Equality watchdog head Baroness Falkner investigated over complaintson May 24, 2023 at 10:56 am

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Baroness Falkner has “every confidence” that her name will be cleared.

Baroness FalknerImage source, ALAMY

The head of Britain’s equality watchdog is being investigated after bullying and discrimination allegations were made by staff.

The claims against Baroness Falkner, and other members of the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) board, were seen by Channel 4 News.

Baroness Falkner said she will present a “detailed rebuttal” to the investigators working on the case.

Some campaigners say the EHRC is not protecting transgender rights.

Last year campaigners called for the EHRC’s status as an independent group to be revoked over a row about its response to Scotland’s plans to make it easier for people to change their sex on their birth certificate.

Further tensions have since emerged after Baroness Falkner advised the UK government that it was worth considering redefining sex as “biological sex” in the Equality Act, in an area that she described as “polarised and contentious”.

A clarification to the Equality Act could make it easier to exclude transgender people from single-sex spaces.

Earlier this month, 30 LGBTQ+ charities led by Stonewall wrote to the Global Alliance of National Human Rights Institutions, saying the EHRC was a “failed institution” and “set on a course that would lead directly to a rolling back of trans people’s rights in Great Britain”.

Details of the allegations have not been shared by the watchdog, but Channel 4 News reported on Tuesday that some staff had said:

  • there had been an “increase in bullying, harassment and discrimination” within the EHRC
  • impartiality and independence from government is “under threat”
  • the EHRC chair and board have been “assisting the government in undermining trans rights by proposing amendments to the Equality Act”.

Channel 4 News also reported that two in five LGBT staff left the EHRC last year.

Baroness Falkner said she took the allegations “very seriously and with humility” and would be co-operating fully.

“I have worked my whole life to promote the principles of equality and human rights, which are close to my heart as a British-Pakistani woman in public life,” she said.

“I try to live those values, as well as to promote them.”

Baroness Falkner said she has not yet been interviewed for the investigation, but intends to present a “detailed rebuttal” and has “every confidence in being exonerated”.

EHRC chief executive, Marcial Boo, said he would not comment on specifics while the investigation was ongoing, but added that the watchdog would “continue to protect the rights of everyone in Britain, including those with the protected characteristics of sex and gender reassignment”.

“We treat allegations of bullying and harassment with the utmost seriousness.”

A government spokesperson said it was aware of the internal investigation and it would be inappropriate to comment until it is completed.

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