There are three distinct legal jurisdictions in the UK: England and Wales, Northern Ireland and Scotland. The key pieces of legislation in the area of equality, diversity and human rights are:

  • The Human Rights Act 1998 (fundamental rights and freedoms that everyone in the UK is entitled to).
  • The Equality Act 2010 (with limited exceptions, the Act does not apply to Northern Ireland).

In addition to these two Acts, 6 additional frameworks apply to health services.

  1. Care Quality Commission (CQC) Essential Standards of Quality and Safety
  2. Equality Delivery System for the NHS
  3. NHS Constitution
  4. European Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms
  5. UN Convention of the Rights of Persons with Disabilities 2008
  6. UN Convention of the Rights of the Child 1989

Why is the law important to equality, diversity and human rights?

The law provides a framework – structural and intellectual – for us to negotiate standards that allow us  to live with respect, dignity, freedom, autonomy, justice, equality and peace. This enables us to live to our full abilities as individuals and communities. It helps us establish the minimum standards necessary for us to live with dignity. Some see human rights as a set of moral principles that apply to everyone and it is helpful to have the boundaries, limits and intent embodied in law.

Flux and change: how equality and human rights legislation evolves

Parliament passes legislation but courts interpret the legislation when applying it to cases. Sometimes the courts can have difficulty in determining what Parliament intended and it is through judgements made on cases that the breadth and scope of acts take form. An example of this would be the interpretation of what ‘belief’ is according to the Equality Act 2010. This now includes (within limits) world views such as environmentalism, veganism and human rights. This can impact on how you treat others in the workplace and in public, and therefore it is important to keep up to date with developments in the field of equality law.

Here is an example of how courts interpret legislation and the wider impact it has on other pieces of legislation and service provision.

The case of Ghaidan v Godin-Mendoza (2004) was concerned with the interpretation of the Rent Act 1977 following the Human Rights Act 1998. The Rent Act 1977 creates protected tenancies which give tenants very favourable rights, including in practice low rents. Under the legislation the protected tenancy passes on the death of the protected tenant to the surviving spouse living in the house or the person living with the protected tenant ‘as his or her wife or husband’. Before the Human Rights Act 1998 was passed this was interpreted by the House of Lords as not including gay relationships. In the Ghaidan appeal, it was successfully argued that the 1977 Act had to be interpreted, following the Human Rights Act 1998, in a way that did not discriminate against people who are gay. (Source: Parliament UK)