The Government Equalities Office has published its response to a consultation on how best to address caste discrimination in Britain, concluding that this is best dealt with by case law and that it will remove the Equality Act obligation to legislate in this field. Current authority suggests that caste is protected to the extent that it is bound up with racial origin.
- On 28 March the Government Equality Office published its long-awaited consultation on caste discrimination, announced back in September 2016. The consultation will run until 18 July 2017 and seeks views on whether preventing caste discrimination is best done by legislation expressly specifying caste as an aspect of race, or by relying on case law (given an EAT ruling that caste is already protected as it falls within the existing concept of "ethnic origin" to the extent that it relates to descent). The Government is concerned that the method chosen avoids "unhelpful and socially divisive consequences such as promoting, creating or entrenching ideas of caste or heightening caste consciousness where they do not previously exist". The Government asks whether there are aspects of caste which are not related to descent and which therefore would not be protected by case law. It is also concerned that, if aspects of the public sector equality duty and positive action provisions apply to caste (either because case-law is relied on, or because they are not expressly disapplied on legislating for caste), this might encourage employers to ask people about their caste, which the Government does not support on the basis it is potentially intrusive and socially divisive.
The government has announced that there will be a public consultation lasting twelve weeks on 'the issue of caste and the Equality Act 2010', and in particular whether additional protection is needed.
The EAT has confirmed that, although the Equality Act does not yet expressly include caste as a protected characteristic, it is included within the meaning of 'ethnic origins', at least where it is linked to concepts of ethnicity, and is therefore protected under that limb of 'race'. (Chandhok v Tirkey)