The Equality and Human Rights Commission of Great Britain: Challenges and Opportunities

17 June 2011, 09:30 - 18:00

Speakers Abstract:


Organised by:
Human Rights Consortium
Event Type:
Venue Details:
Institute of Advanced Legal Studies
Charles Clore House
17 Russell Square



This one-day roundtable workshop is conceived as a forum for practitioners, academics and policymakers from across disciplines to engage in a constructive sharing of perspectives and insights related to the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC).  This Human Rights Consortium/AHRC workshop, held at the Institute of Advanced Legal Studies, University of London, will involve individuals from the EHRC, researchers from universities of Oxford, Bristol, Nottingham, Durham and Liverpool and a range of policy experts from the public and third sector.

It will offer a constructive policy-oriented appraisal of the EHRC at a time of growing domestic and international interest in the role of this institution in advancing domestic equality and human rights standards.  The meeting is intended to feed into current policy discussions around equality and human rights compliance in the UK and specifically the role of the EHRC in this field.  The workshop reflects earlier discussion identifying significant gaps in existing knowledge on the activity and significance of the EHRC.

The workshop offers an invaluable opportunity to:

  • Deepen understanding of the eventful experience of the EHRC over the past four years
  • Feed into current policy discussions around equality and human rights compliance in the UK
  • Discuss the future prospects for the EHRC with international experts in the field
  • Evaluate the impact of significant budgetary reductions on the EHRC as well as possible reform of the EHRC’s remit and powers in the context of the Public Bodies Bill
  • Assist in the development of a network of practitioners, policymakers, and researchers brought together by a professional and/or scholarly interest in the EHRC
  • Develop collaboration with partners within the academic, policy and legal world
  • Form the basis for an eventual publication.




The workshop will be held on 17 June at the Institute of Advanced Legal Studies.  Approximately 25 people will participate as roundtable participants with a further 20-30 expected to attend.

9.30:                 Registration

9.45:                 Welcome and convenors’ introduction

  • Jonathan Breckon (AHRC)
  • Thomas Pegram (SAS)

10.00-11.30:      Panel 1: What is the relationship between EHRC formal design and political function, with a particular focus on independence?

As the EHRC begins to make an impact on British politics, what do its formal design features, in particular safeguards of independence, reveal about the circumstances of its origins, the intentions of its designers, and the relative influence of different stakeholders within and outside government?

Looking at the track record of the EHRC over the past four years of operations is it possible to identify how – combined or individually – particular EHRC formal attributes of autonomy have facilitated or hindered organizational effectiveness?  Related to this point, how might we understand the interaction of formal design with more idiosyncratic organizational features such as leadership and strategic vision?

Looking forward, can we identify some of the key formal drivers of organizational stability and change that are likely to shape the EHRC’s future trajectory?  How important are perceived design limitations and in thinking about possible remedies, would legislative reform be desirable or feasible?  How will proposed budget reductions in 2011 inform discussion of minimum core functions the EHRC should seek to perform?

Roundtable discussion led by:

11.30-13.00:      Panel 2: How seriously has the EHRC taken its international duties?

National Human Rights Institutions (NHRIs) have gained recognition as a possible missing link in the transmission of international human rights norms and their implementation at the domestic level.  The EHRC claims the international realm offers a ‘valuable framework for helping to embed a strong human rights culture in [Britain]’ and ‘important channels for influencing human rights domestically, as well as the overall international framework.’ To what extent has the EHRC used international human rights norms at the domestic level to achieve these ends, for instance by highlighting British government inaction around implementation of international obligations?

This workshop is intended to probe the extent to which the EHRC has taken advantage of a deepening of engagement with UN and European human rights structure, be they judicial or deliberative.  A key question in this regard is the extent to which rights advocacy at the international level can secure substantive results for the EHRC at the domestic level?  What lessons can be learnt from EHRC intervention in legal proceedings before the European Court of Human Rights, for instance?  What are the implications of the EHRC’s designation as the ‘independent mechanism’ under The UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities?

Roundtable discussion led by:

13.00-14.00:      Lunch

14.00-15.30:      Panel 3: What has been the impact of EHRC enforcement activities in advancing domestic equality and human rights frameworks?

The EHRC has a range of litigation and legal powers at its disposal to reinforce and extend the reach of equality and human rights legislation and protection. Notably, the Commission has fewer powers in relation to human rights as in relation to the anti-discrimination ‘equality enactments,’ but can still initiate judicial review, intervene in human rights proceedings opened by others and hold inquiries. This panel will inquire into the significance and outcome of EHRC legal action.  Key strategic questions that arise in the area of enforcement include: What guides the decision to use legal powers?  How receptive are state agencies to EHRC intervention? And how effective is the EHRC at balancing individual claims for justice with a potentially wider, more strategic vision?

A further issue for discussion in relation to enforcement is the wide-ranging scope of the EHRC’s mandate to: ‘eliminate discrimination, reduce inequality, protect human rights and to build good relations, ensuring that everyone has a fair chance to participate in society.’ Beyond ‘hard law’ enforcement activities, how can inquiries and assessments into equality and human rights matters, such as those held into the HM Treasury spending review, human trafficking, sex discrimination in the finance sector, and disability-related harassment, contribute to achieving EHRC compliance objectives?

Roundtable discussion led by:

15.30-15.45:      Coffee break

15.45-17.15:      Panel 4: What has been the impact of EHRC promotional activities in advancing domestic equality and human rights frameworks?

A corollary function to the protection of human rights is the strategic objective of promoting a strong human rights culture.  By promoting an environment where equality and human rights norms are broadly stable, credible and routinised within British society, the EHRC may benefit from a situation where the need for enforcement activities is diminished.  How might such an embedding of human rights be achieved in Britain?  What are the key facilitating and countervailing factors?  This panel will explore, in particular, the complex relations between the EHRC and three key non-governmental actors: (1) the NGO sector, (2) the media, and (3) the citizen.

Roundtable discussion led by:

17.15:               Close

17.30:               Reception


Workshop convenors: Jonathan Breckon (AHRC) and Thomas Pegram (Visiting Fellow, Human Rights Consortium, School of Advanced Study (

Sponsors: The Arts & Humanities Research Council and the Human Rights Consortium, School of Advanced Study, University of London

The Human Rights Consortium’s mission focuses on enhancing the dissemination of the research and related activities of practitioners and scholars nationally and internationally. It aims to build upon the existing successes, networks and expertise of the School Members’ Institutes and develop a particular forum of discipline-focused human-rights-led activities of benefit to the School and wider community. Further information on the Consortium is available at:  Further information on the range of scholarly and policy expertise offered by the Consortium is available at:

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