Pembroke Horizons: Series

Date and time

2 Nov 2020 17:00 to 17 Dec 2020 17:00



Pembroke Horizons has been created to provide an interactive, research-based series of virtual events throughout the year, led by the Fellows of Pembroke College. 

2nd November, 5pm Register now

‘Inequalities exposed: the right to equality and the Covid Pandemic’ - Professor Sandra Fredman will be interviewed by Professor Rebecca Williams 

This presentation is based on research by Professor Sandy Fredman, Dr Meghan Campbell and Dr Aaron Reeves. It draws on a paper entitled:  ‘Palliation or Protection: How Should the Right to Equality Inform the Government’s Response to Covid-19?’ forthcoming in the International Journal of Discrimination and the Law.

Covid-19 will not be the great leveller but the great revealer.[1] It is true that this pandemic draws attention to our shared humanity by virtue of that fact that no-one is immune from the disease, including the British Prime Minister and the US President. But this virus does not generate equality simply because it is blind and unbiased. Rather, this pandemic has exposed and exacerbated the inequalities that are already obvious as well as those that are often hidden from view.[2] While government measures have certainly been helpful in some areas, they have also maintained and even deepened some of the existing fractures in society. The question of equality must be front and centre of a social justice response to the disease. This is all the more so because if some in society cannot be looked after and treated, both medically and economically, everyone suffers. 

Our research examines what role equality law can play in addressing these inequalities. We argue that while there is great potential in existing legislation, there is a need for both policy-makers and courts to apply a more searching and nuanced understanding of the right to equality if this potential is to be realized. Most importantly, it should be recognized that the right to equality consists in more than treating likes alike regardless of their race, gender, disability or other similar protected characteristics. It requires an appreciation of the complex ways in which disadvantage, stereotyping, lack of voice and structural obstacles interact to cause and sustain inequality. This means that the right to equality must be multidimensional, simultaneously redressing disadvantage; addressing stigma, stereotyping prejudice and violence; facilitating participation; and accommodating difference and addressing the need for structural change.[3] 

Our research examines the challenges presented by Covid-19 for equality law and consider how the law should respond. We start by examining how the burdens of confronting this pandemic as a society fall more heavily on those already at the bottom end of the scale of inequality, with a particular focus on women, children, and ethnic minorities. We show how stigma, stereotyping, prejudice and violence both cause and are perpetuated by socio-economic disadvantage, and how this is intensified by the lack of voice and structural obstacles. We then ask whether and to what extent the current legal structures protecting the right to equality can be mobilized to redress such inequalities. There are two main legal vehicles to address these challenges. The first is the duty imposed by the Equality Act 2010  on public bodies to have due regard to the need to eliminate unlawful discrimination and to promote equality of opportunity in carrying out their functions (the Public Sector Equality Duty or PSED).[4] The second is falls under the Human Rights Act 1998, which incorporates the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR). Under Article 14 ECHR, the State has a duty to secure the enjoyment of Convention rights without discrimination. We show that current judicial application of these sets of duties is unduly deferent to public authorities.

 We show how, to fulfil the requirements of both these legal duties, the courts should subject policies and practices to close scrutiny under multi-dimensional right to equality.


[1] “Newsnight” (BBC, 9 April 2020).

[2] Aaron van Dorn, Rebecca Cooney and Miriam Sabin, ‘COVID-19 Exacerbating Inequalities in the US’ (2020) 395 (10232) Lancet 1243.

[3] S Fredman, ''Beyond the Dichotomy of Formal and Substantive Equality: Towards a New Definition of Equal Rights' in I Boerefijn and others (eds), Temporary Special Measures (Intersentia, 2003); S Fredman, 'Substantive Equality Revisited ' (2016) 14 International Journal of Constitutional Law 712

[4] Equality Act 2010, s.149


17th December, 4pm Register now

‘Politics After Populism’ - Professor Stephen Whitefield will be interviewed by Professor Brian A'Hearn


Past events: 

‘The politics of history and memory’ - Professor Adrian Gregory and Professor Stephen Tuck

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