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Police Scotland lift recruitment ban for colour blind in face of legal threat

BY Sarah Mennie
Employment Law & HR
BG Purple

Police Scotland has recently changed its policy in relation to recruitment of colour blind individuals. Previously, applicants who suffered from colour blindness were not eligible for appointment.

The rationale behind this was that colour blind police officers may not be able to identify the colour of a suspect’s clothes or vehicle, which could be crucial to an investigation.

One such applicant, who did not wish to be named, felt that the policy was discriminatory and sought to raise a legal challenge against Police Scotland for the rejection of his application for being colour blind. Having taken legal advice it was apparently his intention to raise a claim on the grounds of indirect sex HR on the basis that colour blindness affects more men than women. 

Before the case ever reached the doors of any legal forum, however, Police Scotland announced that they were reversing their position on a comprehensive refusal of colour blind applicants. The applicant was offered a position and it was announced that other applicants who had been rejected due to their colour blindness would be offered the opportunity to reapply. 

Whilst Police Scotland maintains that the policy was, and still would be, legally compliant the new position will be to assess the extent of an individual applicant’s colour blindness and determine suitability on a case by case basis, rather than operating a blanket ban. 

Perhaps of influence to Police Scotland’s decision was the Scottish Government’s 2003 guidelines which set out that full colour perception was not a requirement to become an operational police constable.

Whilst we will never know how a tribunal would have decided the case, if the applicant was able to establish that the policy to reject colour blind applicants was indirectly discriminatory against men it would have fallen to Police Scotland to objectively justify the indirect HR by showing that the policy was "a proportionate means of achieving a legitimate aim”. In light of the above referenced guidelines this may have been a tricky argument to mount.

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