Beginning in April 2012, the Equality and Human Rights Commission’s funding to pursue discrimination cases will stop. All cases concerning human rights and equality issues received by the organisation will be referred to legal aid. Most Equality and Human Rights Commission clients are not eligible for legal aid and are not able to privately pay for legal representation. Only 29% of the adults in England and Wales meet eligibility requirements for legal aid, and legal aid provides limited pre-tribunal support and does not fund tribunal advocacy or legal advice for individuals experiencing discrimination. Fewer cases dealing with discrimination of age, race, gender, belief, sexual orientation, or disability will make it to trial. It is difficult to bring a privately funded discrimination suit to court, and lack of justice in these legal cases will lead to the weakening of the Equality Act.
The Equality and Human Rights Commission has protected equal rights in the past by providing legal advice, funding legal representation with grants, and intervening in many court cases. In Boyle versus SCA Packaging Limited, the EHRC helped fight to extend protections of disabled people to people who had reoccurring conditions that were currently under control. Elizabeth Boyle, who worked for SCA Packaging Ltd, had to have several surgeries for reoccurring nodules on her vocal chords. To prevent the nodules from returning, she had to follow a strict programme that included not raising her voice. SCA Packaging wanted to move her to a noisier environment. She filed a complaint to seek a reasonable accommodation due to her disability. SCA argued that since she was not currently ill, she was not disabled and not entitled to any accommodation. The Judicial Committee of the House of Lords ruled that a person whose chronic condition was currently in remission or managed was still disabled under the law.
The Commission has also successfully intervened in “due regard” cases such as the one involving the London Borough of Haringey. On appeal, it was found that the local authority of Haringey had violated the Race Relations Act of 1976 by failing to consider the fact that minority communities would be predominately affected by the plans to demolish housing for redevelopment. In January 2012, the Equality and Human Rights Commission funded the first cases of age discrimination to be heard by the Supreme Court of the United Kingdom. The two cases will clarify an exception to the law that bans age discrimination by employers if it is a “proportionate means of achieving a legitimate aim”. The Commission has also intervened in cases where same sex couples joined in a civil union were not afforded the same rights as married couples. One such case involved discrimination against Stephen Preddy and Martyn Hall by a bed and breakfast in Cornwall that refused service to unmarried couples. The Court of Appeal found that there is no material difference between marriage and a civil partnership.
Funding allows important cases like these to be heard in court. An e-petition has been created to let the government know that funds for equality and human rights casework need to be arranged.