Fawcett Society backs overhaul of sex discrimination laws

The Fawcett Society tasked a former High Court Judge to lead the review

A leading campaign group has called for a fundamental review of the UK’s sex discrimination laws, having argued that current legislation is not fit for purpose.

The Fawcett Society tasked a former High Court Judge, Dame Laura Cox, to lead a review into the current legal framework.

Evidence from trade unions and various other groups was collated and helped to inform Dame Laura’s findings, which were officially published this week.

One of the key recommendations was that the law relating to sexual harassment at work needed to be strengthened, a suggestion likely to be welcomed following last year’s #MeToo campaign – in which women around the world came forward to speak out about inappropriate behaviour.

Any such move would be underpinned by a change in the law, which would mean that female members of staff were protected not just from colleagues, but third parties such as customers and contractors.

Other proposals include specifically making misogyny a hate crime, reviewing domestic abuse orders and making a number of adjustments to criminal law.

Sam Smethers, the Fawcett Society’s chief executive, said: “As it stands, and when you take a step back and look at the law and see how all of this adds up, the legal system is fundamentally failing women at every turn. It’s time to say, ‘Enough is enough’.”

Specifically addressing the current shape of employment law, she suggested there needed to be far greater accountability.

“We’re in this culture where everybody is now talking about sexual harassment, so it seems absolutely indefensible to be in a situation that someone who you are serving a drink to in a bar or even working alongside you but employed by a different employer, your employer has no responsibility.

“We have to change that. It’s not acceptable because employers do have a duty of care to their staff. So many services are now contracted out so these situations are on the rise.”

Provisions for third party harassment had originally been included in the Equality Act, but were repealed in 2013 as part of efforts to cut red tape.