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Government Response to Caste Consultation

Volume 645: debated on Monday 23 July 2018

No one should suffer prejudice or discrimination on any grounds, including any perception of their caste. In March last year, the Government launched a consultation on “Caste in Great Britain and Equality Law” to obtain the views of the public on how best to ensure that appropriate and proportionate legal protection exists for victims of caste discrimination. The consultation ran in total for six months, closing in September 2017.

I am publishing the Government’s response to that consultation today, together with an independent analysis of the consultation that provides an assessment of all the responses. This report should be read in conjunction with the Government’s response.

The consultation considered different ways of protecting people from caste discrimination. The first option was to implement a duty, which was introduced by Parliament in 2013, to make caste an aspect of race discrimination under the Equality Act 2010. The second was to rely on emerging case law which, in the view of Government, shows that a statutory remedy against caste discrimination is available through existing provisions in the Equality Act, and to invite Parliament to repeal the duty on that basis.

The consultation received over 16,000 responses, showing the importance of this issue for many people in particular communities. About 53% of respondents wanted to rely on the existing statutory remedy and repeal the duty, 22% rejected both options (mainly because they wished the Government to proscribe the concept of caste in British law altogether) and about 18% of respondents wanted the duty to be implemented. The arguments put forward for these different views are set out in the Government’s response and in more detail in the analysis.

The Government’s primary concern is to ensure that legal protection against caste discrimination is sufficient, appropriate and proportionate. After careful consideration of all the points raised in the consultation, we have decided to invite Parliament to repeal the duty because it is now sufficiently clear that the Equality Act provides this protection. The judgment of the Employment Appeal Tribunal in Tirkey v. Chandhok shows that someone claiming caste discrimination may rely on the existing statutory remedy where they can show that their “caste” is related to their ethnic origin, which is itself an aspect of race discrimination in the Equality Act.

The judgment is binding on all who bring a claim in an employment tribunal, has status equivalent to a High Court decision, and is based on the application of case law decided at a higher level. The Government consider, having also taken into account the consultation responses, that the Tirkey judgment serves as a welcome clarification of the existing protection under the Equality Act—helping to deter those inclined to treat others unfairly or unequally because of conceptions of caste. We believe that the decision makes the introduction of additional statutory protection in the Equality Act unnecessary.

In light of changed circumstances since 2013, we intend to legislate to repeal the duty for a specific reference to caste as an aspect of race discrimination in the Equality Act once a suitable legislative vehicle becomes available .

We recognise that this is an area of domestic law which may develop further, and have carefully considered the full terms of the Tirkey judgment. We will monitor emerging case law in the years ahead.

To make clear that caste discrimination is unacceptable we will, if appropriate, support a case with a view to ensuring that the higher courts reinforce the position set out in Tirkey v. Chandhok.

In order to ensure that people know their rights and what sort of conduct could be unlawful under the Equality Act, we also intend to produce short guidance before the repeal legislation is introduced. We want this to be of particular use to any individual who feels they may have suffered discrimination on grounds of caste. It should also help employers, service providers and public authorities who are outside those groups most concerned with caste and who may have little awareness of caste divisions.

I am placing a copy of the response and accompanying report in the Libraries of both Houses.