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 there.
- 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. Northern Ireland makes its own amendments to the DDA, so 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. 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 it seems Northern Ireland will continue 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.
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
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.
Goods and services
Broadly, service providers are required not to treat disabled people less favourably, and to make reasonable adjustments. T
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.
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.
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.
The Disability Discrimination Act (DDA) as originally passed by the UK parliament in 1995 also applied in Northern Ireland, subject to certain adaptations.
However for more than twenty years disability discrimination law in Northern Ireland has been devolved, and is a matter for the Northern Ireland Assembly (niassembly.gov.uk). Under the Northern Ireland Act 1998 equal opportunity matters are among the ‘transferred matters’ taken over by the Assembly.
This means that amendments made to the DDA by the UK parliament (Westminster) from 1998 onwards did 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. An 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.
Generally 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.
For education Northern Ireland has a separate 2005 Order rather than the DDA.
Proposals for reform
- “Unfortunately, our legislative framework has fallen behind the rest of the UK. The lack of a functioning Executive means there has been no progress on any of the policy recommendations we have made to strengthen the equality laws or to implement equality strategies. Proposals to harmonise our equality laws into a single piece of equality legislation, and/or to revise and update those laws, have come to nothing.” Equality Commission Publishes Nineteenth Annual Report (equalityni.org), 3/10/18;
- Strengthening Protection for Disabled People Proposals for Reform (pdf, archive of equalityni.org), March 2012, in which the Equality Commission for Northern Ireland called for urgent changes to disability discrimination law;
- Northern Ireland Assembly Research and Information Service Briefing Paper (pdf, niassembly.gov.uk), February 2012, includes under the heading “5 Areas for Legislative Development” recommendations for amendments which were put forward by the Equality Commission in 2011.
- The Commission’s 2011 report was The gaps between GB and NI equality law, Briefing Note, January 2011 (pdf, archive of niequality.org).
- News report: Anti-discrimination laws have ‘fallen behind’ rest of UK (belfasttelegraph.co.uk), 14/10/11.
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).
Under the Withdrawal Agreement, it seems Northern Ireland law will have to comply with the Framework Employment Directive even after the end of the implementation period on 31st December 2020. This is under Article 2 of the Protocol on Ireland/Northern Ireland (page 297 of the Withdrawal Agreement, with Annex 1 on page 325).
The government has published an August 2020 Explainer document (gov.uk) about this, including how it will be enforced.
A House of Commons library briefing The October 2019 EU UK Withdrawal Agreement (parliament.uk) said: “In particular, six EU directives on relating to equality and discrimination including … the Employment Equality Directive, will continue to apply in Northern Ireland in perpetuity. Northern Ireland will not incorporate new EU directives in this area, so there is the potential for some differences in rights to emerge between Northern Ireland and Ireland.” However the Explainer document linked above says at paragraph 12 that the government has committed to update Northern Ireland law to reflect any future changes in EU law which give improved protection. “This will ensure that Northern Ireland will not fall behind minimum European standards in anti-discrimination law.”
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.
- Equality Commission for Northern Ireland, including guidance and Codes of Practice;
- Chapter 16 of ‘Disability discrimination’ of Human Rights in Northern Ireland: The Committee on the Administration of Justice Handbook’ (books.google.co.uk) by Brice Dickson and Brian Gormally, partly available to read online, gives an account of Northern Ireland disability discrimination law as at about 2014 or 2015.