Our response to media commentary about an internal investigation

Published: 23 May 2023

Update 26 May 2023:

This investigation has been paused. This is while we seek legal advice on the impact of leaked confidential information. We must ensure its integrity and that it is fair to all parties concerned.

Personal Statement from our Chair: Baroness Kishwer Falkner 

I am hugely grateful to the public for the support and encouragement I have received over the last week, since an independent investigation into me was first disclosed. It is a credit to our resilience as a public-spirited nation that so many have expressed their confidence in my leadership of EHRC, have offered to help fund my costs, or otherwise sent in a quiet word of encouragement and strength. Many, many of you have also shared your own experiences of unfairness and injustice, which are humbling. 

We at EHRC are here above all, to stand up for the public interest. The Board and I have that front and centre in everything we do – as we must, day in and day out. The organisation has been going through a transformation programme to turn it from a source of policy and advice-giving across a wide range of subjects, to a sharper focus on actual delivery.  To ‘say’ less, and ‘do’ more. As every leader who has tried to turn around an organisation knows, your staff are the most important element of achieving change. I am proud that most staff have embraced this journey with a clear- eyed focus on the end goal – becoming the trusted equality regulator that serves everyone.  

Our Board has different powers to most other organisations. Parliament decreed in the Equality Act 2010, that we, the Board, have the responsibility to take all strategic policy decisions after advice from our team. We are strong, united and clear-eyed in our attempt to balance rights across the spectrum of our work, sometimes in highly contested areas of policy.   

I regret that, during that process, we have not managed to carry everyone within our organisation with us, but to decide is to choose – carefully, about what our decisions mean for those affected. I am concerned that the publicity about our internal matters is distracting us from our important work and hope that we will be given the time and space to continue to do what we seek  – to deliver for the British people. I have relished public service all my life and continue to do so with vigour and determination. 

Kishwer Falkner

Marcial Boo, Equality and Human Rights Commission chief executive, said: 

“We are disappointed with ongoing media reporting concerning an internal investigation.

“We have a duty to deal with complaints in confidence. We are also required to protect the integrity of internal investigations. We urge all media to avoid prejudicing the outcome.

“Our staff operate with neutrality and professionalism. Some legal issues on which we advise, particularly relating to sex and gender, can be very complex, and there are a range of views among our experts, as in society.

“No advice is ‘disregarded’. Our role is to make judgements on very difficult and contentious areas of the law after considering all advice.

“We operate an open-door policy and listen to and engage with people, both inside and outside our organisation, whose views reflect the whole spectrum of opinions. This helps support strong and impartial decision-making that is focused on evidence and the law.”

On staff welfare: 

“Staff welfare is of paramount importance to us. Our recent staff survey confirmed that the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) is a positive and supportive workplace.

“We treat allegations of bullying and harassment with the utmost seriousness, following the proper process, and instructing independent investigators where appropriate, in order to provide assurance to all parties concerned. It would be wrong to comment on specifics when investigations are ongoing.”

Regarding our recent letter to the government on the Equality Act:

“Both executive and non-executive staff rightly discussed a wide range of views, advice and evidence on legal, policy and practical matters relating to the operation of the Equality Act before advising that the definition of ‘sex’ in law was a matter that the government should consider.

“We were clear in our letter that the EHRC will continue to protect the rights of everyone in Britain, including those with the protected characteristics of sex and gender reassignment.”

A number of allegations have been referenced in a Channel 4 News report about the internal investigation. Our response to these is given below.

1. On claims regarding staff departures:

“It would be inappropriate to comment on individual staffing matters.

“The departure of staff at all levels is driven by a number of factors, including opportunities for career progression elsewhere, retirements and secondments coming to an end. We are very grateful to all those who have contributed to the important work of the EHRC.

“We are establishing a new senior structure to lead a realignment of internal teams and functions to better support the delivery of our strategic plan. One part of this reorganisation is the recruitment of a deputy chief executive.”

2. On LGBTQ+ staff satisfaction:

“The EHRC is a good place to work. Our annual turnover is in line with the average across the public sector and is improving.

“Our duty of care to staff is paramount. We continue to work with our Staff Forum, Trade Unions and Employee Networks (including LGBTQ+ staff) to address issues as they arise. This work is properly led by the chief executive and the executive leadership and is fully supported by the Board.”

3. On impartiality claims:

“Our decisions are, and have always been, made independently of any government. 

“We regularly receive letters from government ministers on matters relating to equality and human rights. We consider each carefully and respond as appropriate, as we do for all our stakeholders.

“It is our duty to advise the UK government on the effectiveness of equality law. Section 11 of the Equality Act 2006 states that we may advise the UK government on the effectiveness of equality law.

“We take all decisions impartially, based on evidence and the law, both in the UK and internationally.

“Our independence is guaranteed in statute.

“The way the EHRC is governed, and Commissioners appointed, is set out in the Equality Act and has not changed since the Commission was established.”

4. On our work for trans people:

“The EHRC was set up by Parliament to protect everyone’s rights in Britain. This includes the rights of trans people. We have the power to take action against anyone who discriminates against trans people. We have done so.

"We also take action to promote the rights of trans people. This includes fair access to healthcare and gender reassignment services. We have repeatedly championed the rights of trans people to the Department of Health and Social Care. Our 2023 to 2024 business plan includes planned work to further improve equal access to health services.

"We have also raised concerns directly with ministers about long waiting times and insufficient advice and support, and about specific issues such as the government’s ‘list of practitioners’ for providing a gender dysphoria diagnosis, which we know is a barrier for some trans people in obtaining a Gender Recognition Certificate. We have identified this as an area of work where we and civil society organisations can work effectively together to support trans people.”

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