Compact in action: Black and ethnic minority charities

Barrister Karon Monaghan will review the BME code in light of recent legislative changes.

The Compact contains five codes of good practice. They relate to funding and procurement, volunteering, consultation and policy appraisal, community groups and black and minority ethnic charities.

The BME code receives little attention, but it contains some useful government pledges towards voluntary organisations. For example, if the Government withdraws funding from BME charities, the code suggests that it should consider ways of keeping the money within the BME sector.

The code was initiated in 2001. Since then, there has been a raft of legislation on race relations, diversity and human rights, such as the establishment of the Commission for Equality and Human Rights and the forthcoming Single Equalities Bill.

This has prompted the Commission for the Compact to pay human rights barrister Karon Monaghan £15,000 to carry out a legal review of the BME code.

Monaghan, who has advised public bodies on equality law, will consider how relevant the code is and come up with proposals by the end of the month for updating it. Charities will be able to comment on her recommendations during a consultation in the autumn.

"For the code to remain relevant and effective, it must reflect up-to-date legal standards and best practice," says Monaghan.

Nick Drew, a policy adviser at the commission, says the BME code needed urgent attention. "There is more law relating to it than any other area of the Compact," he says.

He describes Monaghan's £15,000 fee as "good value for money" for a member of the Queen's Counsel: "Karon is hugely respected in the equalities field and we needed someone of her stature to show that we are serious about making this code more useful."

Further code updates seem likely. Bert Massie, Commissioner for the Compact, said this month that it was beginning to show its age. "Some codes have aged better than others and together they do not form a coherent and comprehensive set," he said.

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