EU Court of Justice Issues Landmark Equality Law Ruling

Commission Provided Legal Representation in Luxembourg to Garda Candidates Who Challenged Age Discrimination Rules

The Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission (‘the Commission’) has today welcomed the landmark ruling of the Court of Justice of the European Union (‘CJEU’) in a long-running test case to determine whether the Workplace Relations Commission (‘WRC’) has the power to disapply national law that conflicts with EU law.

The Commission represented two of the men at the centre of a decade-long age discrimination case, and in June 2018 appeared before the Grand Chamber of the CJEU in Luxembourg to represent them. The Commission argued that, in order to provide an effective remedy where issues of discrimination are raised under equality legislation, the WRC must have the authority under EU law to disapply national law where it conflicts with EU laws. The Court today agreed.

The Grand Chamber of the CJEU has this morning handed down its judgment that EU law requires not only the courts but all the bodies of Member States (including in this case the WRC) to give full effect to EU rules. In paragraph 48 of the judgment the CJEU states that without this provision “…the EU rules in the area of equality in employment and occupation would be rendered less effective”. The Court underlined the fundamental importance of giving proper effect to EU equality law and providing an effective remedy.

The original challenge stemmed from the cases of three men who sought to join the Garda Síochána between 2005 and 2007, but who were refused entry based on the Garda Síochána (Admission and Appointments) Regulations 1988, which set the upper age limit for entry as a trainee at 35.

Following their rejection, the men brought complaints before the Equality Tribunal (the predecessor to the WRC) on the basis that the maximum age limit for entry to the Garda Síochána amounted to age discrimination under the Employment Equality Act 1998, which is the national legislation that gives effect to the EU Directive on equal treatment in employment.

However, the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform brought a case to the High Court challenging the authority of the Equality Tribunal to even consider the complaints lodged by the men seeking the disapplication of the Garda Regulations for conflicting with EU equality law. The High Court ruled that the Equality Tribunal was not entitled to declare that a national law was inconsistent with EU law, this being a power given to the High Court under the Constitution.

This case was appealed to the Supreme Court. Whilst the Supreme Court found that the WRC did not have power under national law to disregard legislation, it referred a question to the CJEU specifically to decide whether a body such as the WRC has the authority under EU law to make a binding legal declaration where national and EU laws are inconsistent. Had this decision not been overturned by the CJEU, people seeking to argue that national law conflicting with EU law be disapplied, would have to start their cases not in the WRC but in the High Court. This presents significant difficulties in terms of equity of access to justice for all.

Under its legal functions, set out in the Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission Act 2014, the Commission can, in certain circumstances, provide legal assistance to a person who wishes to bring a matter of human rights or equality of treatment before the Courts or the WRC. Given the strategic issues of principle raised in this case, the Commission provided legal representation to argue points around effective remedies, access to justice, EU and equality law before the CJEU.

Emily Logan Chief Commissioner of the Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission responded to the ruling today:

“The Commission provided legal assistance to two of the men at the centre of this significant case and appeared before the Court of Justice of the European Union in June to argue that equality legislation must be applied consistently as set out in EU law.

“The case has wide impact and potential for positive change in the equality sphere: it is clear from this ruling that the principle applies in equal measure to all tribunals, statutory bodies and administrative agencies which are charged with applying EU law.”

ENDS/

For further information, please contact:

Brian Dawson, IHREC Communications Manager,
01 8589601 / 087 0697095

Visit our website www.ihrec.ie or follow us on twitter @_IHREC

Notes to Editor

The full judgement of the Grand Chamber of the CJEU is available at the following link:
http://curia.europa.eu/juris/document/document.jsf?text=&docid=208381&pageIndex=0&doclang=en&mode=req&dir=&occ=first&part=1&cid=152514 

The Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission

The Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission is an independent public body, appointed by the President and directly accountable to the Oireachtas. The Commission has a statutory remit set out under the Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission Act (2014) to protect and promote human rights and equality in Ireland, and build a culture of respect for human rights, equality and intercultural understanding in the State.
The Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission is Ireland’s national human rights institution and is recognised as such by the United Nations. The Commission is also Ireland’s national equality body for the purpose of a range of EU anti-discrimination measures.

Under its legal functions set out in the Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission Act 2014, the Commission can, in certain circumstances, provide legal assistance to a person who wishes to bring a matter of human rights or equality of treatment before the Courts or the Workplace Relations Commission.

Assistance under Section 40 of the Act means any or all of the following
a) the provision, or the arranging for the provision of, legal advice to the applicant;
b) the provision, or the arranging for the provision of, legal representation to the applicant
c) the provision of such other assistance to the applicant as the Commission deems appropriate in the circumstances;

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