The Race Relations Act 1976, as amended by the Race Relations (Amendment) Act 2000, makes it unlawful to discriminate against anyone on the grounds of their race, colour, nationality, religious beliefs, national or ethnic origins.

The Act generally applies to the fields of employment, planning, housing, the exercise of public functions - both by public authorities and also private bodies exercising public functions. It also applies to the provision of goods, facilities and services, and to education.

Items that are covered include discrimination on the grounds of race, colour, nationality, ethnic and national origin in the fields of employment, the provision of goods and services, education and public functions.

The Race Relations Act 1976 established a non-departmental public body, the Commission for Racial Equality (CRE), with a view to review the legislation and enforce the duties specified in the Act. Since October 2007, its work has been merged into the new Commission for Equality and Human Rights, though it will subsist as a separate body until 2009.

The Race Relations Act applies in England, Wales and Scotland. It does not apply in Northern Ireland, where the Race Relations (NI) Order 1997 applies. Both have been slightly amended by the European Union Race Regulations, which came into force in 2003.

Racist attacks and violence are serious criminal offences covered by the criminal law, not the Race Relations Act. For example, the Crime and Disorder Act 1998 created 'racially aggravated offences', concerning offences such as harassment, assault, grievous bodily harm, and criminal damages. These carry significantly higher penalties. It is also a criminal offence under the Public Order Act 1986 to use threatening, abusive or insulting language or behaviour in order to stir up racial hatred. This includes distributing racist leaflets. All suspected criminal offences and any racist incident should be reported to the police.

Race Relations Act 1976
Established by the British Parliament, the Race Relations Act 1976 incorporates the earlier Race Relations Act 1965 and Race Relations Act 1968 to make it unlawful discriminate against anyone on grounds of race, colour, nationality (including citizenship), or ethnic or national origin. All racial groups are protected from discrimination.

The Act defines discrimination as direct and indirect discrimination, harassment and victimization:

  • Direct race discrimination occurs when a person treats another person less favourably on the grounds of colour, race, nationality, ethnic or national origin. For example, where a particular job is only open to people of a specific racial group.
  • Indirect race discrimination occurs when working practices, provisions or criteria disadvantage members of one group of people more than when applying for a job.  However the law does allow employers to discriminate indirectly if they can show a good reason for having the condition.
  • Harassment is participation, encouragement and/or allowance of offensive or intimidating behaviour that offends someone or creates a hostile atmosphere, for instance sexist language or making racist jokes at work
  • Victimisation means treating somebody less favourably than others because they've complained or been involved in a complaint about racial discrimination

The Race Relations Amendment Act 2000

The RRA1976 was amended by the Race Relations Amendment Act 2000. The RRAA represents a milestone for race equality in the UK - it requires all public institutions to take action to promote equality of opportunity and good relations between people of different racial groups.

The changes in the law developed in response to the Stephen Lawrence Inquiry Report (The Macpherson Report), an inquiry into events surrounding the murder of a black London teenager.

The Act came into force on 2nd April 2001. It requires public authorities to make the promotion of racial equality central to all activities.

The new public duty requires public bodies to implement race equality in all aspects of employment matters, such as recruitment, training, promotion and dismissal.

Therefore to comply with the general duty all public bodies should equality proof their employment procedures and practice and take all necessary steps to prevent discrimination.

European Union Race Regulations 2003

On 17th June 1997 the Heads of State and Government of the fifteen member states of the European Union revised the Treaty of the European Community at Amsterdam. Article 13 of the Treaty provides a legal base for Community action to combat discrimination on the grounds of racial or ethnic origin.

The Directive was agreed unanimously at the European Social Affairs Council on 6th June 2000 and published in the official Journal of the European Communities on 19 July 2000 as directive no. 2000/43/EC. The EC Article 13 Race Directive establishes, for the first time, a minimum standard of legal protection from racial discrimination across Europe.

The UK's domestic legislation already conformed to many of the provisions of the Race Directive - however some amendments to the Race Relations Act were required.
The regulations came into force on 19 July 2003.

Changes to the Law against racial discrimination, Published by Home Office, Communication Directorate, June 2003.

The Race Relations Act 1976 and the RRAA Race Relations (Amendment) Act 2000 and the Race Regulations are available as publications from the HMSO Bookshop, not from the CRE. The full text of the Act is here

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