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The Race Relations Act 1976

This essay will look to critically assess and discuss the view that, "The Race Relation Act (1976) broadened the scope of previous legislative enactments aimed at minimising the most overt manifestations of racial prejudice" and as to how far the Act has achieved one of its main aims of providing protection against discrimination to groups whom it was felt needed protection.

It can easily be argued that the Race Relations Act 1976 broadened the scope of previous legislative enactments in this area. This is because the common law had previously provided little scope for protection from racial prejudice prior to the enactment of the Race Relations Acts 1965 and 1968, as was evidenced in early decisions including Allen v. Flood, Sealey v. Tandy and Scala Bathroom (Wolverhampton) Ltd v. Ratcliffe and in a statement made by Lord Simon in Applin v. Race Relations Board that "The common law before the making of the first Race Relations Act (1965) was that people could discriminate against others on the ground of colour etc., to their hearts' content. This unbridled capacity to discriminate was the mischief and defect for which common law did not provide".

Therefore, the main problem with the Race Relations Act 1976 is that discrimination on grounds of religion is not within the scope of the Act, so religious groups such as Sikhs and Jews are not deemed to be 'racial groups'. This means the Act is not fulfilling its main goal of protecting minority groups within society from racial discrimination and prejudice. Since the enactment of the Race Relations Act 1976 there has been little discussion of this concept of labeling of ethnic groups under the scope of the Act as 'racial groups' by the Judiciary with the definitive view in this area put forward by Lords Templemann and Fraser in two very similar judgments in Mandla v. Dowell Lee. Since Mandla other ethnic groups have also sought to be classified within the scope of the Act including Muslims, Rastafarians and Gypsies, although only the latter group was included within the scope of the Act despite the nature of Article 9 of the European Convention on Human Rights, regarding freedom of thought, conscience and religion, that means this could be argued to the contrary.

In conclusion, whilst the scope of the Race Relations Act 1976 has been broadened to include the concept of indirect discrimination, it could be argued that the Act has not achieved its aim of providing protection against discrimination against those groups that the law felt needed protection. This is because legal acceptance as a 'racial group' is vital if any minority groups are to be effectively protected from racial discrimination, because if Muslims and Rastafarians, for example, are not legally recognized as being 'racial groups' they cannot utilise the protection of the Race Relations Act 1976 in this area to protect them from racial discrimination, even though this may in fact be contrary to the European Convention on Human Rights. But it is still clear that more needs to be done in this area because groups such as Muslims and Sikhs are being unnecessarily oppressed by the flaw within the law that fails to recognize them as being within the scope of the Act.

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