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May 02, 2023

The principle of equality is a fundamental assumption of a democratic society. It is well recognized that a corollary exists between equality and non-discrimination. To understand that we should first examine what we mean by equality and explore the characteristics that make it a progressive universal moral and legal principle.

Equality has been described as a “treacherously simple concept”, yet a diverse spectrum of
opinions exists as to what is equality and what should a society do to incorporate and promote this value. The traditional approach of national legal systems was to employ the concept of equality as a system of formal rules.

More recent constitutional reforms, informed by increasing academic debate, have sought to develop a more sophisticated concept of equality and have taken into consideration the richness and variety of modern human relations and the subtle characteristics which can lead to discrimination and disadvantage. A range of different opinions exists as to what model of equality should be employed within modern democratic states.

Accepting that the broad range of different views and theories regarding the nature of equality and non-discrimination can only be grasped within their own historical and cultural context, the focus of this article is nevertheless on what has informed various international and national legal standards.

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