Creating a fairer Britain
24 August 2009
The Equality and Human Rights Commission has today issued county court proceedings against the British National Party in respect of its constitution and membership criteria. The court has set a date of Wednesday 2 September for a hearing for the Commission’s application for an injunction against the BNP.
The Commission sent a letter before action on 22 June to the BNP setting out its concerns about the BNP’s constitution and membership criteria. The BNP has responded saying that it intends to clarify the word 'white' on its website. However the Commission believes that the BNP will continue to discriminate against potential or actual members on racial grounds.
The BNP's membership criteria appear to restrict membership to those within what the BNP regards as particular 'ethnic groups' and those whose skin colour is white. This exclusion is contrary to the Race Relations Act.
The Commission believes the BNP's constitution and membership criteria are discriminatory and, further, that the continued publication of them on the BNP website is unlawful. It has therefore issued county court proceedings against party leader Nick Griffin and two other officials.
The Commission has decided not to take action on two further grounds set out in its letter before action in the light of the BNP's commitment to comply with the law.
John Wadham, Group Director, Legal at the Equality and Human Rights Commission says: 'The BNP has said that it is not willing to amend its membership criteria which we believe are discriminatory and unlawful. The Commission has a statutory duty to use our regulatory powers to enforce compliance with the law, so we have today issued county court proceedings against the BNP. However, the party still has an opportunity to resolve this quickly by giving the undertaking on its membership criteria that the Commission requires.'
For more information contact the Equality and Human Rights Commission Media Office on 02031170255, out of hours 07767272818.
For a copy of the letter sent to the BNP and other relevant documents, please visit www.equalityhumanrights.com.
In its letter before action, the Commission also set out its concerns that the BNP's elected representatives or those working for them may discriminate on grounds of race or colour in the provision of services to members of the public or constituents.
In response, the BNP has confirmed that its policy is that each BNP elected representative will make 'available any services he or she provides to all his or her constituents, including to members of ethnic minorities’. The BNP's councillors have also signed the Member's Code of Conduct stating that they will not do anything which may cause their local authority to breach any equality laws.
The Commission also set out its concerns about the BNP's policy on recruitment, which appeared to restrict applicants to those supplying a party membership number. This is contrary to the Race Relations Act, which outlaws the refusal or deliberate omission to offer employment on the basis of non-membership of an organisation. In response, the BNP has also told the Commission that it is willing to insert the words 'if applicable' into the box on the membership application form asking for insertion of a BNP membership number.
As the BNP has indicated that it intends to fulfil its legal obligations in both these areas, the Commission has decided not to proceed with legal action. The Commission will monitor the BNP’s compliance with the law and may take action on these issues in the future.
The Equality and Human Rights Commission is a statutory body established under the Equality Act 2006, which took over the responsibilities of Commission for Racial Equality, Disability Rights Commission and Equal Opportunities Commission. It is the independent advocate for equality and human rights in Britain. It aims to reduce inequality, eliminate discrimination, strengthen good relations between people, and promote and protect human rights. The Commission enforces equality legislation on age, disability, gender, race, religion or belief, sexual orientation or transgender status, and encourage compliance with the Human Rights Act and international treaties. It also gives advice and guidance to businesses, the voluntary and public sectors, and to individuals.