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Government to answer to EC for alleged equality directive implementation failures

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The Government is facing legal action by the European Commission for alleged failure to properly implement certain aspects of European directives supporting equal treatment.

According to law firm Eversheds, this may give the Equality Bill further momentum as it approaches its second reading before the House of Lords this week and could see it take a step closer to the statute books and potential implementation in the spring.

Audrey Williams, partner and head of discrimination law Eversheds, said: "The UK Government will clearly not wish to be on the receiving end of legal proceedings and may wish to take steps to placate the European Commission.

"One way of doing so might be to ensure the relatively smooth passage of the Equality Bill but the two-month timescale for responding may not allow for that. The practical reality in any event is that infringement proceedings are known to take months, if not years, by which time the Equality Bill or any subsequent legislation may be concluded.

"What may be more interesting is whether the Government will opt to make further changes to the Bill in light of the threat from EU. Despite a favorable response to the introduction of claims by representative bodies on behalf of groups of individuals in 2008, the Government is still considering the options here and had planned to revisit this issue after the Equality Bill as a separate measure.

"As far as the infringement proceedings are concerned the Government now has two months within which to respond or it will face defending legal proceedings in the European Court of Justice. Whether in the meantime the Bill receives more impetus remains to be seen."

The news comes as women and equality minister Harriet Harman reportedly announced the Equality Bill could be watered down, with equal pay audits only being applied to employers with more than 500 staff.