Equalities watchdog takes BNP to court

The British National Party is to be taken to court by the Government's equalities watchdog for refusing to change rules that bar membership to blacks, Asians and Jews.

The Equality and Human Rights Commission launched the legal action because it suspects that the BNP's constitution and membership criteria, which limits membership to ethnic groups emanating from the "indigenous Caucasian" race, break the Race Relations Act.

The BNP leader, Nick Griffin, and two other party officials are named in the county court proceedings, which begin in London next week. Harriet Harman, the Equalities Minister, welcomed the legal action, saying: "No party should be allowed to have an apartheid constitution in 21st- century Britain."

The commission wrote to the BNP two months ago, raising its concerns about the potential legal breaches and stating that it believed the BNP's rules would "continue to discriminate against potential or actual members on racial grounds", despite a pledge from the party to clarify the word "white" on its website.

"The BNP has said it is not willing to amend its membership criteria, which we believe are discriminatory and unlawful," said John Wadham, the head of the commission's legal team. "The commission has a statutory duty to use its regulatory powers to enforce compliance with the law, so we have today issued county court proceedings against the BNP. However, the party still has an opportunity to resolve this quickly by giving the undertaking on its membership criteria that the commission requires."

The deputy BNP leader, Simon Darby, said last night that the action was politically motivated. "This is a Government quango using the judicial process to try to nobble a political opponent," he added. "We have just won two MEPs. We have operated for years without any kind of problem. Now all of a sudden we have this.

"They cannot beat us through the democratic process, so they are trying the legal process as an alternative."

Mr Darby said the party leadership could not change the rules without the consent of its members, who overwhelmingly wanted the current restrictions to stay in place.

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