Commission intervenes in Supreme Court case of X vs Mid Sussex Citizens Advice Bureau

31 Oct 2012 03:50 PM

The Equality and Human Rights Commission has yesterday (Wednesday) intervened in a case before the UK’s Supreme Court to argue that volunteers are given protection against discrimination.

The case involves X who gave advice on welfare law as a Citizens Advice Bureau (CAB) volunteer. She was told to leave her role, which included writing submissions, when she made the Bureau aware of her HIV status.

UK law does not provide volunteers with protection from discrimination – for example being victimised or being asked to leave purely on the grounds of disability, age, religion or sexual orientation. 

As an independent third party expert on human rights and equality law, the Commission is intervening to offer guidance to the Supreme Court on how the  European Directive* for Equal Treatment in Employment and Occupation, should be interpreted to provide  protection for volunteers.

To date, domestic courts which have heard the case, have decided that the Directive does not protect volunteers from discrimination

John Wadham, General Counsel at the Equality and Human Rights Commission said:

“As the government seeks to increase volunteering in the UK, both to support its ‘Big Society” initiative and as a way of supporting economic recovery by helping people find work, it is only fair that in return, some volunteers should receive protection against unjustified discrimination.

“This is especially important for many disabled or older people for whom volunteering may play an essential part in helping them live independently and be included in their local community.”

For further information please contact the Commission’s media office on 020 3117 0255, out of hours 07767 272 818.

Notes to Editors

*Framework Directive for Equal Treatment in Employment and Occupation – Directive (2000/78) http://eur-lex.europa.eu/LexUriServ/LexUriServ.do?uri=CELEX:32000L0078:en:HTML

  •  This Directive relates to age, disability, religion and sexual orientation. The outcome of the case will determine whether it can be read across to gender and race.
  • The Commission’s submissions are that the words "occupation and/or conditions for access to......occupation" within Article 3 of the Directive provides protection for those carrying out unpaid work such as volunteers. However the Commission also recognises that, given the diverse nature of voluntary work, not all forms of voluntary activity will fall within these provisions. Furthermore, the Commission is not arguing that volunteers are employees and therefore have the benefit of the rights and protections afforded by wider employment law.
  •  The case was heard by an Employment Tribunal, which dismissed the claim. It was later dismissed by an Employment Appeal Tribunal and the Court of Appeal, which said that the European Directive relating to equal treatment in employment and occupation did not apply to volunteers. The Commission intervened at the Court of Appeal as an independent third party
  • If the Supreme Court finds that the Directive does include volunteers, or at least some of them the Commission believes this case will extend the scope of the law as well clarifying whether individuals can rely on  European Directives where domestic law is more limited in scope.
  • An alternative outcome is for the case could be referred to the Court of Justice of the European Union (CJEU) to clarify whether the EU intended that volunteers were to be included within the ambit of the Directive.

The Equality and Human Rights Commission is a statutory body established under the Equality Act 2006. It took over the responsibilities of Commission for Racial Equality, Disability Rights Commission and Equal Opportunities Commission.  It is the independent advocate for equality and human rights in Britain.  It aims to reduce inequality, eliminate discrimination, strengthen good relations between people, and promote and protect human rights.  The Commission enforces equality legislation on age, disability, gender reassignment, marriage and civil partnership, pregnancy and maternity, race, religion or belief, sex, sexual orientation. It encourages compliance with the Human Rights Act and is recognised by the UN as an ‘A status’ National Human Rights Institution.  It also gives advice and guidance to businesses, the voluntary and public sectors, and to individuals.