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Northern Ireland disability discrimination law

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This page does not apply outside Great Britain.
Last updated 6th March 2011.

The sources I use for this website relate principally to England. Accordingly the website focuses on the position there. This page deals with the position in Northern Ireland as I understand it.

Summary

  • The Disability Discrimination Act 1995 (DDA) as originally enacted extended to Northern Ireland, with some adaptations. However, for more than a decade now, amendments to disability discrimination law have been devolved to Northern Ireland. So changes made by the Westminster Parliament do not apply in Northern Ireland.
  • Accordingly the Equality Act 2010 does not apply in Northern Ireland. What applies there is basically the original DDA, with amendments made over the years for Northern Ireland. News report: Anti-discrimination laws have ‘fallen behind’ rest of UK (link to belfasttelegraph.co.uk), 14/10/11. More: DDA applies, but with differences (below).
  • So far as relevant to stammering, ‘disability’ is defined in Northern Ireland in substantially the same way as for the rest of the UK,. However, different Guidance applies. More: Meaning of ‘disability’ (below).
  • On employment, the key point is that in Northern Ireland (as was the case in the rest of Britain before 2010) you cannot claim ‘discrimination arising from disability’ or ‘indirect discrimination’ for disability. Unless it is direct discrimination or harassment, you normally have to try and frame your claim as a failure to make reasonable adjustments. More: Employment (below).
  • Similarly on provision of services, the UK pre-October 2010 rules on access to goods and services should be roughly similar to those in Northern Ireland, with certain adaptations. More: Goods and services (below).
  • Northern Ireland now has its own education rules which came into force on 1st September 2005. More: Education (below).
  • The Equality Commission for Northern Ireland (ECNI)www.equalityni.org – covers disability discrimination. The remit of the Equality and Human Rights Commission is for the rest of the UK. ECNI’s website includes some Codes of Practice for Northern Ireland. More: Equality Commission for Northern Ireland (below).
  • Public authorities have obligations similar to those in the UK, but also special obligations under s.75 Northern Ireland Act 1998. More: Obligations on public authorities (below).
  • In March 2012, the ECNI called for urgent changes to disability discrimination law in Northern Ireland: Strengthening Protection for Disabled Pe ple Proposals for Reform – Full report (pdf, link to equalityni.org).

DDA applies, but with differences

The Disability Discrimination Act (DDA) as originally passed in 1995 also applied in Northern Ireland subject to certain adaptations.

However, for more than a decade changes to disability discrimination law in Northern Ireland have been devolved, and are a matter for the Northern Ireland Assembly (link to niassembly.gov.uk). Under the Northern Ireland Act 1998 (link to legislation.gov.uk) equal opportunity matters are among the ‘transferred matters’ taken over by the Assembly.

So amendments made to the DDA by the Westminster Parliament do not apply in Northern Ireland. Also the Equality Act 2010 passed in Westminster does not apply in Northern Ireland (with minor exceptions). Disability discrimination law in Northern Ireland is diverging from that which applies in the rest of the UK.

To an extent, Northern Ireland has made changes parallel with those in the rest of the UK. But changes made in the rest of the UK by Equality Act 2010 have not been enacted in Northern Ireland.

The Equality Commission for Northern Ireland published in January 2011 a briefing note: The gaps between GB and NI equality law (pdf, link to equalityni.org), which includes proposals for legislative reform in Northern Ireland.

Meaning of ‘disability’

So far as relevant to stammering the Disability Discrimination Act 1995 as it applies in Northern Ireland has pretty much the same definition of disability as the UK’s Equality Act 2010. Accordingly my pages on meaning of ‘disability’ should be useful (but discrimination based on perceived disability is not necessarily unlawful in Northern Ireland).

However, there are some differences regarding stammering in the official guidance on how the definition of disability is to be applied. See Northern Ireland: Guidance on definition of disability.

Employment

On employment, the key point is that you cannot claim ‘discrimination arising from disability’ or ‘indirect discrimination’ for disability in Northern Ireland. Unless it is direct discrimination or harassment, you normally have to try and frame your claim as a failure to make reasonable adjustments.

This is because the changes made by Equality Act 2010 do not apply. Northern Ireland therefore still has the gap in the law left by the House of Lords decision in London Borough of Lewisham v Malcolm. That case effectively did away with the DDA claim of ‘disability-related discrimination.

Also other changes made by Equality Act 2010 for the rest of the UK with effect from October 2010 have not been made in Northern Ireland.

As regards legal changes made in the rest of the UK before 2010, major changes on employment which came into effect for the rest of the UK in October 2004 were paralleled in Northern Ireland by very similar changes in The Disability Discrimination Act 1995 (Amendment) Regulations (Northern Ireland) 2004 (Statutory Rule 2004 No. 55) – link to legislation.gov.uk. The 2004 changes – in Northern Ireland as in the rest of the UK – included the abolition of the small employers exemption, protection for various jobs which were previously excluded from the DDA, and abolition of the justification defence for ‘direct discriminaton’.

Codes of Practice on employment, reflecting the changes from 1st October 2004, came into effect in June 2005 and are available in the ECNI website publications section.

There is an organisation ‘Employers for Disability NI’: www.efdni.org

Goods and services

In general the pre-October 2010 rules on access to goods and services in the Disability Discrimination Act 1995 should apply to Northern Ireland.

Amendments made by the Disability Discrimination Act 2005 do not apply in Northern Ireland – but The Disability Discrimination (Northern Ireland) Order, SI 2006/312 (link to legislation.gov.uk) made amendments on areas such as public authorities, and clubs.

A 2003 Code of Practice on Rights of access: Goods, Facilities, Services and Premises in Northern Ireland, is available in the ECNI website publications section. It includes changes to the law from 1st October 2004.

Transport

Greater protection from discrimination in relation to land transport came into effect in January 2010 – for a summary see New Disability Duties on Transport Providers (link to ECNI website). The relevant regulations are The Disability Discrimination (Transport Vehicles) Regulations (Northern Ireland) 2009 (link to legislation.gov.uk).

In 2009 there was a consultation on a draft Code of Practice related to transport (link to ECNI website).

Conciliation service

In 2008, the Equality Commission for Northern Ireland launched a conciliation service covering complaints about goods, facilities, services or premises and also complaints about education. According to the Commission, experience elsewhere shows that a majority of cases result in full and final settlements of complaints. If, however, the conciliation process does not produce a satisfactory outcome for the disabled person, they will still have the right to pursue their complaint through the courts. More at www.equalityni.org/archive/pdf/DisabilityDiscrim6pages08.pdf

Education

The rules that came into effect in Great Britain in September 2002, and were subsequently amended by the Equality Act 2010, as described on my education pages do not apply in Northern Ireland.

However separate rules against disability discrimination in education came into effect in Northern Ireland on 1st September 2005. These extend to schools, further and higher education institutions and qualifications bodies. There is more about them on the ECNI website.

The rules are contained in the Special Educational Needs and Disability (Northern Ireland) Order 2005 (link to legislation.gov.uk). There is a summary: An Overview of the Special Educational Needs and Disability Order (NI) 2005 (pdf, link to equality.ni.org). The 2005 order has been amended as from 1st September 2006 with respect to post-16 education: SI 2006/332.

See also ‘Special educational needs’ on the Department of Education website.

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

In March 2012, the ECNI called for urgent changes to disability discrimination law in Northern Ireland: Strengthening Protection for Disabled People Proposals for Reform – Full report (pdf, link to equalityni.org).

Obligations on public authorities

Public authorities are subject to the normal rules (above) on employment and provision of services to the public, but also to some further rules:

DDA rights extended to public functions

There are DDA rules on duties and functions of public authorities: article 4 Disability Discrimination (Northern Ireland) Order 2006. Like the similar UK rules, they broadly cover functions of public authorities which are not services to the public, such as police arrest and interviews.

Disability equality duty

From January 2007, Northern Ireland has its own form of disability equality duty under the DDA. See Promoting positive attitudes towards disabled people and encouraging the participation of disabled people in public life – A Guide for Public Authorities (pdf file, on ECNI website), March 2007.

The DDA provisions containing this duty were inserted by article 5 Disability Discrimination (Northern Ireland) Order 2006

Section 75

Those obligations on public authorities have equivalents in the rest of the UK, but in view of its history Northern Ireland also has s.75 Northern Ireland Act 1998 (link to legislation.gov.uk). This obliges most public authorities in Northern Ireland to have regard to the need to promote equality of opportunity between various groups of people, including those with a disability and those without. ‘Disability’ is as defined in the DDA. Under Schedule 9 public authorities must devise equality schemes addressing discrimination.

Human rights

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. However, beyond that, 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 The European Convention in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.

Other areas of law

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

Further information