What is Equality?

Equality is a word that started out as a mathematical expression before finding its way in to the political world.

It seems to have moved into the legal world being used in the context of ‘equality before the law’ – justice being theoretically applied to all regardless of rank, gender, race, status etc. This is linked to the idea that justice is blind and to the ideal that law is for everyone and irrelevant personal characteristics are not seen by the law.

The idea of blind justice ran parallel to acts of parliament discriminating against women (who until the end of the 19th century did not own property in their own right when they got married and did not get the vote until the 20th century), homosexuals (whose behaviour in the UK was criminalised until the mid 20th century), dissenting religions, who could not hold public office in the UK without becoming Anglicans, ……..and so much more.

The rhetoric of equality and the reality of equality in the UK have always been out of step.

Now the notion of equality has moved into the world of public service and employment. The new ‘Equality’ is moving towards “all things need to be made equal in order for justice to be applied” This introduces the notion of positive discrimination. Despite press reports to the contrary positive sex discrimination in recruitment has never been lawful in the UK and all women shortlists are no more lawful than all men shortlists as the law currently stands.

Will the Equality Bill in its final format change that?

The clause I was looking at is set out below: The definition of equality here is equality between individuals. This is not the ordinary English definition of the word, which is how UK statutes are traditionally interpreted. The EU tradition is to look at the intent of the people who passed the directive that is being implemented. If we look to Europe it is arguable that the intent of the legislature is equality of treatment rather than equality of outcome. Many of the relevant directives contain the words ‘equal treatment’ .

“The Commission for Equality and Human Rights will:

(a) promote understanding of the importance of equality and diversity,

(b) encourage good practice in relation to equality and diversity,

(c) promote equality of opportunity,

(d) promote awareness and understanding of rights under the equality


(e) enforce the equality enactments,

(f) work towards the elimination of unlawful discrimination, and

(g) work towards the elimination of unlawful harassment.


“diversity” means the fact that individuals are different,

“equality” means equality between individuals, and

“unlawful” is to be construed in accordance with section 36.”


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Filed under discrimination, employment law, equal pay, Equality Bill

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