Once the 1970 anti-discrimination law was on the statute book, individuals gained the right to challenge discriminatory practices. They used it to extend it by litigations, which widened the boundaries of the employment laws to include discrimination on the grounds of race or gender. They also sought and gained financial compensation from employers who failed to live up to their legal obligations. In 1993 a court case removed the ceiling on compensation awards in sex and race discrimination and thus made discrimination a costly business for employer. Within two years average award in sex discrimination cases had risen by 31% and in race discrimination cases by 63% (Equal Opportunity Review 1994 no 67 1996).

Initially the Commission for Racial Equality and the Equal Opportunity Councils had the task of safeguarding the legislation and initiating procedures against employers who failed to live up to the requirements. But in the 1980s it was thought that these organisations would embark on fishing expeditions.

They were challenged by the courts and as a result for a considerable time formal investigation became heavily dependent on individual complaints. But litigation though extremely useful in extending the laws are very costly in terms of time money and personal hardship for the individuals who embark on them. Furthermore it is difficult to protect individuals involved in litigation against victimisation.

Eventually in the 1990s it was finally recognised that there could exist institutional discrimination. After a high profile failed murder enquiry in the case of Shanon Laurence, the police stood accused of institutional racism. Since then it is possible, at least in terms of employment opportunities, career progression and levels of pay, to demand an overview of institutional policies.