26 May 2023

Equality and Human Rights Commission says it has ‘paused’ independent investigation into chair Baroness Falkner

The Equality and Human Rights Commission has announced it has “paused” an independent investigation into its Chair Baroness Kishwer Falkner.

On Tuesday, this programme revealed that Baroness Falkner was under investigation by an external barrister after allegations about her conduct from a number of staff. Our report also examined claims of a toxic culture at the Commission, allegations of bullying and harassment, claims that there is a high level of staff turnover and internal concerns about its independence and impartiality. The report sparked a lively debate, with accusations that Falkner was the target of a “hit job” by radical pro-trans activists inside the Commission. Today the Board said it had decided to pause the investigation so that it could seek legal advice on the impact of leaked confidential information. It said it must ensure the investigation’s integrity and that it is fair to all parties concerned. Today’s news was welcomed by one of Lady Falkner’s supporters.

Baroness Hayter of Kentish Town said: “I think that is for the lawyers to look at and see, you know, whether whether by having gone public, it’s so undermines the possibility of a fair and open investigation, or whether it would be still be possible to hear whatever complaints there are, and I don’t know the detail of them. I think that’s the right thing to do. But certainly, what should not happen is that people who don’t like the work of the HRC, at the moment, should try and undermine it by attacking the woman who leads the organization, rather than entering into dialogue on the absolute issue, which of course, as you know, is about the definition of of sex and whether it means biological sex or not. That’s the issue that needs discussing, not attacking, attacking the female head of the organization.”

In a statement to Channel 4 News Lady Falkner told us:

“I am hugely grateful to the public for the support and encouragement I have received over the last week, since an independent investigation into me was first disclosed. It is a credit to our resilience as a public-spirited nation that so many have expressed their confidence in my leadership of EHRC, have offered to help fund my costs, or otherwise sent in a quiet word of encouragement and strength. Many, many of you have also shared your own experiences of unfairness and injustice, which are humbling.

We at EHRC are here above all, to stand up for the public interest. The Board and I have that front and centre in everything we do – as we must, day in and day out. The organisation has been going through a transformation programme to turn it from a source of policy and advice-giving across a wide range of subjects, to a sharper focus on actual delivery.  To ‘say’ less, and ‘do’ more. As every leader who has tried to turn around an organisation knows, your staff are the most important element of achieving change. I am proud that most staff have embraced this journey with a clear- eyed focus on the end goal – becoming the trusted equality regulator that serves everyone.

Our Board has different powers to most other organisations. Parliament decreed in the Equality Act 2010, that we, the Board, have the responsibility to take all strategic policy decisions after advice from our team. We are strong, united and clear-eyed in our attempt to balance rights across the spectrum of our work, sometimes in highly contested areas of policy.

I regret that, during that process, we have not managed to carry everyone within our organisation with us, but to decide is to choose – carefully, about what our decisions mean for those affected. I am concerned that the publicity about our internal matters is distracting us from our important work and hope that we will be given the time and space to continue to do what we seek  – to deliver for the British people. I have relished public service all my life and continue to do so with vigour and determination.“