes, challenges and the Commission's contribution.

Kamran Mallick, Disability Rights UK

Kamran Mallick is Chief Executive of Disability Rights UK, the leading charity of its kind in the UK, which is run by and for people with lived experience of disability or health conditions.

Karon Monaghan QC, Matrix Chambers

Karon Monaghan is a lawyer at Matrix Chambers. She mainly practises in equality and discrimination law, human rights and EU law. Karon was named Employment Silk of the Year at both the 2017 Chambers and Partners Bar Awards and the 2017 Legal 500 Awards, and was named Liberty’s Human Rights Lawyer of the Year in 2010.

Sam Smethers, Fawcett Society

Sam Smethers is Chief Executive of the Fawcett Society, the UK’s leading charity campaigning for gender equality and women’s rights.

Martha Spurrier, Liberty

Martha Spurrier, Director, Liberty

Martha Spurrier is a human rights barrister and director of civil liberties and human rights advocacy group Liberty.

In the last ten years some real progress has been made to reduce inequality and protect rights and freedoms. We now have equal marriage. Our courts have obliged the police to investigate rape effectively. Modern slavery is outlawed. The Human Rights Act remains on our statute books. 

But there is still so much to do before we can say that every man, woman and child in the UK lives freely and with dignity. Over the next ten years we must challenge creeping state surveillance that has no place in a free society. We must dismantle toxic immigration policies that weave prejudice and hostility into the fabric of our communities. We must end indefinite immigration detention, resist authoritarian counter-terror laws, protect our hard-won rights during Brexit and empower diverse communities to be represented in powerful elites. In all of this the leadership of the Commission will be vital. By standing up to the powerful, giving voice to the marginalised and having the courage to speak uncomfortable truths, the human rights movement can achieve real change and make this country a better place for all of us.  

Adam Wagner, RightsInfo

Adam Wagner is a human rights lawyer who founded RightsInfo, building knowledge and support for human rights, and the UK human rights blog.

Neil Crowther, Thomas Paine Initiative

Neil Crowther, Director, Thomas Paine Initiative

Neil Crowther is an Independent Consultant and Director of the Thomas Paine Initiative, a grant making programme which aims to build stronger support for human rights in the UK.

What has been the most important advance in equality and human rights over the last 10 years?

Equal marriage: not just in Britain but around the world. Its significance lies not just in the outcome, but equally in the lessons that can be learned from how it was secured.  In particular, it demonstrated clearly the interplay between social attitudes and developments in policy and law, and the need for intelligent strategies that use multiple levers to advance social change. Social attitudes can nurture or destroy laws and institutions. We ignore them at our peril.

What will be the biggest challenge in the next 10 years?

Defending and promoting the values that are needed for society to accept and respect the importance of equality and human rights – the need for this looks set to grow in the months and years ahead. Equality and human rights need to be reasserted as ‘lodestars’ – the shared values that should continue to guide us forward – not as ‘bulwarks’ – laws that have come from other places that disrupt our way of life. Equality and human rights are a British success story that needs telling and telling again.

What is the role of the Equality and Human Rights Commission is in bringing about change?

From the outside it appears that the Commission has rediscovered its original purpose, as an agent of social change. Using its unique powers, I believe even with much diminished resources, that sense of purpose can help it be stronger now than it has ever been.

David Wolfe QC, Matrix Chambers

David Wolfe is a public lawyer at Matrix Chambers and Chair of the Press Recognition Panel, established following the Leveson Inquiry.