Last Updated: Friday, 26 December 2014, 13:50 GMT

U.S. Department of State Country Report on Human Rights Practices 1996 - United Kingdom

Publisher United States Department of State
Publication Date 30 January 1997
Cite as United States Department of State, U.S. Department of State Country Report on Human Rights Practices 1996 - United Kingdom, 30 January 1997, available at: http://www.refworld.org/docid/3ae6aa358.html [accessed 28 December 2014]
DisclaimerThis is not a UNHCR publication. UNHCR is not responsible for, nor does it necessarily endorse, its content. Any views expressed are solely those of the author or publisher and do not necessarily reflect those of UNHCR, the United Nations or its Member States.
Released by the Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor, January 30, 1997

 

The United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland (UK) is a longstanding, constitutional monarchy with a democratic, parliamentary government. A lower legislative chamber (the House of Commons), the center of parliamentary power, is elected in periodic multiparty elections. An upper chamber (the House of Lords), with the power to revise and delay implementation of laws, is made up of hereditary and life peers and senior clergy of the established Church of England. There is an independent judiciary, but Parliament may overrule its decisions.

Throughout the United Kingdom, police forces are responsive to, and under the effective control of, civilian officials. The Security Service Act of 1996, giving the intelligence agency MI-5 jurisdiction to act in support of other law enforcement agencies in the prevention and detection of serious domestic crime, received royal assent in July. In some areas of Northern Ireland, because of continued terrorist violence, army units operated to reinforce the Royal Ulster Constabulary (RUC). Although the security forces generally respect human rights and the rule of law, some members of the police have committed human rights abuses.

The United Kingdom has a highly developed and diversified market-based economy that provides most residents with a high standard of living. Certain geographic areas, particularly older industrial areas including Northern Ireland, suffer from higher than average unemployment. In addition, unemployment tends to be higher among some demographic groups, such as youth and racial minorities. The Government provides comprehensive social welfare services, including a national health system, housing and family benefits, and heavily subsidized higher education.

The Government respected the human rights of its citizens, but there were problems in some areas. Police occasionally abused detainees. The controversial reversal by the RUC chief constable of his earlier decision allowed Protestant "Orangemen" to parade through a predominately Catholic nationalist area of Portadown on July 11, leading to serious and widespread public disturbances throughout Northern Ireland. Although the chief constable justified his decision as necessary to prevent loss of life, Irish nationalists argue that the RUC reacted more aggressively and vigorously to quell nationalist disturbances than toward loyalist lawbreakers.

In January the Government announced that it was setting up an independent inquiry into, and inviting public comment on, the future need for counterterrorism legislation in Northern Ireland. Such counterterrorism legislation was renewed and strengthened by Parliament following the resumption of Irish Republican Army (IRA) terrorist violence in February. At year's end there was an upsurge in terrorist violence in Northern Ireland.

The Government is taking steps to combat violence against women and societal discrimination against nonwhite minorities.

Police believe paramilitary groups in Northern Ireland were responsible for nine killings as of September. Both Republican and Loyalist paramilitary groups continued to engage in vigilante "punishment" attacks on alleged "antisocial elements" and to exile "informers" by force. There have also been instances of arson against (Protestant) Orange halls and Catholic churches.

Respect for Human Rights

Section 1 Respect for the Integrity of the Person, Including Freedom from:

a. Political and Other Extrajudicial Killing

There were no reports of political killings by the Government, but several deaths of persons during civil unrest, in the course of apprehension, or while in custody raised questions about whether police and prison officers had used improper restraining techniques or excessive force against minority group members and criminal suspects. The Home Office banned the use of one restraining technique that was alleged to have been the cause of a prisoner fatality.

David Ewen, pursued by police after stealing an automobile in February, was cornered by police vehicles and verbally warned. When he did not get out of the car, a police officer opened fire on the side of the stolen vehicle, killing Ewen. The policeman was charged with murder, and his trial continued at year's end. A jury returned a verdict in December of unlawful killing in the case of Oluwashijibomi Lapite, who died in police custody in December 1994 after being placed in a suffocating choke hold. The cause of death was listed as asphyxiation. Following this incident, the police issued new guidelines banning the use of the choke hold. The independent Police Complaints Authority decided that no disciplinary action would be taken against any officer involved. In December an inquest jury returned a verdict of accidental death in the case of Wayne Douglas, a suspected burglar who died in police custody in 1995. Douglas' family will appeal the verdict to the High Court. A jury returned a verdict in November of "misadventure to which neglect contributed" in the case of Leon Patterson, who died in police custody in 1992 after being left naked and handcuffed on a jail cell floor. No police officers or jail personnel were punished in this case. In August an inquest reached a verdict of accidental death in the case of Brian Douglas, an Afro-Caribbean man who in 1995 died from hemorrhages and a fractured skull 5 days after his arrest. Earlier in the year the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) said that it would not prosecute the officers involved due to "insufficient evidence."

A police tribunal dismissed a case of neglect of duty against a senior police officer who supervised the police squad involved in the death of illegal immigrant Joy Gardner. This brought an end to all disciplinary proceedings in the case of Gardner, who died of brain damage in 1993 after police officers gagged her with adhesive tape when she resisted arrest. The Home Office no longer permits mouth restraints to be used in the removal of people under Immigration Act powers.

During July disturbances in Londonderry, Northern Ireland, an armored personnel carrier ran over Dermot McShane, a convicted Republican terrorist who had taken refuge behind a board fence during street fighting. The army claimed that the death was accidental, and the RUC appointed a senior detective to investigate. A police inquiry is under way into the death of Dairmud O'Neil, who was killed in September when police stormed a London residence where IRA bomb-making and other terrorist-related materials were found. A decision is pending by the CPS about whether to bring charges in the case of Richard O'Brien, an Irishman whom a Coroners Court found had been unlawfully killed by police in 1994. The CPS had earlier decided there was insufficient evidence to prosecute, but the family's attorney petitioned the CPS to institute criminal proceedings against the officers involved. Human rights monitors complained about delays in the criminal process.

Killings by Republican and Loyalist groups continued. In January a group calling itself "Direct Action Against Drugs" (DAAD), but believed to have strong links to the IRA, killed one person. In September the group claimed responsibility for the shooting death of a 31-year-old man. As of September, while there were numerous arrests, no persons had been charged in the cases of the DAAD murders of 1995 or 1996.

The January killing of reputed Irish National Liberation Army (INLA) chief of staff Gino Gallagher sparked a feud between two INLA factions, which through September resulted in six other deaths, including that of a 9-year-old girl.

Two innocent bystanders were killed and several hundred persons injured by the IRA when it detonated a massive bomb in the Docklands area of London in February, ending the cease-fire it had declared in August 1994 (see Section 1.c.). James Bradwell, a British Army warrant officer, died on October 11 from injuries sustained in an October 7 IRA double-bomb attack on a barracks and, minutes later, on a hospital at the British Army headquarters in Northern Ireland. Bradwell was caught in both explosions, caused by around 500 pounds of homemade explosives.

In July Michael McGoldrick, a Catholic taxi driver, was found murdered in his car in County Armagh, Northern Ireland. No one claimed responsibility for his murder, but it had the hallmarks of a Loyalist assassination and probably was perpetrated by a renegade faction of the Ulster Volunteer Force (UVF). In December a policeman was wounded during an IRA attack at a children's hospital; the subsequent wounding of a Republican in a car bombing thought to be perpetrated by a Loyalist group prompted fears of a resurgence of sectarian violence in the province.

The 1989 killing of Patrick Finucane, counsel to many IRA suspects, remains an open case. Although it was alleged that Brian Nelson, a former Loyalist paramilitary and agent for British military intelligence, assisted in targeting Finucane, the Northern Ireland DPP determined that the evidence was insufficient and decided not to bring charges against him. In February Nelson was freed from prison.

Coroners do not have the power to compel people who are suspected of involvement in extrajudicial killing to give evidence at inquests, and the relatives of those who have died do not receive advance disclosure of information, statements, and other evidence. In the June inquest into the death of Patrick Shanaghan, murdered by Loyalist paramilitary groups in 1991, the coroner agreed to applications by the Shanaghan family's lawyer to admit evidence that police officers threatened Shanaghan's life while he was under arrest and said that they would leak his name to a paramilitary group. The chief constable rebuked the coroner for straying outside his authority and refused to uphold the ruling.

b. Disappearance

There were no reports of disappearances attributed to the Government. At least 14 terrorist-perpetrated disappearances, dating back to 1972, remain outstanding without any significant investigative progress by the authorities. A seven-person RUC team works full time to solve the cases, but the victims, typically members of the security forces, suspected informers, or petty criminals have not been found.

c. Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman, or Degrading Treatment or Punishment

The law forbids torture and other cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment. Confessions thus obtained are not admissible in court, and judges can exclude even voluntary confessions. Detainees who claim physical mistreatment have the right to an immediate medical examination. Such a claim must be examined by a trial judge. There were no reports that government officials used torture.

Several incidents of police brutality toward criminal suspects occurred, including toward ethnic minorities. In February Amer Rafiq, who is of Pakistani origin, lost an eye due to injuries sustained in a police van following his arrest in Manchester for alleged public disorder offenses. The London Metropolitan Police have had to pay damages in several instances. In March a Hong Kong native, who was thrown in the back of a police van, punched, kicked, and insulted by three constables, was awarded $374,000 (220,000 Pounds) in damages against the London Metropolitan Police by a jury. Scotland Yard refused to discipline the officers involved and appealed the verdict.

Corporal punishment is still on the statute books in several British Caribbean dependent territories. It is rarely used in practice, but in May a British Virgin Islands youth was subjected to flogging after failing to pay a $1,000 fine for illegal cultivation of marijuana.

The Independent Commission for Police Complaints (ICPC), established by the Government, supervises police investigations in Northern Ireland. Authorized to review all complaints, it automatically supervises cases involving death or serious injury. It accepts information provided by a complainant and by any other sources, as well as that discovered by the police. The ICPC can direct the chief constable to bring charges against police officers. The ICPC reported that in 1995 it had received 2,328 complaints of official abuse and that its investigations had led to informal disciplinary action in 99 cases, formal disciplinary charges in 22, and the lodging of criminal charges in 14 more. Local human rights groups complain that the ICPC's powers are inadequate because it cannot act autonomously; it can only review cases in which a state actor or a citizen has filed a complaint.

In 1993 the Northern Ireland Secretary named an independent assessor of military complaints to deal with procedures regarding complaints of abuses by the army; he, too, has no independent investigative powers. His third report, released in May, noted that the army had largely implemented the recommendations of the two earlier reports. There were only 19 complaints in 1995, down from 217 in 1994, as the cease-fires took hold. The assessor criticized delays in processing (nine cases took more than 8 weeks to resolve) and suggested that letters denying army culpability should, where reasonable, give the complainants the benefit of the doubt in order to improve community relations.

The United Nations Committee Against Torture and many human rights groups have raised concerns about mistreatment of detainees in Northern Ireland, where suspects arrested under emergency legislation are interrogated in special holding centers.

In 1992 the Government appointed a senior barrister as Independent Commissioner for Holding Centers in Northern Ireland, with authority to make irregular, unannounced visits to any holding center, observe interrogations, and interview detainees. In January he and his deputy noted that 11 complaints of physical assault during detention (in a detainee population of 449) were received in 1995. Their report welcomed the Government's decision in January (not yet implemented as of October) to introduce a system for silent video recording of interrogations of suspects (at which legal representatives are not allowed) but called for introduction of audio recording as well.

There have long been accusations that security forces in Northern Ireland harass citizens, particularly young people, in areas where support for terrorists is considered strong. The Government strongly denies that such behavior is widespread or officially tolerated.

Police continue to use plastic bullets in crowd control situations, a practice restricted to Northern Ireland. The number of plastic rounds fired this year surpasses all but one prior year. This practice has been widely criticized by human rights monitors and the U.N. Committee Against Torture. The European Parliament has called for a ban on their use. According to RUC rules, plastic bullets should be aimed at the lower half of the body; numerous head and upper body injuries nevertheless have resulted from their use.

Prison conditions meet minimum international standards, and the Government permits visits by human rights monitors. A 1995 security crackdown has resulted in harsher prison regimes, particularly for those inmates categorized as "high risk."

In January the Home Secretary announced that female prisoners admitted to the hospital to give birth would no longer have handcuffs or any other physical restraints applied to them at any time during their hospital stays; nor would restraints now be applied during prenatal checkups unless there was a particularly high risk of escape.

IRA bombings targeting buildings and economic activities in England have resulted in civilian casualties. Two bombs in February in London injured a total of 108 persons, 2 fatally; another in June in Manchester injured more than 200. In September a police raid resulted in the seizure of 10,000 pounds of explosive material, ammunition, firearms, and vehicle booby traps from several caches in London. Police officials said that the evidence pointed to a planned large-scale terrorist attack. Republican terrorists are also believed to be responsible for a double explosion within Thiepval Barracks, Lisburn (British Army headquarters in Northern Ireland) on October 7. One soldier died later of injuries, and 31 people, including an 8-year-old girl, were injured.

Joseph Kelly, Brian McHugh, James Murphy, and Michael Phillips were arrested in London on September 23 following discovery of bomb-making and other terrorist materials at a London residence. The four were charged with conspiracy to cause explosions under the Prevention of Terrorism Act. They are being held at Belmarsh Prison awaiting trial.

Both Loyalist and Republican terrorists in Northern Ireland have carried out increasingly frequent "punishment" attacks, typically involving beatings with iron pipes and spiked clubs. The RUC recorded 79 Loyalist and 175 Republican assaults of this nature in 1996. Young men ages 14 years and over were the most frequent victims. In 1995 there were 141 Republican assaults and 79 by Loyalists. The Loyalists often, but not exclusively, target members of their terrorist cells who have broken ranks, while the Republicans more frequently extend their vigilante activities to the broader Catholic community, punishing "antisocial" activities (such as drug-trafficking and car theft).

d. Arbitrary Arrest, Detention, or Exile

British authorities can and often do make arrests or detain suspects without judicial warrants – especially in Northern Ireland, under laws applicable only there – when they believe that they have reasonable cause to suspect wrongdoing.

The Criminal Justice and Public Order Act of 1994 allows police officers to stop and search vehicles and pedestrians "where it appears expedient to do so in order to prevent acts of terrorism." The rules under the 1991 Northern Ireland Emergency Provisions Act permit an onduty soldier or security officer to arrest and detain for up to 4 hours "a person who he has reasonable grounds to suspect is committing or has committed or is about to commit any offense." The Prevention of Terrorism Act (PTA) is the most reviewed piece of legislation in the United Kingdom. It expires every 2 years and, due to the changing security situation, is amended or altered to account for those changes.

Outside Northern Ireland, suspects arrested without warrants must be released within 24 hours (or 36 hours if a serious arrestable offense is involved) unless brought before a magistrate's court. The court may authorize extension of detention by 36 hours and on further application by another 24 hours. Defendants awaiting trial have a statutory right to be granted bail unless there is a risk that they would abscond, commit an offense, interfere with witnesses, or otherwise obstruct the course of justice, or unless they were on bail when the alleged offense was committed. The minority (about 3 percent) of defendants who are remanded in custody are protected by statutory custody time limits, which restrict the period for which they can be held while awaiting trial to a maximum of 182 days unless the court grants an extension. In 1995 (latest figures) the average period for which defendants awaiting Crown court trial were held in custody was 139 days.

The Prevention of Terrorism (Temporary Provisions) Act allows the police to arrest without a warrant anywhere in the UK persons they have reason to suspect of being involved in terrorism. The authorities may detain such persons (even those under the age of 18) up to 48 hours without legal representation or judicial review. Suspects may be interrogated during this time, and confessions obtained may be used in subsequent court proceedings. Under the 1989 PTA in England or Wales, detainees are granted the right to have lawyers present during interrogation, but this is not the case in Northern Ireland. Detention without charge may be extended up to a further 5 days on the authority of the Home Secretary or, in Northern Ireland, the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland. Extensive PTA detention powers were held in breach of a ruling by the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) and have occasioned a derogation by the Government. For example, in February the ECHR ruled that the Home Secretary's power to decide whether or not to release young murderers violated article 5 of the European convention on human rights. The ruling calls for the Government to set up an independent judicial body to review the detention of juveniles who have committed murder.

Immigration legislation gives the power of administrative detention to immigration officers. There is no time limit for such detention and no right to have it reviewed by a court. In 1995 police detained a Punjab native with permanent residency in the UK, Raghbir Singh Johal, citing national security after the murder in London of a Punjabi newspaper editor. The Home Office has not permitted Singh to see any of the evidence on which it based its decision, has not told him what the allegations are against him, and will not afford him legal representation.

Refugee advocates complained about detention of about 750 asylum seekers, who are held in regular prisons and occasionally police cells, as well as in specially built detention centers. Unlike those accused of criminal offenses, the asylum seekers are given no written statement as to why they are detained, and their right to apply for bail is not automatic and requires a high level of surety. The Home Office states that detention is authorized only where there are good grounds to believe that a person will not comply with the terms of temporary admission and that the practice does not affect more than 1.5 percent of asylum seekers at any given time.

The Government does not practice exile (see Section 2.d. regarding exclusion orders), but terrorist organizations do. An organization that works with individuals and families under threat in Northern Ireland reported that up to the end of August it was aware of 238 cases of people who had been warned to leave the province, 63 of whom had actually done so. This compared with 215 cases for all of 1995.

e. Denial of Fair Public Trial

The judiciary is independent and provides citizens with a generally fair and efficient judicial process.

The UK has several levels of courts. The vast majority of criminal cases are heard by magistrates' courts, which are managed by locally based committees. Their decisions may be appealed to the Crown Court, which also hears criminal cases requiring a jury trial, or to the High Court. From the Crown Court, convictions may be appealed to the Court of Appeal, which in turn may refer cases involving points of law to the House of Lords. The Appellate Committee of the House of Lords (which consists of senior judges and is functionally distinct from the legislative arm) is the final court of appeal. Once all of these appeals have been exhausted, defendants in England and Wales may appeal to the Home Secretary to refer a case back to the courts if fresh evidence has emerged that casts doubt on the conviction. (Appeals may be made to the Northern Ireland Office and the Scottish Office in those jurisdictions.)

The law provides for fair trial, and the authorities respect this. In August the Home Office appointed the head of a new Criminal Case Review Commission to direct and supervise investigations into possible miscarriages of justice. The Commission, called for by the 1995 Criminal Appeal Act, is supposed to refer cases in which routine appeals have been exhausted for further appeal on factual, legal, and sentencing grounds. Members of Parliament objected when it turned out that the appointee belonged to the Freemasons, a secretive fraternal organization that includes in its membership many police officers. By year's end the Commission was not yet operational. Thus, cases involving possible miscarriages of justice must be referred to the Home Office for review.

Under the Criminal Justice and Public Order Act of 1994, judges have the power to instruct juries that they may draw an inference of guilt from a defendant's refusal to answer questions during interrogation or trial, although no conviction can be based solely on such an inference. Human rights groups and the U.N. Human Rights Commission have sharply criticized this change in the law. A similar provision is in effect in Northern Ireland.

Indigent defendants have the right to free counsel of their choice, with some exceptions. In June the European Court of Human Rights faulted the Government for not extending the duty solicitor scheme to poll and council tax defaulters, some 900 of whom are jailed annually.

All criminal proceedings must be held in public except those in juvenile court and those involving public decency or security. In a trial under the Official Secrets Act, the judge may order the court closed, but the sentencing must be public. Convictions can be appealed to successively higher courts.

In Northern Ireland, special "emergency" restrictions affect due process. Under the Northern Ireland Emergency Provisions Act of 1991 (EPA), the Government can suspend the right to trial by jury for certain terrorist-related offenses. Such offenses are tried instead by a "Diplock Court" consisting of a judge presiding without a jury. If the decision is to convict, the judge must justify it in a document that becomes part of the court record, and an appellate court may overturn it on substantive as well as legal grounds. The Diplock Courts have been widely criticized. The EPA also permits the use of uncorroborated confessions, but they cannot be the sole basis for conviction.

The 1988 Criminal Evidence Order allows judges to draw an adverse inference when a suspect refuses to answer questions. In February the ECHR found in John Murray v. United Kingdom that the denial in Northern Ireland of access to counsel for the first 48 hours in a situation where the right of the defense might thus be irretrievably prejudiced was, whatever the justification, incompatible with article 6 of the European convention on human rights.

There were no reports of political prisoners.

f. Arbitrary Interference with Privacy, Family, Home, or Correspondence

Warrants are normally required for a police search of private premises. However, under the 1991 EPA, onduty members of the armed forces or policemen in Northern Ireland may enter and search "any premises for the purpose of arresting a person for an arrestable offense, but only if he or she has reasonable grounds for believing that the person being sought is on the premises."

Primarily due to fear of intercommunal violence, many Protestant and Catholic families in Northern Ireland moved away from mixed or border neighborhoods.

In Northern Ireland, paramilitary groups have attacked and threatened to attack the homes and families of police and politicians.

Section 2 Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

a. Freedom of Speech and Press

Strongly held common-law tradition, an independent press, and a democratic political system combine to secure freedom of speech and the press, including academic freedom. Viewpoints critical of the Government are well represented. The print media are dominated by a handful of national daily newspapers, all privately owned and independent (although often generally aligned with a political party). About half the electronic media are run by the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC), which is funded by the Government but enjoys complete editorial independence. The remainder are run by corporations under renewable government license.

Human rights organizations and journalists criticized the 1981 Contempt of Court Act, which allows courts to order a journalist to disclose a source if this is deemed to be "in the interests of justice." In March the ECHR found that the Government had violated the right to free expression when it held journalist William Goodwin and his publishers in contempt of court for refusing to disclose the identity of a source who had given Goodwin confidential corporate information that, if published, might have caused financial harm to a company.

The doctrine of Public Interest Immunity (PII) allows government ministers to prevent certain information from being disclosed during litigation, on the grounds that its revelation would be contrary to the public interest. For those charged with disclosing official information, the 1990 Official Secrets Act denies any defense that the information is already in the public domain or that its publication is in the public interest.

b. Freedom of Peaceful Assembly and Association

The law provides for the right of peaceful assembly, but the right is routinely limited where it would impose a cost on public convenience. The annual "Marching season" in Northern Ireland, a period of several weeks in the summer during which the 100,000 members of the Orange Order and similar Protestant organizations stage traditional parades to celebrate their history and cultural identity, posed special problems to the Government as it tried to respect this right in practice. Similar organizations in the nationalist community also march during the summer, although the smaller scale of those parades has presented law enforcement authorities with fewer difficulties.

After initially prohibiting it, police permitted Orangemen to march along Garvaghy road in Portadown in July, despite local nationalist residents' objections. The RUC chief constable said that he reversed his decision because the potential for loss of life was very high as the likelihood increased, during a 5-day standoff, that more than 50,000 Orangemen would try to breach police lines. Many observers on both sides of the community perceived the Government's reversal in the face of unlawful Unionist protests as a victory of might over the rule of law, and the incident damaged the RUC's reputation as an impartial police force.

In July the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland appointed an independent commission headed by the Vice Chancellor of Oxford University to examine the parades issue and make recommendations for the future. The Government also announced that a review of the RUC's handling of public order situations would be undertaken by the Inspector of Constabulary, an independent inspectorate covering every police force in the United Kingdom, including the use of plastic bullets and would include the issue of police protection in the face of determined assaults.

Under the PTA, the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland may proscribe any organization that "appears to him to be concerned in, or in promoting or encouraging terrorism occurring in the United Kingdom and connected with the affairs of Northern Ireland." Membership in proscribed Loyalist and Republican paramilitary groups is punishable by up to 10 years' imprisonment. Supporting these paramilitary groups is also illegal and an imprisonable offense, as is wearing clothing that arouses "reasonable suspicion" that the wearer belongs to or supports proscribed organizations. Human rights monitors, while acknowledging the deterrent effects of proscription powers, argue for the repeal of this law because it violates the fundamental right of freedom of association and the individual's right to hold opinions and beliefs.

c. Freedom of Religion

Government policy and general practice ensure freedom of religion. There are two legally recognized official churches of the state: the (Anglican) Church of England and the (Presbyterian) Church of Scotland. Wales has not had an established church since 1920. Freedom of worship has been legally guaranteed to members of all faiths and denominations since the mid-19th century. Blasphemy of the Christian religion is outlawed. The blasphemy law, however, is rarely enforced. In Northern Ireland, the Constitution Act of 1973 prohibits public authorities from discriminating on the basis of religious or political belief.

d. Freedom of Movement within the Country, Foreign Travel, Emigration, and Repatriation

Citizens enjoy freedom of movement within the country and in foreign travel, emigration, and repatriation. However, the Home Secretary may exclude from Great Britain anyone believed linked with terrorism in Northern Ireland, except anyone born in Great Britain or resident there for 3 years; and the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland can likewise exclude persons not native to or resident in that province. Currently 31 persons (down from 36 in 1995) are subject to exclusion orders. Several Members of Parliament, human rights groups, and the media have objected to exclusion orders. The Secretary of State need not reveal the grounds for exclusion, and the evidence is not tested in any court. There is no right of appeal to the courts, but appeal may be made informally to an independent advisor.

The Government cooperates with the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and other humanitarian organizations in assisting refugees. First asylum is provided under a temporary protection program started in 1992. All evacuees are screened by the UNHCR. Approximately 3,700 people have been accepted under the program, which allows them 6 months' "leave to enter the country" on arrival. They can then apply for an automatic 3 1/2-year extension of their stay and may apply for refugee status at any time. Such applications are considered in accordance with the criteria in the 1951 U.N. refugee convention. If recognized as refugees, they may remain indefinitely.

New measures beginning in February denied social welfare benefits to refugees who had not sought asylum as soon as they entered the country. The measures are intended to discourage false asylum claims. According to government reports, new asylum applications fell dramatically. After an Appeals Court ruled in July that the Government's plan to withdraw all benefits was illegal, the number of asylum applications nearly doubled, from 920 received in June, to 1,700 received in July. Immigration officials claim that this is proof that many claiming to be political refugees are actually economic migrants.

Saudi dissident Mohammed al-Masari entered the UK illegally and applied for asylum. His initial request was denied, due to the circumstances of his entry, but the courts prohibited immigration officials from deporting him to his home country because his safety there could not be guaranteed. The Government then considered sending Al-Masari to a third country, Dominica, but he was able to demonstrate that his safety could not be assured there either. Finally, Al-Masari was granted permission to remain for 4 years, with the option of applying for permanent residency at the end of that period.

Section 3 Respect for Political Rights: The Right of Citizens to Change their Government

Citizens have the right to change their government and freely exercise that right. The Government is formed on the basis of a majority of seats in the House of Commons. Elections are held at intervals not to exceed 5 years.

Participation in the political process is open to all persons and parties. All citizens 18 years of age and older may vote. Northern Ireland has city and district councils, as in the rest of the UK, but with somewhat fewer powers. England and Wales also have county councils, while Northern Ireland does not. (Scotland's structure is different still.) Despite periodic attempts, there has been no devolved government in Northern Ireland since 1972 because of the situation there.

Parties committed to the establishment of some form of Scottish parliament received some 75 percent of the vote during the last general election (in 1992). The Scottish National Party, which holds four seats in Parliament, advocates independence for Scotland.

British dependent territories, other than Hong Kong, have small populations, under 60,000, and all are ruled by appointed governors or administrators assisted by executive councils (usually appointed) and legislative assemblies or councils (partly elected).

Women and minorities face no legal constraints on voting or holding office. Women members constitute about 10 percent of the membership of the lower legislative chamber and 5 percent of the upper one. Several members of minority ethnic groups serve in Parliament.

Section 4 Governmental Attitude Regarding International and Nongovernmental Investigation of Alleged Violations of Human Rights

A wide variety of human rights groups operate without government restriction, investigating and publishing their findings on human rights cases. Government officials are cooperative and responsive to their views. In 1973 the Government established a Standing Advisory Commission on Human Rights (SACHR) to monitor human rights in Northern Ireland but has not adopted many of its security-related recommendations.

A number of international, nongovernmental human rights organizations, including Amnesty International and Article 19, are based in the UK. The Government cooperates fully with international inquiries into alleged violations of human rights.

Section 5 Discrimination Based on Race, Sex, Religion, Disability, Language, or Social Status

The Race Relations Act of 1976 prohibits discrimination on the basis of race, color, nationality, or national or ethnic origin and outlaws incitement to racial hatred. No legislation exists to specifically outlaw racial discrimination in Northern Ireland. Discrimination on grounds of religious or political opinion is unlawful in Northern Ireland but not in Great Britain. Discrimination on the basis of religion is only illegal in Great Britain when its effect is to discriminate against a member of a minority ethnic group. The Government respects and enforces all extant antidiscrimination laws, which concentrate on employment and the supply of goods and services.

Women

Statistical and other evidence indicates that most victims of societal violence are women. Domestic violence constitutes one-third of all reported crimes against women and accounts for almost 25 percent of all reported violent crimes. The Government believed that the problem of stalking was becoming so acute that it promised to introduce a new law that could result in stalkers being jailed for up to 5 years.

The law provides for injunctive relief, personal protection orders, and exclusion orders for women who are victims of violence. The Government provides shelters, counseling, and other assistance for victims of battery or rape, and it offers free legal aid to battered women who are economically reliant upon their abusers. The Government actively prosecutes perpetrators of domestic violence, and the law provides for their imprisonment. The courts have held that nonconsensual marital sex can constitute a criminal offense. A 1994 law abolished the warning that judges had previously been required to give juries to the effect that a victim's testimony alone should not be adequate for a rape conviction. The Criminal Justice and Public Order Act of 1994 made sexual (as well as other intentional) harassment a criminal offense.

The law provides for equal opportunity between the sexes, but women experience some discrimination in practice. Nevertheless, according to the Equal Opportunities Commission, there has been significant progress in equal opportunity for women at work since the Commission was set up following the passage of the Sex Discrimination Act. The Equal Opportunities Commission supports persons who bring discrimination cases before industrial tribunals and courts, and it produces guidelines on good practice for employers. Women in Britain earn approximately 20 percent less than their male counterparts in comparable positions. A government minister cochairs the Women's National Commission, a forum for women's organizations that presents women's views to the Government.

The 1975 Sex Discrimination Act as amended in 1986 prohibits indirect as well as direct discrimination in training, education, housing, and provision of goods and services, as well as in employment. Women have equal rights regarding property and divorce.

Children

The Government demonstrates its strong commitment to children's rights and welfare through its well-funded systems of public education and medical care.

While there is no societal pattern of abuse directed against children, indications are, despite the lack of reliable data, that child abuse is nevertheless a problem. Various laws covering England and Wales stipulate that children have the right to apply for court orders, to give or withhold consent for medical treatment (for those capable of making an informed decision), to make complaints to the relevant local authority, to have their ethnic, linguistic, and religious background considered in decisions affecting them, to have reasonable contact with their family (usually applied in a circumstance where there has been abuse), and in general to be consulted regarding their desires.

In September a tribunal commenced examination of allegations of child abuse in public children's homes in Wales over the last 20 years. The hearings followed allegations of systematic physical and sexual abuse of hundreds of children by staff and were expected to last for 12 months.

People with Disabilities

The Disability Discrimination Act passed in 1995 outlaws discrimination against disabled persons in provision of access to public facilities, by employers of more than 20 workers, service providers (apart from those providing education or running transport vehicles), and anyone selling or renting property. The 1993 Education Act imposes specific duties on local education authorities to make provision for the special educational needs of disabled children. Disabled rights groups continued to complain that the Government had declined to create an enforcement body for the Discrimination Act.

Rights Now, a consortium of over 50 independent organizations campaigning for laws to end discrimination on the grounds of disability, reported that employers were 6 times more likely to turn down a disabled person for a job interview than a nondisabled applicant with the same qualifications; that only 80,000 wheelchair-accessible houses were available, and that in the last general election 88 percent of polling stations were inaccessible to disabled people.

Access to buildings is improving but inadequate. Many buildings and train stations are so old that they do not have elevators. Since 1985 government regulations have required that all new buildings meet the access requirements of all persons with impaired mobility. In 1992 the Government put in place similar regulations for sensory-impaired persons. Government regulations mandate that by the year 2000 all taxis be accessible to wheelchairs.

Religious Minorities

Despite government efforts, the unemployment rate for Catholic men in Northern Ireland remained twice that for Protestant men. The Fair Employment (Northern Ireland) Act of 1989, as amended, aims to end even unintentional or indirect discrimination in the workplace. A fair employment tribunal adjudicates complaints. All public-sector employers and all private firms with over 10 workers must report annually to the Fair Employment Commission on the religious composition of their work force and must review their employment practices at least once every 3 years. Noncompliance can bring criminal penalties and loss of government contracts. Victims of employment discrimination may sue for damages. While critics of the act have asserted that its targets and timetables are too imprecise, most leaders of the Catholic community have praised it as a positive step.

There have been improvements in fair housing, education, and provision of goods and services, although there is no legislation to prohibit discrimination on the basis of religion in Great Britain.

While active recruitment of Catholics by the Northern Ireland civil service has produced rough proportionality in overall numbers, the service has acknowledged that Catholics remain significantly underrepresented in its senior grades, and in 1993 it declared its intention to overcome this imbalance. Service-wide employment cutbacks have thus far hampered its efforts. Government efforts to increase recruitment of Catholics into the police force (currently 92 percent Protestant) and related security fields in the province have been hampered by IRA assassinations and death threats, as well as widespread antipathy in the Catholic community to the security forces. The number of Catholics joining the RUC increased somewhat during the August 1994 to February 1996 cease-fire period but has fallen since, despite continuing recruitment efforts.

National/Racial/Ethnic Minorities

Although the law prohibits discrimination based on race (except in Northern Ireland), persons of African or south Asian origin face occasional acts of societal violence and some discrimination. Incitement to racial hatred is a criminal offense punishable by a maximum of 2 years' imprisonment. The Government strictly enforces the laws and regulations in this area.

The U.N. Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination noted with serious concern in March that among the victims of death in custody in the UK were a disproportionate number of members of minority groups; that police brutality appeared to affect members of minority groups disproportionately; and that allegations of police brutality and harassment were reportedly not vigorously investigated and perpetrators, once guilt was established, not appropriately punished.

A government-appointed but independent Commission for Racial Equality (CRE) provides guidelines on good practice, supports persons taking court action under the Race Relations Act of 1976, and may initiate its own court action. After investigating a complaint, the CRE may issue a notice requiring that the discrimination be stopped. The CRE monitors the response to such a notice for 5 years.

Following a 2-year examination of the army's household cavalry, the CRE in March found that there had been racial discrimination in recruitment and transfer and racial abuse and harassment in individual cases. The Ministry of Defense agreed to take steps, including monitoring of ethnic recruitment and prompt investigation of complaints, to redress these problems.

Section 6 Worker Rights

a. The Right of Association

Workers have the right to form and join unions, and the Government fully respects this right in practice. Unions are free of government control. Like employers' associations, they must have their accounts certified by the Government. Senior union officers must be elected by secret ballot. The law mandates secret ballots before a strike call, prohibits unions from disciplining members who reject a legal strike call, and allows members to lodge complaints against their union with a government-appointed commissioner.

There is no specific statutory "right to strike." Voluntary cessation of work may be considered a breach of contract. A system of legal immunities from prosecution for unions engaged in lawful industrial action was narrowed by acts of Parliament in the 1980's. These acts exclude secondary strikes and actions judged to have political motives; unions encouraging such strikes are subject to fines and seizure of their assets. The legislation also restricts the ability of unions to act against subsidiaries of prime employers with which they are in dispute when the subsidiaries are not party to the dispute and are the employers of record.

In 1993 the Council of Europe (COE) determined that British labor law violated the European Social Charter by permitting an employer to dismiss all employees who take part in a strike and then, after 3 months, to rehire them selectively. The Council requested that the British Government notify them of the measures to be taken to remedy this defect, but the Government has not done so because it is no longer a party to the Charter.

Legislation in 1978 and 1990 made it illegal to deny employment on the grounds that the applicant is not a union member. The Trade Union Reform and Employment Rights Act of 1993 set new procedural requirements for union strikes, dues collection, and membership rules. It also made it possible for private citizens, when deprived of goods or services due to strike action, to seek damages and to obtain assistance in this effort from the Government. The Trade Unions Congress (TUC) in 1993 lodged complaints with the International Labor Organization (ILO) on various provisions of the 1993 Act (see Section 6.b.). In 1995 a court upheld a provision of the Employment Protection Act of 1978, as amended by the Employment Act of 1988, allowing employers to offer workers financial inducements to give up trade union representation. In 1996 the Committee of Experts of the ILO found this law in substantial violation of Convention 98 which guarantees the right to organize and bargain collectively and asked the UK to amend its legislation. The Government has not yet acted on this recommendation.

Unions participate freely in international organizations.

b. The Right to Organize and Bargain Collectively

Although there is no legal obligation for employers to bargain with workers' representatives, and while labor-management contracts are not enforceable in the courts, collective bargaining is long standing and widespread, covering about 40 percent of the work force.

Workers who believe themselves victims of antiunion discrimination may seek redress through industrial tribunals. Remedies available include payment of indemnities and reinstatement.

Contrary to ILO Convention 98, it is lawful for employers or others to circulate blacklists of union members seeking employment. In 1993 the ILO concluded that the British Government was obliged to protect union members from such discrimination, but the Government has not responded to this.

There are no export processing zones in the UK.

c. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor

Forced or compulsory labor is prohibited and is not practiced.

d. Minimum Age for Employment of Children

School attendance until the age of 16 is compulsory. Children under the age of 16 are not permitted to work in an industrial enterprise except as part of an educational course.

e. Acceptable Conditions of Work

There is no legislated minimum wage. The Trade Union Reform and Employment Rights Act of 1993 abolished the wage council system, which prior to September 1993 had established minimum hourly wages and overtime rates for adult workers in 26 low-wage industries. No legislation limits daily or weekly working hours.

The Health and Safety at Work Act of 1974 requires that the health and safety of employees not be placed at risk. A Health and Safety Commission effectively enforces regulations on these matters and may initiate criminal proceedings. Workers' representatives actively monitor the enforcement. Workers can remove themselves from hazardous conditions without risking loss of employment as provided in the European Union Framework Directive on Safety and Health.

In November the European Court determined that an EU directive limiting the workweek to 48 hours in most circumstances was applicable to the UK. The Government argued that EU directives dealing with the Social Chapter should not apply in the UK because of its "opt out" from this provision, but agreed to enforce the directive while undertaking to modify it via changes in the jurisidiction of the European Court.

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