Creating a fairer Britain
12 March 2010
The Equality and Human Rights Commission has won its enforcement case against the BNP, after a ruling today that the party’s new revised constitution is indirectly racially discriminatory. The Commission had already told the court that the BNP needed to alter its previous constitution because it was directly racially discriminatory. Both kinds of discrimination are unlawful.
The Commission has a statutory duty, under the Equality Act 2006, to enforce the provisions of the Act and to work towards the elimination of unlawful discrimination. On that basis, the Commission wrote to the BNP chairman, Nick Griffin in June 2009 regarding its 11th Constitution which the Commission considered unlawful as it permitted only white members.
The Commission asked Mr Griffin to agree to change the Constitution to ensure did not breach the Race Relations Act. He refused to do so and the Commission then applied to the Court for an order that the membership criteria be changed.
At a subsequent court hearing on 28 January 2010, Mr Griffin agreed to change the Constitution of the BNP to allow non-white members. On 14 February the BNP undertook the action requested by the Commission and voted on a new 12th Constitution which stated that membership of the party was open to members of any descent or origin. However it introduced new objectionable membership criteria.
The Commission was concerned that the new constitution now indirectly discriminated against ethnic minority people and prevented them from joining the party. Robin Allen QC argued on behalf of the Commission that prospective members would have to sign up to certain principles and statements that would require them to deny their ethnic and cultural identities.
These included clauses which indicated that prospective members must be against mixed race relationships and support the relocation of ethnic minorities either abroad or to different parts of the UK. The Commission was of the view that very few members of ethnic minorities would be able to sign up to these principles, making the membership criteria indirectly discriminatory.
The Commission was also concerned that the 12th Constitution forced prospective members to submit to a two hour home visit by two party members as part of their application process.
The Commission therefore asked the Court to rule on whether the revised constitution remained discriminatory and consequently unlawful.
Today's judgment has completely upheld the view of the Commission. The judge found that, while it is not unlawful to hold discriminatory views, it is unlawful for such principles to be used to control entry to a political party. Accordingly the BNP would be acting unlawfully if they operated membership criteria as set out in the 12th Constitution.
Susie Uppal, Director of Legal Enforcement at the Equality and Human Rights Commission said:
'The Commission is glad that today's judgment confirms our view that that the both the BNP's 11th Constitution and the amended 12th Constitution are unlawful.
'Political parties, like any other organisation are obliged to respect the law and not discriminate against people who wish to become members. The BNP will now have to take the necessary steps to ensure that it complies with the Race Relations Act.
'This matter could have been resolved last year by the BNP changing its constitution properly, rather than believing that it could find a way round discrimination law so that it appeared to be open to members regardless of their ethnicity while in practice continuing to prevent them from joining.'
For more information contact the Equality and Human Rights Commission Media Office on 02031170255, out of hours 07767272818.
The 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 encourages compliance with the Human Rights Act. It also gives advice and guidance to businesses, the voluntary and public sectors, and to individuals.