Article 14 of the European Convention on Human Rights guarantees freedom from discrimination, in relation to access to other convention rights, meaning it is not a stand-alone right. The ECHR was made part of domestic law by the Human Rights Act 1998, and stands along side the Equality Act 2010 to protect people against discrimination in England and Wales.
The Equality Act 2010, was brought in to consolidate previously complex legislation which numbered 116. Before this act, protection against discrimination had been limited, with some of the first legislation passed being only around 40 years ago, through the Race Relations Act 1975 and the Sex Discrimination Act 1985. The piecemeal framework that we had until the act was also complicated and daunting for a common citizen, and so the EA provided a new framework, which defines protected characteristics. These characteristics range from religion to sex, and the protection can be relied upon by those who have the characteristic, as well as those who are percieved to have them, and associated persons. We are further protected from discrimination through EU directives, which have horizontal direct effect on all citizens of the EU.
Indirect discrimination is when a set of rules is applied to everyone, but they happen to have a negative impact on those with a protected characteristic. Some examples of where this type of discrimination by happen are uniform policies in work or a place of education, both places being covered by the Equality Act 2010. In Mandla v Dowell Lee, a Sikh boy was indirectly discriminated against when his school required him to wear a cap, but his religion requires the wearing of a turban. Mandla was denied entry into the school, and it was held by the court that the uniform policy was direct discrimination. G v St Gregory's Catholic School also involved school policy, where G, of African-Caribbean ethnicity, wore his hair in traditional cornrows which he never cut. This was against his schools policy, but as the cornrows were family tradition, the school policy was held to have been indirectly discriminatory on the grounds of race and sex. In contrast, there was the case of R (on the application of Begum) v Denbigh High School, a case in which Begum wished to wear a Jilbab, while her school's unifrom policy required the wearing of a Shalwar Kameeze. In this case, the school was not held to be indirectly discriminatory, as Begum had alternative school options. The judge also noted that the school was the body best placed to decide on a policy involved with such a sensitive issue. A final indirect discrimination case is Eweida v UK, where Eweida was asked to conceal her crucifix necklace while working for British Airways. This was held to be indirect discrimination based on religion.
There are some ways around being caught under indirect discrimination legislation, and they are found under the EA 2010. It is stated that a policy may be discriminatory in the case of job applicants, but such a policy must be crucial to the role required of the person, related to the nature of the job and be a proportionate means of achieving a legitimate aim. It is also a defence, for indirect discrimination specifically, to prove that there was no intention to dicriminate against a protected characteristic upon creating the policy. Professor Helen Fenwick criticises this as being a serious disincentive and flaw in the legislation.