Discuss the principle or principles that underpin, or should underpin, UK discrimination law.

Essay by da_ken_minA, April 2002

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The late Peter Duffy, QC, a leading civil liberties lawyer explained in his 1997 Stonewall Lecture that it is a duty for all of us to treat other people "with respect in accordance with the true understanding of the principles of equality". Unfortunately as individuals we cannot always be trusted to do so. Instead the law seeks to regulate our behaviour in this area with varying degrees of success. This essay seeks to explore some of these "principles of equality" and other aspects of the Law which form the basis of anti-discrimination law in the UK.

In this essay I will take each principle which is proposed to underpin discrimination law in turn, discussing whether or not it should theoretically underpin that law, and whether or not it substantively does so. It should be noted here that the essay is concerned with the civil discrimination law in this country and not aspects of the criminal law such as the Incitement to Racial Hatred.

The principal statutes governing this area are the Race Relations Act 1976 (RRA 76), the Sex Discrimination Act 1975 (SDA 75) and the Disability Discrimination Act 1995 (DDA 95). Obviously concern is also given to the case law surrounding these Acts of Parliament, and the case and treaty law of the European Union which affects UK anti-discrimination law, especially in the area of discrimination on the grounds of sex.

The paramount principle that runs through all the underpinning principles of discrimination law is the general idea of justice and equality. It may be useful to therefore briefly examine the reason why our law upholds equality as a general principle which should be adhered to, not necessarily solely in the region of anti-discrimination law.

The General Concept of Equality

Since the days of Aristotle and Plato, the...