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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.

Human Rights

Equality and Human Rights Framework

The domestic human rights framework in the UK has played an important role in preventing discrimination and promoting equality of opportunity. This framework should be protected and strengthened.

At the UK level, the Human Rights Act 1998 has led to a range of judgments that are of significance across equality groups in Northern Ireland.  The existing human rights framework should not be reformed without a convincing case that such reform is necessary to further improve access to rights.

In Northern Ireland, a strong and inclusive NI Bill of Rights, reflecting the particular circumstances of Northern Ireland, would provide an opportunity to make a clear statement of society’s commitment to certain values, and a legal framework for ensuring that those values are advanced by all of society’s institutions.


Working Together to Improve Protections

We would welcome your engagement with colleagues, officials, and elected representatives to raise awareness of our positions on this web page (; and to secure adoption of our recommendations, towards ensuring the maintenance and strengthening of a human rights framework which promotes equality of opportunity and prevents discrimination.

We will also continue to engage with the Government locally and at UK level, relevant departments, elected officials and wider stakeholders, including international human rights bodies.

Commission Recommendations

The recommendations on human rights and equality considerations include overarching general principles for decision-makers, as well as specific recommendations for the UK Government, the NI Executive and officials in relation to Northern Ireland.

The Human Rights Act should not be reformed without a convincing case that it is necessary to improve access to rights

In June 2022, the UK Government introduced a Bill of Rights Bill in Parliament.  Following the appointment of a new Prime Minister in September 2022, the Bill was put on hold just ahead of its scheduled Second Reading in Parliament.

The Commission was not persuaded that the Government had demonstrated, through the June 2022 Bill or earlier consultation, that there was a need for reform of the 1998 Human Rights Act.

The Commission also considered that the specific outworkings of the Government’s June 2022 Bill proposals in practice were generally unclear.

There must be a convincing case for reform and any reform should serve to improve rights. Government should be specific about the intended and anticipated impact(s) of proposed changes, conveying their case for any changes via an explicit presentation of relevant evidence and stakeholder input.


Ensure the progressive realisation of rights and that enjoyment of rights does not regress

Human rights protections must be compliant with international law and commitments. Government must adhere to the principle of ‘non-regression’ and ensure that current levels of protection under the HRA and ratified human rights instruments are not eroded.

Any regression of human rights could adversely impact on individuals from across the grounds covered by Section 75 of the Northern Ireland Act (1998), with potentially negative impacts for legislation supporting the elimination of discrimination in Northern Ireland.


Promote awareness and understanding of equality and human rights and responsibilities

We recommend both the UK Government and the NI Executive take appropriate measures to raise awareness and promote understanding, including across and within departments and the wider public, of the Human Rights Act and the UK Government’s obligations under a range of international human rights Conventions and the UN Sustainable Development Goals.

Additional benefits will accrue for individuals and society as a whole if individuals and service providers are aware of and understand their respective rights and responsibilities.


Ensure rolling impact assessment and stakeholder engagement to inform steps to improve realisation of human rights

Government should take steps, on a rolling basis, to identify how individuals from across the full range of equality categories and service providers take account, and make use, of the human rights framework with a view to seeking out opportunities to promote equality of opportunity and mitigating any negative impacts.

Rolling impact assessment and stakeholder engagement should be a key element of such ongoing review, and may suggest how, and where there is scope to better to improve access to rights – in Northern Ireland and across the UK.

Action should be taken to encourage and secure the participation of under-represented groups, such as disabled people, in accessing rights.


Ensure the domestic human rights framework reflects international human rights standards

We recommend that consideration be given to how best to ensure that the international human rights standards as set out in a range of international human rights conventions are reflected domestically.

These conventions include, for example, the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (UNCRPD), the UN Convention on the Elimination of all forms of Racial Discrimination (UNCERD); the UN Convention for the Elimination of all forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW); the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC); and the Framework Convention for the Protection of National Minorities (FCNM).


Ensure human rights law reflects the particular circumstances in Northern Ireland

Any consideration of the human rights framework in the UK and Northern Ireland, including the HRA, must take full account of the specific history and circumstances of Northern Ireland and of the 1998 Agreement and devolution settlement.

We highlight the importance of the 1998 Belfast/Good Friday Agreement and note our concerns that any changes to the human rights framework have the potential to have far reaching impacts on the underpinnings of the improved society in Northern Ireland in which we now live.


Introduce a NI Bill of Rights, reflecting Northern Ireland’s particular circumstances

The Commission’s long-standing position is in support of the adoption of a strong and inclusive NI Bill of Rights, reflecting the particular circumstances of Northern Ireland.

A Northern Ireland Bill of Rights would provide an opportunity to make a clear statement of society’s commitment to certain values and a legal framework for ensuring that those values are advanced by all of society’s institutions. It also has the potential to be an important opportunity to strengthen the human rights protection afforded to the most vulnerable and marginalised people in Northern Ireland society, and to increase protection where existing law is inadequate.

Mindful of significant and increasing levels of race hate crime in Northern Ireland, we recommend that a NI Bill of Rights recognises and strengthens protection of the human rights of all communities in Northern Ireland, including minority ethnic communities.


Include a principle of equality in the Northern Ireland Bill of Rights

We recommend that a principle of equality includes a statement that everyone is equal before and under the law and has the right to equal protection and equal benefit of the law, including the full and equal enjoyment of all rights and freedoms.

The principle could also make clear that individuals should not be discriminated against across a range of equality grounds.


Strengthen Northern Ireland equality laws through single equality legislation

Equality law in Northern Ireland should be harmonised, simplified and updated so as to address significant inconsistencies and complexities and to ensure uniform protection against discrimination across the full range of equality grounds.

Equality law should be harmonised upwards, so as to strengthen equality rights and protections.


Strengthen Northern Ireland equality and human rights post Brexit

The need for additional measures to better protect equality and human rights is particularly important in the context of the impact of Brexit on equality and human rights protections in Northern Ireland.

In terms of specific additional measures to better protect equality and human rights after Brexit, we continue to recommend that:

  • human rights impact assessments are conducted in respect of any future trade agreements, to the standard set out in UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights Guidelines;
  • legislation should be passed to preclude conclusion or ratification of any international trade or investment agreement that would require or permit the reduction of any protections for human rights and fundamental freedoms in Northern Ireland, including those relating to non-discrimination and equality, ensured under UK law.
In addition, whilst we recognise the UK Government’s commitment contained in Article 2 of the Protocol, as set out below, the Article 2 commitment has its limitations. Therefore, we continue to call on the UK Government, and the NI Assembly as regards areas within its devolved competence, to ensure that Northern Ireland keeps pace with all EU laws, introduced on or after 1 January 2021, that strengthen equality and human rights. This should include rights introduced as a result of EU laws that do not amend or replace the Protocol Annex 1 Directives.

Further, in the development of any laws or policies relating to human rights reform in Northern Ireland, the UK Government and NI Executive should consider, and set out in detail, the extent to which any change/s engages Protocol Article 2 and ensure that there is no diminution to the rights and safeguards which fall within its scope.


Download 'Human Rights Framework: Equality Considerations' publications:


Contact us

If you would like to discuss this area of our work further, please email: 

Further Information

You can see some of our key consultation responses and related links via the tabs at the top of this page 


Consultation Responses

You can see the Equality Commission’s responses on a range of topics on our consultations response page.

Key Human Rights relevant responses include: 

Human Rights Act Reform


Northern Ireland Bill of Rights



Related Links: International Human Rights Frameworks

The Commission engages with international human rights bodies to advance key policy priorities and recommendations for equality in Northern Ireland. The need to reflect international human rights standards and to address shortfalls in compliance is of particular importance in light of the range of key inequalities experienced by equality groups in Northern Ireland, including in the areas of employment, education, housing and accommodation, and participation in public life.

See our recommendations to, and engagement with, the following international bodies:

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