Article 14: No discrimination
Race, sex, religion, language, sexual orientation, political opinion - the right to not be discriminated against is surely one of the fundamentals of a civilized society. No longer do B&B’s post signs in their window stating ‘No dogs, no blacks, no Irish’. However, although the UK has made great strides in reducing discrimination over the last fifty years, there is still a long way to go.
Article 14 of the Human Rights Act prohibits discrimination in the application of human rights. While this article doesn’t give a free-standing right to non-discrimination, it does require that all the other rights in the Human Rights Act be secured without discrimination. This means, for example, that protection against torture does not apply only to people of certain faiths; your right to liberty does not depend on your nationality; the right to protest does not depend on your political views.
Discrimination can be both direct and indirect. Direct discrimination – which we are all most likely to be more aware of - occurs when a person is treated less favourably than others on the basis of their race, ethnicity, nationality, disability, age, gender, sexual orientation, marital status etc. Less familiar, but just as important, is indirect discrimination - this can occur when a person applies policies and criteria that, while not discriminatory on their face, have a discriminatory effect.
For example, Aberdare Girls School’s blanket no jewellery policy meant that Sarika Singh was excluded from school for wearing the kara (a plain single bangle widely accepted as a central tenet of the Sikh race and religion).
It is not the case that all discrimination breaches Article 14 – but there must be an objective and reasonable justification for the discriminatory law or treatment to be lawful. It must be to pursue a legitimate aim and the measure taken must be a proportionate way to achieve that aim. However there would need to be particularly weighty reasons to justify discrimination on certain grounds such as race or gender.
Article 14 is probably a right that many of us take for granted - but we should never forget how important it is. Protection from discrimination is one of the most fundamental human rights without which many other rights would be meaningless.