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Human Rights Act 1998/ European Convention

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Last updated 22nd February 2015.

The Equality Act 2010 is the main anti-discrimination legislation for disabled people in the UK. However, the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR) may help fill in some gaps.

The ECHR was brought into UK law by the Human Rights Act 1998. This means it is easier than with most international conventions for individuals to rely on their Convention rights in the UK courts.

Article 14: Non-discrimination

Article 14 of the Convention says that the enjoyment of the rights and freedoms set forth in the Convention must be secured without discrimination “on any ground such as” sex, race etc “or other status”. Key points on Article 14 are:

Coverage of disability

Disability and various health conditions have been held to fall within Article 14. See Disability under Article 14.

Cases on disability under the European Court of Human Rights include IB v Greece (2013), Glor v Switzerland (2009), G.N. v Italy (2009), Kiyutin v Russia (2011) and, though not on Article 14, Alajos Kiss v Hungary (2010).

An important UK case is Burnip v Birmingham City Council, Court of Appeal, 2012, where the court gave a broad interpretation to the Convention and held that UK housing benefit rules were in breach of it.

Only applies within scope of another Convention right

Article 14 can be used only in a situation which falls within the ‘ambit’ (i.e. scope) of another Convention right. So there is no general right against discrimination under the European Convention, but the Convention rights are quite wide so protection is quite wide. For example, while there is no general right against employment discrimination, employment may be covered by the Convention right to respect for private life. Also there are Convention rights relating to education, welfare benefits, and the right to a fair trial, amongst others. For more: Scope of Convention rights.

‘Discrimination’ and ‘justification’

What counts as ‘discrimination’ is wide, for example it includes indirect discrimination. Where there is potential discrimination, the State may be able to show that the relevant difference in treatment is ‘justified’. See Discrimination.

How is the European Convention enforced?

Under the Human Rights Act 1998, European Convention rights can be directly enforced in UK courts against a ‘public authority’. However, to argue these rights against anyone else, one needs some other right of action (e.g. an Equality Act claim) to ‘hang’ the claim onto. The Equality Act and other laws have to be interpreted in accordance with the Convention rights so far as possible, whether or not the claim is against a public authority. It is possible to appeal to the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg. See Enforcement.

Other Convention rights

Even without Article 14, disability discrimination may be a breach of the Convention. For examples, see Scope of European Convention: Using rights other than Article 14.

Where may the Convention rights increase Equality Act protection?

Coverage of stammer even if it is only ‘minor’?

The Convention may contribute to an argument that discrimination is unlawful even if the stammer is only ‘minor’ or ‘trivial’. See Disability under Article 14: Boundaries of what falls within Article 14…

Areas beyond the Equality Act

The European Convention applies in areas beyond the main provisions of the Equality Act. An example is that regulations (and indeed Acts of Parliament) can be challenged under the European Convention.

Burnip v Birmingham City Council, Court of Appeal, 2012.
UK housing benefit rules were found to infringe Article 14. The parties had accepted that housing benefit fell within Article 1 of Protocol 1.

These areas – beyond the main provisions of Equality Act 2010 – may nevertheless be within the scope of its weaker Public Sector Equality Duty, as well as the European Convention.

Supplementing existing Equality Act provisions

For areas such as education, and the courts and police, both the Equality Act and the European Convention can apply. For coverage by the European Convention, see Scope of Convention rights.

Here the principles of the European Convention may be relevant in interpreting and applying the Equality Act.


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