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U.S. Department of State Country Report on Human Rights Practices 1994 - United Kingdom

Publisher United States Department of State
Publication Date 30 January 1995
Cite as United States Department of State, U.S. Department of State Country Report on Human Rights Practices 1994 - United Kingdom, 30 January 1995, available at: [accessed 31 May 2016]
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.



The United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland (UK) is a constitutional monarchy with a democratic, parliamentary government elected in periodic, multiparty elections. Human and civil rights are recognized by statute and by strongly-held traditions, but there is no written constitution. The legal system treats human rights as assumed unless limited by statute.

Throughout the United Kingdom, civilian police forces are responsive to, and controlled by, elected officials. In Northern Ireland, because of terrorist violence, army units reinforce the Royal Ulster Constabulary (RUC).

The United Kingdom has a highly developed industrial economy. The Government provides comprehensive social welfare services.

Terrorist bombings and killings by the illegal Provisional Irish Republican Army (Provisional IRA) and other "Republican" (Catholic) and "Loyalist" (Protestant) terrorist groups in Northern Ireland and Great Britain continued to constitute the greatest violations of public order. However, on August 31 the Provisional IRA announced a "complete cessation of military operations," and the main Loyalist groups announced a similar cease-fire on October 13. Notwithstanding this, the Provisional IRA continued to engage in vigilante "punishment" attacks on alleged "antisocial elements," and to exile "informers" by force; and one of its local units carried out an armed robbery in which a participant killed a postal worker. The Government has reacted cautiously to the cease-fire."The troubles" in Northern Ireland during the past 25 years alone have taken a heavy toll: over 3,167 people killed, including 296 police and 647 military personnel, and over 38,558 injured (1,955 in vigilante "punishment shootings)." Over 9,983 explosions have caused extensive property damage as well as deaths. In Great Britain, more than 100 people have died in Provisional IRA attacks during the 25 years. In 1994, as in 1993, no deaths related to the troubles were caused by the security forces, despite persistent and sometimes lethal (see Section 1.a.) attacks on them by terrorists. Nonetheless, allegations of past use of excessive force by the security forces continued to be a matter of contention.*A separate report on Hong Kong, a dependent territory of the United Kingdom, follows this report.

In Northern Ireland, there has been widespread criticism of laws and procedures governing detention that deny the right to immediate counsel and that encroach on the right to silence. Also much criticized have been the use of uncorroborated confessions and the placement of teenagers in detention facilities filled mainly with adults. There continued to be allegations that security forces physically and psychologically abused detainees in holding centers.

Emergency antiterrorist measures enacted during the past 20 years restrict freedom of movement for 69 suspected terrorists and supporters. Also, primarily due to fear of terrorist violence, many Protestant and Catholic communities in Northern Ireland have become segregated, and workers are sometimes reluctant to commute across sectarian borders.

Parliament passed a Criminal Justice Act in November that, among other things, extends to Great Britain the encroachments on the right to silence that have been in effect in Northern Ireland since a 1988 law. This legislation, which has drawn much public criticism, enables courts to draw a negative inference from a suspect's refusal to answer questions under some circumstances.


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, although a human rights group questioned the police shooting of an armed robber. In Northern Ireland, 59 persons were killed by terrorists (37 by Loyalists, 22 by Republicans); 6 were British security personnel, killed by the Provisional IRA.

The Committee on the Administration of Justice (CAJ), an independent Northern Ireland organization, has continued to claim there have been some 340 killings by the security forces under disputed circumstances since the current phase of "the troubles" began in 1968, with criminal prosecutions in only 32 cases, and 4 convictions by the end of 1994.

During 1994 the Belfast coroner abandoned three inquests into 1982 killings by security forces--of three Provisional IRA terrorists, two members of the terrorist Irish National Liberation Army (INLA), and one youth, under what critics charged was a shoot-to-kill policy--after the Government refused on national security grounds to release the findings of police investigations.

In the case of three Provisional IRA terrorists killed in Gibraltar by UK security forces in 1988, the European Commission on Human Rights decided the Government did not use unnecessary force, but referred the case to the higher-level European Court of Human Rights, whose decision is still pending.

The trial of a police officer for killing 19-year-old Kevin McGovern concluded with a verdict that the officer had not intended to kill the student.

The court trying a soldier in the Royal Irish Regiment, Alan O'Leary, for the 1992 killing of a teenager acquitted him of a murder charge but found him guilty of manslaughter, and sentenced him to 4 years in prison.

There were no significant developments in the case of the 1986 killing of Patrick Finucane, counsel to many Provisional IRA suspects. The case remains open.

The RUC investigates all killings committed in Northern Ireland by its officers as well as by the Army. The Independent Commission for Police Complaints (ICPC), established by the Government, supervises police investigations. 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 advise (but cannot require) the Chief Constable to take disciplinary action against police officers.

The European Convention on Human Rights stipulates that lethal force should be used only when "absolutely necessary," while British law calls for it to be "reasonable under the circumstances." Human rights groups have criticized the British standard as deficient, but British courts have ruled that lethal force may be applied only if there is imminent and unavoidable danger to life. Courts generally assume that a police officer who aims and fires a weapon intended to cause serious bodily harm; the issue then is whether there was justification for such intent. If not, the only applicable charge is murder, requiring a life sentence; the courts have been unwilling to impose such a heavy penalty in borderline cases. The alternative charge of manslaughter is applicable in death cases only if there is no intent to cause bodily harm; there have been few convictions on this basis.

Human rights organizations have called for the establishment of an independent public inquiry to investigate allegations of police threats to defense lawyers in Northern Ireland and of alleged collusion between the security forces and the Loyalists. Amnesty International in February released a report on political killings in Northern Ireland which included no new information but concluded the Government had not "taken adequate steps to halt collusion." The Government admitted that, while its policy explicitly forbids collusion, on occasion some soldiers break the rules. The authorities charged two British soldiers with passing information on Republican activists to Loyalist paramilitaries; the cases are pending.

For the third year in a row, Loyalists killed more people than did the Provisional IRA, although the latter launched a greater number of potentially lethal attacks. Loyalists tended to be indiscriminate in shooting suspected Republicans and other Catholics, while the Provisional IRA tended to target security forces, known Loyalists, and, in widespread bombings, commercial or security installations. The Provisional IRA also abducted, tortured, and murdered a Catholic mother of three whom it suspected of cooperating with the police.

b. Disappearance

There were no reports of disappearances attributed to government forces. Terrorists in Northern Ireland continued to abduct suspected informers, and to hold families hostage during their operations.

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

British laws forbid torture and other cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment. Confessions thus obtained are not admissible in court, and judges can exclude even voluntary confessions. Nonetheless, Helsinki Watch asserted that in the United Kingdom, "evidentiary rules in nonjury courts permit the admission into evidence of unreliable confessions, some of which may have been secured by abusive treatment in detention."There continued to be allegations that police have physically and psychologically abused detainees, including teenagers. A new code of practices took effect on January 1, 1994, further standardizing police interrogation procedures and strengthening the oversight requirements. Detainees who claim physical mistreatment have the right to an immediate medical examination. Such a claim must be examined by a trial judge.

The "Ballymurphy Seven," a group of teenagers arrested in connection with an attack on the RUC, alleged police used physical and mental coercion to elicit their confessions. Charges against four of the seven were dropped in July after the court decided there were significant questions regarding their state of mind during interrogation; but the court firmly concluded there had been no police abuse. The remaining three were released on bail in October, and their cases are pending.

An appellate court found the prosecution had failed to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the police had not intimidated Paul Hill into confessing to the 1974 murder of a former soldier; the court overturned Hill's conviction.

The ICPC (see Section 1.a.) reported that in 1993 it received 1,209 complaints of official abuse, that its investigations led to the substantiation of 25, the disciplining of 88 police officers, and the lodging of criminal charges against 6 more. 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 has no independent investigative powers. His first report, in May 1994, noted that, of 210 formal complaints in 1993, 16 were substantiated, but in only one case was a soldier severely disciplined.

The U.N. Committee Against Torture as well as many human rights groups have raised concerns about ill-treatment of detainees in Northern Ireland, and recommended that interrogations in police custody be videotaped. The Government has resisted doing so, on the grounds that taping could compromise operations and jeopardize informants. Instead, in December 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 on television monitors, and interview detainees. His first report, in January 1994, found some substandard conditions but no significant human rights violations. A Helsinki Watch report, issued later, noted allegations by detainees under age 18 that they were subjected to physical and mental abuse while in holding centers, and were pressured to become informers.

There are accusations that security forces in Northern Ireland frequently 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. Security forces have also been accused of more serious abuses. The CAJ (see Section 1.a.) reported that the claimed harassment included threats to kill, kidnap, or maliciously prosecute. Most complaints come from Republican neighborhoods, but after police crackdowns on Loyalist terrorism, reports of house searches and street harassment in some Protestant areas increased. Officials assert that soldiers and police found guilty of harassment are punished severely, but the officials have provided no data or details.

Both Loyalist and Republican terrorists in Northern Ireland have frequently carried out "punishment" attacks, typically involving shooting the victim through one or both knees at short range. In April the Provisional IRA carried out 16 punishment shootings during a 2-hour period in Belfast. Since the August 31 cessation, both sides seem to have shifted to punishment by beatings with iron pipes and baseball bats.

Prison facilities in the UK vary depending upon location. Remand facilities tend to be antiquated, overcrowded, unsanitary, and/or deficient in exercise areas. Most permanent facilities are good, but an official investigator found some with overcrowding, other substandard conditions, or lax discipline. Facilities in the regular prisons in Northern Ireland have improved notably in recent years, and are now excellent, but conditions at the three holding centers are substandard.

d. Arbitrary Arrest, Detention, or Exile

British authorities can and often do make arrests or detentions without judicial warrants--especially in Northern Ireland, under laws applicable only there (see below)--when they believe they have reasonable cause to suspect wrongdoing.

Outside Northern Ireland, suspects arrested without warrants must be released within 36 hours unless brought before a magistrate's court. The magistrate may authorize extension of detention by an additional 60 hours, or, in cases of crimes of violence, for periods of up to 3 years pending trial. Persons charged with "nonserious" offenses can request release on bail; bail is almost automatically granted in cases not involving violence (unless the suspect previously committed a crime while on bail), but otherwise is often denied.

Under the latest Northern Ireland (Emergency Provisions) Act (EPA), passed in 1991, members of the armed forces on duty in that province can arrest without a warrant any person they have reason to suspect of any offense or intent to commit any offense. Such suspects may be held for up to 4 hours, and then must be transferred to police custody or released.

Anywhere in the UK, the most recent Prevention of Terrorism (Temporary Provisions) Act (PTA), passed in 1989, allows the police to arrest without a warrant persons they have reason to suspect of being involved in terrorism. The authorities may detain such persons (even those under 18) for 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. Detainees under the 1989 PTA in England or Wales are granted the right to have lawyers present during interrogation, but this is not the case in Northern Ireland. Judicial review may be delayed up to a further 5 days on the authority of the Home Secretary or, in Northern Ireland, the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland. Less than 25 percent of the detainees under the PTA are subsequently charged with any criminal offense.

The Government does not practice exile (see Section 2.d. regarding exclusion orders), but the terrorist organizations do. Provisional IRA and Loyalist paramilitaries in past years have forced numerous people to leave Northern Ireland, by threatening death or injury if they remain. An organization that assists threatened persons, Families Against Intimidation and Terror, dealt with 35 cases in 1993 (latest data), including seven entire families.

e. Denial of Fair Public Trial

The law provides for fair trial, but in practice there have been some serious exceptions. In the late 1980's, after 10 years of public pressure, the Home Secretary directed the courts to reconsider several cases. Appellate courts did so and concluded that: lower courts often relied too heavily on uncorroborated confessions and on presumed integrity of the police; appellate judges tended to accept lower-court rulings without checking for procedural flaws and new evidence, and occasionally displayed open hostility to the defense; courts sometimes accepted tainted forensic evidence; and prosecutors sometimes withheld exculpatory evidence from the defense.

In response, the Government in 1991 established a Royal Commission to review all aspects of the criminal justice system in England and Wales. The Commission's report, issued in 1993, included 352 recommendations. In 1994 the Government announced its intent to establish in the following year an independent review body for appeals of suspected miscarriages of justice.

In November the Parliament enacted a Criminal Justice and Public Order Bill. Under it, judges may instruct juries that they can draw an inference of guilt from a defendant's refusal to answer questions during interrogation or trial, though no conviction may be based solely on such an inference. Human rights groups have sharply criticized this provision. A similar one has been in effect in Northern Ireland since 1988.

An indigent defendant has the right to free counsel of his or her choice. All criminal proceedings must be held in public except those in juvenile court or 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 1973 EPA, the Government suspended the right to trial by jury there for certain terrorist-related offenses, because terrorists often intimidated the judiciary, jurors, and lawyers. Such offenses are tried instead by a "Diplock Court," 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 anywhere in the UK. The 1988 Criminal Evidence Order allows judges to draw adverse inference when a suspect refuses to answer questions.

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

Warrants are normally required for a police search of private premises. However, under the EPA, on-duty members of the armed forces or policemen in Northern Ireland may enter any premises if they believe they have "reasonable grounds of suspicion" that the entry is necessary to preserve peace and order.

In Catholic communities in Northern Ireland, where distrust of the Government has deep historical roots, many believe that the conduct of some members of the security forces in carrying out security checks constitutes unwarranted harassment and intimidation. Such allegations also occur in Protestant neighborhoods, albeit less frequently. The Government intensively trains security personnel in proper procedures, but acknowledges that violations of the rules occasionally occur.

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 press. 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 (though 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.

In September the Government removed Sinn Fein from its list of proscribed terrorist organizations and their supporters, whose voices may not be broadcast in the electronic media. The broadcasting ban remains in place.

Human rights organizations continued to criticize the Official Secrets Act of 1990, which prohibits disclosure of a broad range of foreign policy and national security information. They assert that, in the absence of freedom-of-information legislation, the Act shields government activities from public scrutiny, including improper or illegal activities if any. Alleged offenses under the Act may be tried in secret, and the Government need not disclose its justification for holding a secret trial. However, the Act is seldom invoked and has not prevented the disclosure of numerous internal government documents and alleged wrongdoings. Attempts by the Government in the 1980's to prosecute officials who leaked documents generally failed.

b. Freedom of Peaceful Assembly and Association

The Public Order Act of 1986 gives police broad powers to restrict or ban public demonstrations, marches, and gatherings when they deem that violence or vandalism is likely to result. The police rarely ban demonstrations; in recent years they have invoked the Act primarily to prevent "New Age travelers" from gathering on private property or at ancient monuments such as Stonehenge.

The PTA and EPA include sections prohibiting membership in, or support of, specified organizations involved in terrorism.

c. Freedom of Religion

Government policy and practice ensure freedom of religion. In Northern Ireland, the Constitution Act of 1973 prohibits public authorities from discriminating on the basis of religious or political belief (see Section 5 regarding the Fair Employment Act). Ministers of the two official churches--the (Anglican) Church of England and the (Presbyterian) Church of Scotland--are ineligible to sit in the House of Commons, but the most senior ones hold seats in the House of Lords.

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 69 persons 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 makes generous provision for political refugees, but faced with an exponential rise in asylum applications in recent years, it passed legislation in 1993 to speed processing of unsubstantiated requests. Human rights groups have claimed the legislation undermines Britain's commitment to provide haven for legitimate refugees.

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

Citizens have this right, and freely exercise it. The Government is formed on the basis of a majority of seats in the House of Commons, which are contested in elections held at intervals not longer than 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.) From 1922 to 1972, Northern Ireland had a devolved provincial Parliament at Stormont, which was suspended because its domination by the unionist majority was seen as contributing to the troubles. Attempts have been made since then to restore devolved government.

Women and minorities face no legal constraints on voting or holding office. The Head of State is a woman. The Head of Government from 1979 to 1990 was a woman. Two women are members of the present Cabinet. Both the Labour Party and the Liberal Democrat Party have instituted a policy of reserving a substantial number of candidacies for women, with the goal of equalizing the number of their male and female members of Parliament (M.

P.'s). Several members of minority ethnic groups serve in Parliament. 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).

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

of Human RightsThe many nongovernmental human rights organizations operate with no government interference. In 1973 the Government established a Standing Advisory Commission on Human Rights to monitor human rights in Northern Ireland; but the Government has declined to adopt many of its recommendations.

A number of international nongovernmental human rights organizations, including Amnesty International, are based in the United Kingdom. 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 StatusBritish laws prohibit discrimination on the basis of race, color, nationality, or national or ethnic origin, and outlaws incitement to racial hatred; except that racial discrimination is not specifically outlawed in Northern Ireland. The Government respects all the anti-discrimination laws. In 1991 the Prime Minister announced that sexual orientation would not longer be a bar to receiving a security clearance, but the Ministry of Defense has continued to dismiss male and female homosexual members of the armed services on grounds of "incompatibility with the military services"; some 75 have been administratively discharged every year on the basis of information obtained in routine investigations by the Special Investigations Bureau.


The law provides for equal opportunity as between the sexes. An Equal Opportunities Commission (EOC) supports persons who bring discrimination cases before industrial tribunals and courts, and it produces guidelines on good practice for employers. Employed women throughout the UK earned approximately 25 percent less than their male counterparts in comparable positions.

Although the UK has no written law specifically prohibiting sexual harassment, the common law recognizes it as a valid claim for unfair dismissal. In August a court convicted an employer of sexual harassment and two counts of sexual assault, sentenced him to 18 months in prison, and awarded the victim a record $53,720 (34,000 pounds).

The 1975 Sex Discrimination Act as amended in 1986 prohibits indirect as well as direct discrimination in employment, training, education, housing, and provision of goods and services. Industrial tribunals in 1994 ruled that the Ministry of Defense had acted improperly in having required pregnant soldiers, prior to a 1990 change in regulations, to quit or be discharged. The tribunals awarded the plaintiffs substantial damages, the highest exceeding $460,000 (300,000 pounds); a court later ruled that some of the awards had been excessive.

Women have equal rights regarding property and divorce. Statistical and other evidence indicates that most victims of violence are women. The law provides for injunctive relief, personal protection orders, and exclusion orders. 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 abuser. It 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. In 1994 London municipal authorities launched a "zero tolerance campaign" to raise public awareness of the extent of domestic violence, promote legislative change, and provide adequate support to battered women and their children.


While there are no reliable data on child abuse, indications are that it is a problem in the United Kingdom.

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.

National/Racial/Ethnic Minorities

The Secretary of State for Northern Ireland has undertaken to investigate possibilities for legislation that specifically outlaws racial discrimination in that province; such a law would fill the sole gap in the United Kingdom's legislated prohibitions of discrimination based on race, color, nationality, or national or ethnic origin. The Secretary also has undertaken to determine what more the Provincial Government should do to promote equal treatment of ethnic groups.

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. In June the CRE launched a campaign, "Uniting Britain for a Just Society," to change attitudes throughout the Kingdom so as to make racial discrimination socially unacceptable.

Although the law prohibits discrimination based on race, persons of African or South Asian origin face substantial unofficial discrimination. An inquiry conducted by the Council for Legal Education, a nongovernmental organization, found that racial discrimination by barristers was a key factor in the high failure rate among black students attempting to qualify for the bar; the report recommended a series of reforms. Several studies showed that ethnic minorities were less likely to obtain jobs and mortgages and more likely to live in overcrowded housing than were whites. Members of Asian or African minorities were also the targets of racial insults and occasional "skinhead" violence.

Police recorded over 9,000 racial incidents in England and Wales alone in 1993 (latest data), and a government report in March estimated that, nationwide, the total including unreported incidents was some 130,000 in 1993, which was double the 1989 figure. The great majority involved verbal abuse, but there were also incidents of violence by skinheads.

In London's East End in early 1994, a series of nine apparently racially motivated beatings of Asians by white males was followed by two killings, by Asians, of white youths--a 13-year-old in February and a 12-year-old in August. In the first beating incident, police succeeded in promptly identifying and arresting 5 of the 20 to 30 perpetrators.

Religious Minorities

Although discrimination in employment on the grounds of religious belief has been unlawful since 1976, it has continued to occur in Northern Ireland, including at times by local governments. While active recruitment of Catholics to the Civil Service has produced rough proportionality in overall numbers, in 1992 the Northern Ireland Civil Service acknowledged that Catholics remained significantly underrepresented in the senior grades, and in November 1993 it declared its intention to overcome this imbalance.

For a variety of historical and social reasons, the Protestant community controls much of the local economy in Northern Ireland, and anti-Catholic discrimination persists in the private sector there. Despite government efforts, the unemployment rate there for Catholic men in 1994 remained 2 1/2 times that for Protestant men. Government efforts to increase recruitment of Catholics into the police force and related security fields in the province have been hampered by Provisional IRA assassinations and death threats, as well as widespread antipathy there to the security forces.

The 1989 Fair Employment (Northern Ireland) Act 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. Noncompliers face 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. Still, Catholics hope to strengthen it in 1995, when it is to be reviewed by the Standing Advisory Committee on Human Rights.

People with Disabilities

The UK does not have one overarching law which addresses the rights of disabled people; instead, various pieces of legislation provide for government assistance in education, mobility, home care, and access to buildings.

Access to buildings is improving but inadequate. Many buildings 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 June 1992 the Government effected similar regulations for sensory-impaired persons.

Government regulations mandate that by 2000 all taxis be accessible to wheelchairs.

A Civil Rights (Disabled Persons) Bill, with provisions similar to those in the laws against discrimination based on race or sex, was defeated in Parliament due to concerns that its cost to businesses would be prohibitive.

Section 6 Worker Rights

a. The Right of Association

Workers have the right to form and join unions, and the Government fully respects this. Unions participate freely in international organizations.

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" in the UK. 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 whom they are in dispute when the subsidiaries are not party to the dispute and are the employers of record.

In September 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 COE requested the British Government to notify the COE of the measures to be taken to remedy this defect, but the Government has not done so, as it has opted out of the Charter.

Legislation in 1978 and 1990 made it illegal to deny employment on the ground the applicant is not a union member. The Trade Union Reform and Employment Rights Act of 1993 abolished the Wage Councils; set new procedural requirements for union strikes, dues collection, and membership rules; and made it possible for private citizens, when deprived of goods or services due to strike action, to seek damages and to obtain assistance for this from the Government. An amendment reverses a court ruling that had banned employers from offering workers financial inducements to give up trade union representation. The Trade Unions Congress (TUC) in 1993 lodged complaints with the International Labor Organization (ILO) on various provisions of the 1993 Act (see b., next); by year's end the ILO had not completed consideration of these complaints.

b. The Right to Organize and Bargain Collectively

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

The 1993 Act cited above abolished the Mediation Service's mandate to promote collective bargaining; this was the subject of another TUC complaint to the ILO.

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, on the right to organize and bargain collectively, it is lawful for employers or others to circulate blacklists of union members seeking employment. In May 1993 the ILO concluded that the British Government is obliged to protect union members from such discrimination, but the Government has not responded to this.

Export processing zones do not exist.

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 age 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. The United Kingdom has no legislation limiting 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.


[1]* A separate report on Hong Kong, a dependent territory of the United Kingdom, follows this report. (Ed.: The report on Hong Kong is included as a separate entry.)

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