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How is our work influencing life in Northern Ireland and delivering equality? Learn more about our policy, legal and research work.

Our legal work

Providing advice, supporting cases, reviewing the law and carrying out investigations

What you need to know


Our legal work

The Equality Commission provides free legal advice to around 4,000 individuals every year who believe they have been discriminated against. The majority of people who contact our discrimination advice team are able to resolve their cases informally.

Around 10% apply for assistance to pursue a legal case in the county court or the Industrial Tribunals, and of these, around one third is granted support by the Commission.

To see how the Equality Commission decides which cases to support download our:



The Law - Individuals are protected against discrimination on the grounds of:

  • Age
  • Disability
  • Race (includes colour, race, nationality, ethnic and national origins and being a member of the Irish Traveller community)
  • Religious or similar philosophical belief and/or political opinion
  • Sex (includes transgender, pregnant woman, married people, registered civil partners)
  • Sexual orientation

Consultation: Draft Policy on Legal Advice and Assistance

The Equality Commission is seeking your views on its draft revised Policy for the Provision of Legal Advice and Assistance. This Policy is important as it sets out the policy that the Commission will follow whilst fulfilling our statutory responsibilities in respect of complainant assistance.  We have reviewed and updated the current policy, particularly in relation to the discretionary criteria against which the Commission will assess applications for assistance.  We are consulting until Friday 10 September 2021 and would welcome your response by this date. Read more

Supported legal cases - decisions and settlements


Legal statistics

In the year from 1 April 2020 to 31 March 2021 the Discrimination Advice Officers dealt with 2,622 enquiries.

Of the enquiries received this year:


  • 47.2% were about disability discrimination
  • 26.9% were about sex discrimination
  • 7.5% were about religious/political discrimination
  • 8.3% were about racial discrimination
  • 6.2% were about age discrimination
  • 2.4% were about SENDO (Special Educational Needs and Disability Order)
  • 1.5% were about sexual orientation discrimination

The percentage breakdown of enquiries has remained consistent over the past five years. The proportion of disability enquiries has risen on last year. In the past ten years, complaints about possible disability discrimination have been the biggest area of calls to the Commission’s help line, followed by complaints of alleged sex discrimination.

Legal Enquiries ChartFunded legal cases chart

Applications for assistance are directed by Legal Funding Committeess (LFC)


Advice and information

Your equality rights
For further information about equality law, and the different types of discrimination which are recognized under the law, see our sections on:
  Discrimination advice team
The Equality Commission's  discrimination advice team can provide information and advice for those who believe they have been discriminated against. If you require help telephone 028 90500600 (10am-4pm) or use our online forms:
Information for legal advisors
We can assist organisations that provide advice to people who believe they have been discriminated against. This includes providing information sessions for advisory organisations, briefings for political parties and accredited training courses (OCNNI). For further details see our section for legal advisors

Law reform
The Equality Commission has a duty to keep equality laws under review and advise government on ways they could be improved. For further information on our recommendations for strengthening legal protection against discrimination see our law reform section


We are committed to maintaining our effort to challenge discrimination and using our legal assistance powers strategically to effect positive change. The main pieces of legislation from which we derive our duties and powers are:
  • Equal Pay Act (NI) 1970, as amended
  • Sex Discrimination (NI) Order 1976, as amended
  • Disability Discrimination Act 1995, as amended
  • Race Relations (NI) Order 1997, as amended
  • Fair Employment and Treatment (NI) Order 1998, as amended
  • Northern Ireland Act 1998
  • Equality (Disability, etc.) (NI) Order 2000
  • Employment Equality (Sexual Orientation) Regulations (NI) 2003, as amended
  • Special Educational Needs and Disability (NI) Order 2005, as amended
  • Disability Discrimination (NI) Order 2006
  • Employment Equality (Age) Regulations (NI) 2006, as amended
  • Equality Act (Sexual Orientation) Regulations (NI) 2006, as amended

Further information is available in our legislation section

Formal investigations

The Equality Commission carries out investigations into public bodies’ non-compliance with their equality schemes (Section 75 investigations) as well as formal investigations under the provisions of anti-discrimination legislation.

The Commission has no powers to conduct investigations under the sexual orientation legislation [employment] and age legislation.
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