Anyanwu and Another v South Bank Students' Union and Another

JurisdictionEngland & Wales
Judgment Date22 March 2001
Neutral Citation[2001] UKHL 14
Date22 March 2001
CourtHouse of Lords

[2001] UKHL 14


Lord Bingham of Cornhill

Lord Browne-Wilkinson

Lord Steyn

Lord Hope of Craighead

Lord Millett


and Another

South Bank Student Union

and Another

Commission for Racial Equality

My Lords,


This appeal turns on the correct interpretation and application of section 33(1) of the Race Relations Act 1976. Section 33 of the Act (as amended) provides:

"(1) A person who knowingly aids another person to do an act made unlawful by this Act shall be treated for the purposes of this Act as himself doing an unlawful act of the like description.

(2) For the purposes of subsection (1) an employee or agent for whose act the employer or principal is liable under section 32 (or would be so liable but for section 32(3)) shall be deemed to aid the doing of the act by the employer or principal.

(3) A person does not under this section knowingly aid another to do an unlawful act if -

(a) he acts in reliance on a statement made to him by that other person that, by reason of any provision of this Act, the act which he aids would not be unlawful; and

(b) it is reasonable for him to rely on the statement.

(4) A person who knowingly or recklessly makes a statement such as is mentioned in subsection (3)(a) which in a material respect is false or misleading commits an offence, and shall be liable on summary conviction to a fine not exceeding level 5 on the standard scale."


Section 33(1) is to be read in its context, as a provision in an Act passed to remedy the "very great evil" of racial discrimination (as recognised by Templeman LJ in Savjani v Inland Revenue Commissioners [1981] QB 458 at 466-467) and it must be construed purposively (see Jones v Tower Boot Co Ltd [1997] ICR 254 at 261-262, per Waite LJ). Since the 1976 Act is one of a trio of Acts (with the Sex Discrimination Act 1975 and the Disability Discrimination Act 1995) which contain similar statutory provisions although directed to different forms of discrimination, it is legitimate if necessary to consider those Acts in resolving any issue of interpretation which may arise on this Act. The framework of the 1976 Act, although familiar, is important in construing section 33(1). Part I (sections 1-3) defines what, for purposes of the Act, is meant by racial discrimination. Part II (sections 4-16) provides that certain discriminatory acts in the crucially important field of employment shall be unlawful and makes certain exceptions. Part III of the Act provides that certain discriminatory acts shall be unlawful in a number of different fields such as education (sections 17-19); the provision of goods, facilities and services by (among other providers) hotels, banks, insurers, recreational establishments, transport officers and professions (section 20); and housing (sections 21-24).


Part IV of the Act is entitled "Other unlawful acts" and includes a series of sections which includes section 33. Section 29 applies to discriminatory advertisements. Section 30 makes it unlawful for a person with authority or influence over another to instruct that other to do, or to procure or to attempt to procure that other to do, anything which is unlawful under Part II or Part III of the Act. Section 31 makes it unlawful to induce or attempt to induce any person to do any act which contravenes Part II or Part III of the Act. Section 32 makes employers and principals vicariously liable for the conduct of their respective employees and agents. Section 32(3) provides a defence to an employer in proceedings brought against him under the Act in respect of an act allegedly done by his employee, if he can prove that he took such steps as were reasonably practicable to prevent the employee from doing that act or from doing in the course of his employment acts of that description. Section 33, quoted above, completes this Part.


Part VIII of the Act governs the enforcement of its provisions and is of obvious importance if the Act is to have the teeth which Parliament doubtless intended it should. Section 53 makes plain that these enforcement provisions are to be read as both exclusive of any other means of enforcement and as exhaustive. Consistently with the modern practice of allocating employment disputes to specially constituted employment (formerly industrial) tribunals, section 54 provides that any complaint of a racially discriminatory act made unlawful by Part II of the Act (the sections dealing with employment), or under sections 32 or 33 in relation to such an act, must be made to an employment tribunal. The Act permits no other procedure. If the complaint is of a racially discriminatory act made unlawful by Part III of the Act, or under sections 32 or 33 in relation to such an act, proceedings can be brought only in a designated county court in England and Wales or a sheriff court in Scotland. Again, the Act permits no other procedure. Section 63 of the Act provides that proceedings in respect of a contravention of sections 29, 30 and 31 may be brought only by the Commission for Racial Equality, a body established by section 43 of the Act with important strategic duties which are there specified.


The expression "aids" in section 33(1) is a familiar word in everyday use and it bears no technical or special meaning in this context. A person aids another if he helps or assists him. He does so whether his help is substantial and productive or whether it is not, provided the help is not so insignificant as to be negligible. While any gloss on the clear statutory language is better avoided, the subsection points towards a relationship of cooperation or collaboration; it does not matter who instigates or initiates the relationship. It is plain that, depending on the facts, a party who aids another to do an unlawful act may also procure or induce that other to do it. But the expressions "procure" and "induce" are found in sections 30 and 31, not section 33, and are differently enforced; they mean something different from "aids" and there is no warrant to interpreting "aids" as comprising these other expressions. By section 12 of the Race Relations Act 1968, the predecessor of the 1976 Act, those who deliberately aided, induced or incited another person to do an act made unlawful by Part I of that Act were to be treated as themselves doing that act, but they could not be subjected to proceedings at the direct suit of the injured party and the 1976 Act adopted a different legislative approach. It is plain that a party who causes another to do an unlawful act does not necessarily aid him to do it. A farmer who starves his sheepdog, with the result that the ravening dog savages a new-born lamb, may reasonably be said to have caused the death of the lamb, but he could not be said to have aided the dog to kill the lamb. In the present appeal no issue arises on the meaning of "knowingly" in this context and it is unnecessary to consider what an aider must know to be liable under section 33(1).


Mr Anyanwu and Mr Ebuzoeme, the appellants, were students at and members of the South Bank University. As a result of elections held in May 1995 they were engaged to serve as full-time salaried officers of the South Bank Student Union for a fixed term of one year beginning on 1 August 1995. In that capacity they were trustees of the funds of the student union, which was treated as an educational charity. Questions were raised by the university about their conduct as trustees, and disciplinary proceedings were instituted. The university suspended both appellants as members of the university by letters dated 22 February 1996, which also forbade them from entering any university building including the student union until given permission to do so. Following the appellants' non-appearance at the disciplinary proceedings the university expelled them from the university with immediate effect by letters dated 29 March 1996 which again forbade them from entering any university building including the student union. It was of course impossible for the appellants to perform their duties as employees of the student union if they were unable to enter its premises and by letters dated 2 April 1996 to each appellant the student union treated the appellants' employment contracts as at an end. There is an unresolved question whether by these letters the student union dismissed the appellants, or whether the student union treated the contract of employment as frustrated by supervening impossibility of performance. That is not an issue before the House.


The appellants made complaints of unlawful racial discrimination against the student union and the university (and against other personal respondents whose joinder in these proceedings has been disallowed). In his form of application Mr Anyanwu summarised the grounds of his complaint, relying on the suspension of 22 February 1996, the expulsion on 29 March 1996 and the termination of his employment by the student union on 2 April 1996. He expressed the belief that he had been discriminated against on racial grounds, he being of black African origin. The brief summary of his complaint in the form of application was expanded in a typed statement: in this, a large number of accusations were made against a number of parties, and Mr Anyanwu again relied on the suspension of 22 February 1996, his expulsion on 29 March 1996 and his dismissal on 2 April 1996. Mr Ebuzoeme made a similar complaint in his form of application, relying on the same three events. He also submitted a statement in support of his claim, which also made a number of accusations of racial discrimination. He also placed reliance on the letters which suspended, expelled and dismissed him, and he summarised his case against the university in these terms:

"(a) Refusal to accept me as...

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