Section 28 of the Equality Act 2006 gives the Equality and Human Rights Commission (the commission) the power to provide advice, assistance and representation to an individual who alleges that he or she has been a victim of behaviour contrary to a provision of the “equality enactments”. The “equality enactments” include all the main provisions outlawing discrimination.
On 1 October, the commission inherited from its three legacy commissions all the legal casework where advice, assistance or representation was being provided. The commission also committed to continue supporting the funding programmes inherited from its legacy commissions for voluntary and community sector organisations for 2007-08, including law centres providing legal advice and support to victims of discrimination. In this year, the funding programme amounts to £3,159,056. The commission is still in discussions on the exact level of funding that it will render to complainant aid services.
In addition to the legal staff based in England, Scotland and Wales who have come from the three legacy commissions, the commission will build up its complement of staff in the legal directorate during the next few months to over 60 full-time equivalents. These staff will carry out three functions: legal policy, enforcement and casework and litigation (advice, assistance and representation). In addition, the commission’s legal budget gives staff from the legal directorate the flexibility to buy in external legal services where necessary. The commission will continue to take on individual strategically important legal cases.
The commission’s funding and support services are only a small part of the total funding needed to support equality and human rights advice. Through its country and regional offices, the commission is in discussion with advice agencies and other funders on how best to work together to ensure not only that the equality and human rights advice sector is properly funded but that the funding is properly co-ordinated.