Disfigurement: A visibly different approach to equality?

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Saunders, hannah 

The Equality Act 2010 (“the Act”) provides that someone with a severe disfigurement should be treated as meeting the definition of disability1. However, a lack of clear statutory guidance and case law on the meaning of ‘disfigurement’ mean that the parameters of this section of the Act remain uncertain. These parameters are under particular tension from the related concepts of appearance and disability, which partially overlap with disfigurement.

Through an analysis of the relationship between these three concepts, this paper will argue that ‘disfigurement’ should be read as encompassing a broader range of appearance-altering conditions than has, to date, been recognised. It will be argued that protection should extend beyond conditions such as scarring to include other visible differences.

The first part of this paper sets out what we know about the meaning of disfigurement, and how interpretive approaches can ascribe a clearer meaning to the relevant statutory provision. The second part considers how disfigurement differs from the concepts of appearance and disability, and how the relationship between these terms can be defined through an analysis of models of disability and relevant case law. It identifies several respects in which the current statutory provision seems to fall short of the implicit logic which drove its inclusion in the Act. Finally, the third part evaluates the extent to which a new definition of disfigurement could alleviate some of the identified weaknesses in the current law.

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Society of Legal Scholars Annual Conference
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