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Race relations legislation takes effect

2 April 2001 - The Race Relations (Amendment) Act 2000 comes into force today. It strengthens but does not replace the Act of 1976. Amongst other effects, it fulfils the recommendation of the Stephen Lawrence inquiry report which advocated that the 'full force' of race relations legislation should apply to the police. Chief Officers of Police are now liable for acts of discrimination by officers under their direction or control. As of today, people who feel that they have been racially discriminated against by the police can take their cases to the courts.

Members of the public can also take a variety of other race discrimination issues to court, including decisions to detain under the Mental Health Act and use of regulatory powers by local authorities in environmental health.

Public bodies now have to to assess where and how racial equality can be relevant to the manner in which they carry out their work and deal with any problems they become aware of. More widely, the new Act requires public bodies to take positive steps towards racial equality in both their employment practices and the services they give to the public. The Commission for Racial Equality can enforce this requirement if public bodies fail in their responsibilities.

According to Gurbux Singh, Chairman of the CRE: 'Britain today moves into a new gear on racial equality. All public bodies have new responsibilities and members of the public have new rights.

'Areas of discrimination that were immune from the Race Relations Act but which could have a devastating impact on people's lives have now been brought within its scope and individuals will be able to take cases to the courts.

'The public sector has not lived up to the justified expectation that it should deliver racial equality. It now has no option but to do so.

'Parliament, united with the agreement of all parties on this historic step, has put racial equality at the heart of the responsibilities of public bodies. They will now need to look at what they do, who they serve and who they employ, and make sure that they provide equality of opportunity across all their activities.

'This will end the waste of talent that discrimination imposes, improve the quality of individual lives and lay the basis for a new and positive relationship between public authorities such as the police and all members of Britain's diverse communities.'

The CRE has published a guidance document on the general duty which public bodies have to promote racial equality and a handbook detailing assistance the CRE can provide for members of the public in pursuit of complaints of racial discrimination.

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