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The Equality Act 2010: caste discrimination

Published Monday, November 21, 2016

This note provides an overview of the concept of caste, explains the existing law and sets out the background to the order-making power in the Equality Act 2010.

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The concept of “caste” is complex, although is generally understood to refer to hereditary, endogamous (marrying within the group) communities differentiated according to different functions of life, such as occupation.  The concept is associated with South Asia, particularly India and its diaspora. 

Caste discrimination is not expressly prohibited under UK equality legislation, although section 9 of the Equality Act 2010, as amended, requires the Government to introduce secondary legislation to make caste an aspect of race, thereby making caste discrimination a form of race discrimination.  The Coalition Government initially indicated that this legislation would be introduced to Parliament during summer 2015. 

The current Conservative Government reviewed its position on the need to introduce legislation, following the Employment Appeal Tribunal’s decision in Chandhok & Anor v Tirkey [2014] UKEAT 0190_14_1912. In that case the Employment Appeal Tribunal noted that caste discrimination is capable of being unlawful under current law, provided that the circumstances of the case fall within the existing prohibition of race discrimination. 

On 2 September 2016 the Government announced that it would conduct a public consultation on the issue.  At the time of writing it is not yet known when the consultation will be published, although the Government has indicated that it will commence later this year.

This note provides an overview of the concept of caste, explains the relevant law and sets out the background to the order-making power in the Equality Act 2010.

Commons Briefing papers SN06862

Author: Douglas Pyper

Topics: Equality, Ethnic groups, Racial discrimination

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