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Northern Ireland disability discrimination law

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This page does not apply outside Northern Ireland.
Last updated 21st August 2019 (part update 18th April 2021).

This part of the website deals with the position in Northern Ireland as I understand it. This rest of the website focuses on Equality Act 2010 which does not apply in Northern Ireland.

Summary

  • The Disability Discrimination Act 1995 (DDA) still applies in Northern Ireland, not the Equality Act 2010. Since 1998 equal opportunities law has been devolved to Northern Ireland. Because Northern Ireland makes its own amendments to the DDA, significant differences have developed compared with the rest of the UK. Below DDA applies, but with differences.
  • Education is covered by a separate 2005 Order rather than the DDA.
  • The most important difference from the rest of the UK is that in Northern Ireland claims for less favourable treatment are still restricted by the 2008 Malcolm decision. This means claimants often have to try and frame their claim as a failure to make reasonable adjustments instead. See separate page Types of discrimination are limited in Northern Ireland.
  • Northern Ireland has broadly the same definition of disability as Equality Act 2010. However the UK’s 2011 statutory guidance, with its helpful example on stammering avoidance strategies being taken into account, does not apply in Northern Ireland. See separate page Definition of disability: Northern Ireland.
  • After Brexit the DDA 1995 continues, and Northern Ireland continues to be bound by the minumum standards of EU discrimination law. Below Brexit.
  • The Equality Commission for Northern Ireland (ECNI), www.equalityni.org, has guidance on its website and an advice service. More: Equality Commission for Northern Ireland (below).

Limited types of discrimination

You cannot claim ‘discrimination arising from disability’ or ‘indirect discrimination’ for disability in Northern Ireland.

Instead you normally have to try and frame your claim as a failure to make reasonable adjustments, unless it is direct discrimination or harassment. This is because of the 2008 House of Lords decision in Malcolm. The effects of that decision were rectified by Equality Act 2010 in the rest of the UK, but not in Northern Ireland.

See Types of discrimination are limited in Northern Ireland.

Meaning of ‘disability’

The Disability Discrimination Act 1995 as it applies in Northern Ireland has broadly the same definition of disability as the Equality Act 2010 applying to the rest of the UK.

The main difference is not in the legislation itself, but the fact that the 2011 statutory guidance for the rest of the UK does not apply in Northern Ireland. That 2011 guidance has a helpful example on stammering and hidden effects at para D17. Even so there is a strong argument that hidden effects of stammering, eg avoiding words or difficult speaking situations, or speaking less, should be taken into account in Northern Ireland in deciding whether a stammer has a substantial adverse effect

More: Definition of disability: Northern Ireland.

Employment

On employment, the key point is as above, that you often have to try and frame your claim as a failure to make reasonable adjustments.

There a Code of Practice as well as guidance published by the Equality Commission for Northern Ireland.

See Employment: disability discrimination in Northern Ireland.

Goods and services

Broadly, service providers are required not to treat disabled people less favourably, and to make reasonable adjustments. There is an exception for aircraft and ships, but for example airports, ferry ports and booking facilities are included within the DDA.

Public authorities are generally covered by the DDA even when they are not service providers, eg police arresting someone or investigating a crime. There are also rules on private clubs etc.

See Services (including transport): disability discrimination in Northern Ireland.

Education

With the exception of professional exams (covered by the DDA), disability discrimination by education providers is dealt with by separate rules which took effect in September 2005, rather than the DDA.

These rules extend to schools, further and higher education institutions and qualifications bodies. There is also a Special Educational Needs (SEN) regime for schools.

Unlike the rest of the UK, it is unclear whether protection applies to discriminatory competence standards in exams.

See Education: disability discrimination in Northern Ireland.

Brexit

Even after 2020 Northern Ireland discrimination law must continue to comply with the EU Framework Employment Directive, including future amendments to it. See Brexit: disability discrimination in Northern Ireland.

Obligations on public authorities

Public authorities are subject to the normal rules (above) on employment, provision of services, and education. ‘Public functions’ such as questioning by the police are also subject to the DDA.

Public authorities also have further duties to take disability into account, namely the Disability Equality Duty and section 75 Northern Ireland Act.

See Public authorities: disability discrimination in Northern Ireland.

DDA applies, but with differences

The main disability discrimination legislation in Northern Ireland is still the Disability Discrimination Act 1995 (legislation.gov.uk) (“DDA”), as amended in Northern Ireland. However for education Northern Ireland has a separate 2005 Order rather than the DDA.

The DDA 1995 as originally passed by the UK parliament in 1995 also applied in Northern Ireland, subject to a few adaptations. However since 1999 disability discrimination law in Northern Ireland has been devolved, so it is a matter for the Northern Ireland Assembly. Under the Northern Ireland Act 1998 equal opportunity matters are among the “transferred matters” which were taken over by the Assembly.

This means that amendments made to the DDA by the UK parliament (in Westminster) since 1999 do not apply in Northern Ireland. Also the Equality Act 2010 passed in Westminster does not apply in Northern Ireland (with minor exceptions). Northern Ireland has replicated quite a few changes made in the rest of the UK, often with a delay. However Northern Ireland has not made changes to reflect the Equality Act 2010.

One important result is that disability discrimination claims in Northern Ireland are still limited by the 2008 House of Lords decision in Malcolm: see Types of discrimination are more limited in Northern Ireland.

In summary disability discrimination legislation in the rest of the UK has now diverged somewhat from that in Northern Ireland. I put it that way round (rather than saying Northern Ireland law has diverged) because it is the legislation in the rest of the UK which tends to have changed. Northern Ireland legislation is often what used to apply in the rest of the UK.

Proposals for reform

Equality Commission for Northern Ireland

This Commission (ECNI) – www.equalityni.org – has a role on disability discrimination matters in Northern Ireland equivalent to that of the Equality and Human Rights Commission in England, Scotland and Wales

See above on Proposals for reform made by the Commission.

Human rights body

There is also a Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission (external link).

The European Convention on Human Rights

Broadly, the Human Rights Act 1998 also applies in Northern Ireland. Furthermore the legislation establishing the Northern Ireland Assembly says that the Assembly has no power to enact legislation with contravenes the European Convention on Human Rights.

For more, see Human Rights Act 1998/ European Convention.

Other areas of law

There are likely to be other ways in which relevant Northern Ireland law differs from English law.

Further information

20th anniversary of stammeringlaw, 1999-2019