Human rights commission appears before EU courts for first time in dispute over WRC powers
The Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission (IHREC) has appeared before the Court of Justice of the European Union (CJEU) for the first time in a court case concerning the powers of the Workplace Relations Commission (WRC).
The court is considering whether the WRC has the power to disapply national law that conflicts with EU law.
The original case relates to three men who sought to join An Garda Síochána between 2005-07, but who were refused entry under the Garda Síochána (Admission and Appointments) Regulations 1988, which set the upper age limit for entry as a trainee at 35.
Following their refusal, the men brought complaints before the WRC’s predecessor, the Equality Tribunal, arguing that the age limit amounts to age discrimination under the Employment Equality Act 1998, which 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 consider the complaints lodged by the men or to decide whether the Regulations were valid in 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, which found that the WRC did not have power under national law to disregard legislation, but 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.
The IHREC appeared before the Grand Chamber of the CJEU in Luxembourg to represent two of the men involved, and has argued that, in order to be effective on issues of discrimination under equality legislation, the WRC must have the authority under EU law to make a binding legal declaration where national and EU laws are inconsistent.
Chief commissioner Emily Logan said: “The Commission is representing two of the men at the centre of the original case and is appearing before the Court of Justice of the European Union for the first time. This is an important case which will clarify the extent of the authority of the Workplace Relations Commission in considering complaints that allege national legislation does not comply with EU law.”