The Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) is a public body, funded by the British government, which is responsible for promoting and enforcing equality and non-discrimination laws in England, Wales and Scotland. Possibly its most high profile activity in recent years was its inquiry into allegations of antisemitism within the British Labour Party.

However, there have also been various different allegations that the EHRC is itself engaged in unequal treatment of some groups. The merit of these allegations not withstanding, which body would be responsible for conducting an inquiry into the EHRC, it if were suspected of discrimination against one or more groups at an organizational level?

Possible answers include: the police, but if there is no suspicion of criminality this would likely be outside their remit; the EHRC itself, which has obvious conflict of interest issues; the Government Equalities Office, which is part of the Cabinet Office, and is the EHRC's "sponsor", but again there may be a conflict of interest, and doubts over whether they are equipped to undertake such an investigation; the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, this appears to fall under their mandate but it's unclear whether they are the "official" overseer of the EHRC according to the UK government or if they would unilaterally undertake an investigation.

I suppose it is possible that, at its foundation, it didn't occur to anybody that the EHRC itself might need to be investigated at some point. Nevertheless, it seems likely that there is an existing organization that could conduct such an investigation if necessary, I just don't know what it is.

1 Answer 1


Quis custodiet ipsos custodes?

There is no specific body or mechanism in place for the investigation of systemic equality and human rights violations in the EHRC.

It is general problem, and there is no simple solution. In this case the organisation could be investigated by the Government department that established it. There are civil servants who are able to carry out such an investigation if needed. Or a judge-led public inquiry could be held. And there is a minister who is able (with the support of Parliament) to make the decision to end funding.

The UN could investigate, but so could the Daily Mail. The UN has no oversight role in the UK government (or any government)

It is expected that such action is rare, which is why there isn't a standing procedure. It is actually quite rare that an organisation fails so far in upholding its own code that it needs this kind of action. Though your question could be asked about the HSE, and of course the police themselves.

Since it is rare, it is exceptional, and exceptional situations call for exceptional solutions. Compare this with the RUC. It was recognised that the RUC had systemic issues of trust, respect and authority with a significant part of the community which it was supposed to serve. This was systemic, and beyond the ability of an organisation like the IPCC to deal with. And so the RUC was, eventually disbanded by the government and replaced with the PSNI, following the Patten report.

  • Ministerial code is probably the topical one at the moment. Demonstrating that is the rare yet predictable and serious events that should always be covered.
    – Jontia
    Commented Apr 20, 2022 at 17:28
  • At the risk of being rude, this doesn't really answer my question. I am interested in the specific mechanisms in place for the EHRC, rather than general approaches to investigation of government bodies. For example (since you mention it), had I asked about the police, the obvious answer would have been the IOPC (formerly IPCC). If you believe there is no mechanism in place for the EHRC, then please say so explicitly. Commented Apr 20, 2022 at 18:31
  • Your comment about the UN having no oversight role in any government might make for an interesting question in itself. I would suggest that there are occasions when the UNGA or UNSC requires the UN to supervise or certify elections, and this qualifies as oversight of government. Commented Apr 20, 2022 at 18:35
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    @CharlieEvans My answer is that there is no specific mechanism for the EHRC, instead there is the general approach to investigation in government bodies. But I've edited to to make this as explicit as possible.
    – James K
    Commented Apr 20, 2022 at 20:25
  • With regard to the IOPC, it can deal with individual cases of police misconduct. It can't deal with systemic issues. Such situations are exceptional, and the proper example to look at is the disbanding of the RUC following the Patten report.
    – James K
    Commented Apr 20, 2022 at 20:33

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