EHRC suspends ‘bullying’ investigation into chair Kishwer Falkner

Kishwer Falkner, wearing a multi-coloured scarf, speaks in a white room.

The investigation into the chair of the UK’s equalities watchdog over claims of bullying and transphobia has been suspended. 

Baroness Falkner of Margravine, head of the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC), was being investigated after dozens of reports of discrimination, transphobia, bullying, and harassment were made by civil servants.

Set to be conducted by employment barrister Gavin Mansfield KC, the probe was reportedly going to cost the taxpayer £100,000.  

The investigation was exposed in a Channel 4 news report claiming there is a “toxic culture” at the human rights organisation, with a high turnover of LGBTQ+ staff reported as a result. 

Previous reports have also suggested several senior staff members have left the organisation over increasing transphobia within the EHRC. 

“The EHRC is having a really, really damaging impact right now. 

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“It’s sending a strong message to trans people that your rights don’t matter,” a former staff member told VICE back in April. 

One complaint cited by Channel 4 states there is a “lack of trust in the impartiality and independence of our Board”. 

Another claims the 68-year-old chair, who has been in charge since 2020, called trans quiz show contestant Emma Laslett a “bloke in lipstick” at a meeting – an accusation denied by the EHRC’s chief executive, Marcial Boo. 

On Friday (26 May), The Telegraph reported the investigation had been dropped, just hours after more than 50 cross-party peers came out in support of Falkner who they said had been “irresponsibly attacked”. 

In a statement given to Channel 4, Falkner said she works to “promote the principles of equality and human rights” and takes the complaints made against herself “seriously”. 

She told the broadcaster: “It was considered appropriate to investigate the allegations through an independent investigator. 

“While that process continues, all I can do is explain that allegations were received in February in my capacity as Chair of the Commision.

“I will be cooperating fully with the investigation… and have every confidence in being exonerated.”

EHRC under scrutiny over trans rights

The EHRC has been under fire in recent months following an attitude shift towards trans issues. 

In April, Falkner wrote to women and equalities minister Kemi Badenoch, providing advice on altering the Equality Act 2010 so the characteristic of ‘sex’ means ‘biological sex’.

Falkner said the change would offer “greater legal clarity” but the trans community was horrified by the suggestion of the change. 

The chair herself has been criticised for her stance on trans rights, which have been seen as sympathetic towards gender critical viewpoints. 

During a visit to the UK, UN independent expert on sexual orientation and gender identity Victor Madrigal-Borloz highlighted concerns about the EHRC. 

In his report, Madrigal-Borloz said the human rights organisations actions towards the trans community are “wholly unbecoming of an institution created to ‘stand up for those in need of protection and hold governments to account for their human rights obligations’”.