What is the Equality and Human Rights Commission? Chair investigated over bullying complaints

EHRC is the UK’s national equality body which keeps an eye on human rights (Victoria Jones/PA) (PA Wire)
EHRC is the UK’s national equality body which keeps an eye on human rights (Victoria Jones/PA) (PA Wire)

The Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) has requested a king's counsel (KC) to conduct an impartial investigation into the numerous accusations made against its chair, Kishwer Falkner.

It comes after EHRC staff have gathered a file with more than 40 allegations against Falkner.

The watchdog has not disclosed the specifics of the allegations, but it issued a statement in which it stated that it treats "allegations of bullying and harassment with the utmost seriousness, following the proper process, and instructing independent investigators where appropriate, in order to provide assurance to all parties concerned".

On Wednesday, May 24, in protest of the EHRC's stance on single-sex spaces, transgender activists held a demonstration with big bottles of urine at the group's London headquarters.

What is the EHRC?

EHRC is Great Britain’s national equality body which keeps an eye on human rights and promotes equality on nine different bases: age, sex, colour, gender, religion, and belief, pregnancy and maternity, marriage and civil partnerships, sexual orientation, and gender reassignment.

As a statutory non-departmental public body established by the Equality Act 2006, the Commission operates independently.

The funding is provided by the Government Equalities Office and they often work with the government to influence progress on equality and human rights.

They do not carry out government business or perform its functions.

What is their stance on trans rights?

In a letter to the UK women and equalities minister Kemi Badenoch on the potential amendment to the Equality Act 2010, EHRC stated that changing ‘sex’ to ‘biological sex’ would ‘bring greater legal clarity’ in several areas.

Following comments Falkner made in May 2021 to The Times, in which she stated that women had the right to question transgender identity without fear of abuse, stigmatisation, or loss of employment, Falkner and the EHRC under her leadership have come under fire from trans and other LGBTIQ+ organisations.

David Isaac, her predecessor as EHRC chair, claimed that during her leadership, the commission became politicised by the Conservative Party.

Additionally, EHRC came under fire for having secret meetings with anti-trans organisations like LGB Alliance and Fair Play for Women.

Scottish National Party MP John Nicolson, deputy chair of the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Global LGBT+ Rights in the UK Parliament, said: "Sadly the EHRC appears now to be working against, not for, LGBT rights. Our community no longer see it as our friend but as our opponent. It's yet another organisation tainted by Boris Johnson and his appointees."

Who is Kishwer Falkner?

Falkner is a politician and life peer who is a non-aligned member of the House of Lords, and was the chairman of the EU Financial Affairs Sub-Committee in the House of Lords from 2015 to 2019.

The 68-year-old is currently a member of the Bank of England‘s Enforcement Decision Making Committee. She is also a Visiting Professor at The Policy Institute at King’s College London and an honorary associate of the National Secular Society.

In December 2020, she became chair of the EHRC. Her appointment led to criticism both from her predecessor and staff members who said EHRC had become politicised and transphobic during her tenure.

In terms of her political career, she joined the Liberal Democrats in the mid-1980s and worked for the party in several posts till 1999. Falkner contested Kensington and Chelsea in the 2001 General Election and was on the Liberal Democrats list for London in the 2004 European elections.