Action threatened against fascist BNP

Who? John Wadham, 57-year-old legal director of the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC).

Why is he in the news? The EHRC has written a letter before action to the British National Party (BNP) over possible breaches of anti-discrimination law in its constitution and membership criteria, which appear to be restricted to white people. There are also concerns over its employment practices and provision of services to the public. The letter, sent to party leader Nick Griffin, asks the BNP to make changes to comply with the Race Relations Act 1976 or face an application for an injunction. The BNP says its rules are legal and that it is an exempted organisation under Sections 25 and 26 of the act, which permit exclusive ethnic organisations with a membership of 50 or more.

Background: Articles at London firm Birnberg under Gareth Peirce, qualifying in 1989. Legal officer for Liberty in 1990, director in 1995. Deputy chairman of the Independent Police Complaints Commission in 2003 before taking up current post in 2007.

Thoughts on the case: ‘This case is good evidence of why we need a statutory body with the power to bring such an action. Our predecessor, the Commission for Racial Equality, did not have the power to bring proceedings in its own name and there were few people from ethnic minorities who would have sought to join the BNP then take legal action over the fact that they couldn’t… As a regulator we have a statutory duty to investigate possible breaches of discrimination law. We’d take this action against any political party.’

Dealing with the media: ‘The media understand our job is to be the guardian of discrimination legislation. We’re not a campaigning organisation — our mission is set out by Parliament to be objective and even-handed.’

Career highlight: ‘The two issues that I’ve been passionate about throughout my career have been equality and human rights. For the first time there’s a statutory body to promote both. As a lawyer I can’t think of anywhere better to work.’

Catherine Baksi