Should we outlaw genetic discrimination?

The late US law Professor Paul Miller reflected recently that Beethoven, Stephen Hawking and Elton John were examples of individuals whom, if they had been tested for serious genetic conditions at the start of their careers, may have been denied employment in the fields in which they later came to excel.

Earlier this month the Association of British Insurers announced the latest extension on the moratorium on the use of genetic test results for insurance purposes. But is this “Concordat” sufficient protection? Genetic technologies are becoming increasingly available and profound questions are arising in relation to life and health insurance and employability as genetic screening becomes cheaper and widespread.

According to the Human Genetics Commission (HGC)

The advent of cheap whole-genome sequencing, and greatly reduced costs for genetic tests in general, will provide the platform for genetic testing to be used for novel and unpredicted purposes. (Report on The Concept of Genetic Discrimination, Aril 2011) Continue reading

University funding, Scotland and a question of equality

Public Interest Lawyers (PIL), a solicitors’ firm, is planning to bring judicial review proceedings to challenge the Scottish government’s university funding scheme, which allows Scottish universities to charge students from other parts of the UK fees, while students from other parts of the EU and Scotland are not charged fees. 

Currently, non-Scottish students from elsewhere in the UK and Northern Ireland have to pay tuition fees in Scotland, set to rise to up to £9,000 annually next year. However, Scottish students and those from other parts of the EU do not have to pay fees at all. Non-British EU students do not have to pay fees in Scotland due to EU law forbidding them from being treated differently to Scottish students.

Continue reading

Equality Act in force today, but ‘socialism’ clause looks doomed

Most of the Equality Act 2010 comes into force today. But whilst 90% of its provisions are now operating, the Act has been controversial and some key aspects may never see the light of day.

The Equality and Human Rights Commission have published a fully featured online guide to the Act, a videoguidance on good practice and an Equality Act starter kit. Afua Hirsch in the Guardian summarises the main provisions here, as does the BBC and the Human Rights in Ireland Blog. The Law Society has produced a practice note for solicitors.

Continue reading

Goodbye to the public sector equality duty?

The government is moving away from the wide-ranging public sector equality duty which was due to come into force in April 2011.

The Equalities Office has announced a consultation on the public sector equality duty imposed by the Equality Act 2010. Reading the consultation document, it is clear that the government intends to delegate the equalities duty to the general public, rather than imposing top-down standards from Whitehall:

We do not intend to prescribe how public bodies go about their business, but we will ensure that we put in place the right framework which empowers citizens to scrutinise the data and evidence on how their public services perform.

Continue reading

Major new equality laws under threat from new government

The Equality Act 2010 may be a quiet addition to the Coalition Government’s repealing agenda as the Government Equality Office (GEO) withdraws the timetable for its implementation.

According to Out-law.com, a spokesperson from the GEO said “An announcement on scheduling for implementation of the Equality Act will be made in due course” and also confirmed that the new Government is not bound by the timetable set by its predecessor.

The Equality Act 2010 was passed into law on in the dying days of the New Labour government despite opposition of from the Pope, who complained that it would run contrary to “natural law” due to its likely effect on Catholic adoption agencies. The Conservatives may have more luck, however, in thwarting the Act’s implementation and in particular three aspects of it which they are opposed to. Some of the main provisions were supposed to come into force in October, but this now appears to have been put on hold. The original timetable can be accessed here.

Continue reading

Major new Equality Act becomes law despite opposition from Pope

The Equality Act 2010 received royal assent on 8 April 2010. The Act aims to consolidate what until now has been a messy jigsaw of 116 pieces of legislation, and further harmonise UK law with the four key EU Equal Treatment Directives.

The Bill passed despite the unusual opposition from the Pope, who complained in February that it would run contrary to “natural law”. His comments were most likely directed at the effect of the new legislation on Catholic adoption agencies, making it more difficult for them to turn down gay couples. We previously posted on this topic in relation to the Catholic Care case, which resulted in a victory for a catholic adoption agency.

The Equality and Human Rights Commission, which has welcomed the passing of the Bill, points out some of the key features:

  • Making the law easier to understand and implement by simplifying 116 pieces of equality legislation into a single Act for individuals, public authorities and private organisations.
  • Giving people the right not to be treated less favourably by public authorities because of their age, religion or belief, sexual orientation, or transgender status; as well as their disability, gender, or race which were already covered.
  • Extending anti-age discrimination rules to include goods, facilities and services, thereby stopping people being unfairly refused insurance or medical treatments based on what age they are, for example.

The key sections of the Act will begin to come into force in October 2010 and will continue to do so until 2012.

Read more