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U.S. Department of State Country Report on Human Rights Practices 1993 - United Kingdom

Publisher United States Department of State
Publication Date 30 January 1994
Cite as United States Department of State, U.S. Department of State Country Report on Human Rights Practices 1993 - United Kingdom, 30 January 1994, available at: [accessed 25 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. Although there is no written constitution, human and civil rights are recognized by statute and strongly held traditions. Human rights are "residual," i.e., assumed unless limited by statute.

Throughout the UK, public order is maintained by civilian police forces responsive to and controlled by elected officials. Because of terrorist violence, the Royal Ulster Constabulary (RUC) in Northern Ireland is supported by army units.

The United Kingdom has a highly developed industrial economy. Persons may own property and pursue private economic interests. The Government provides comprehensive social welfare services.

Terrorist bombings and killings carried out by the illegal Provisional Irish Republican Army (Provisional IRA) and other "Republican" (Catholic) and "Loyalist" (Protestant) terrorist groups in Northern Ireland and Great Britain continue to be the greatest threat to public order and security in the UK. By the end of 1993, over 3,000 people had died in 24 years of "the troubles" in Northern Ireland, which has a population of 1.5 million. Since the troubles began, more than 100 persons have been killed in Provisional IRA attacks in Great Britain, including 3 in 1993. Emergency measures enacted because of the terrorist problem in the past 20 years suspend certain due process guarantees and restrict freedom of movement, expression, and association. There were no new reported instances of extrajudicial killings by security forces in Northern Ireland. However, allegations of the use of excessive force continued. Eleven members of the security forces were killed in Northern Ireland. Aspects of the criminal justice system remained under scrutiny as investigations exposed shortcomings, and a Royal Commission recommended extensive changes in the treatment of confession evidence and handling of appeals.

Primarily because of fear of terrorist violence, Protestant and Catholic communities in Northern Ireland are increasingly segregated. Most firms continue to recruit predominantly from one community or the other, and workers are reluctant to commute across sectarian borders. In December the British and Irish Governments issued a joint declaration which seeks to accomodate the aspirations of all communities in Northern Ireland and to encourage an end to violence.


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

a. Political and Other Extrajudicial Killing

There were no political killings by the Government and no charges of other extrajudicial killings by government forces. However, during 1993 there were four inquests into the deaths of people killed by the security forces under disputed circumstances in previous years. In Northern Ireland, 84 persons were killed in incidents related to terrorism, including 47 by Loyalists and 35 by Republican terrorists (one Loyalist and one Republican accidentally killed themselves). Eleven victims were members of British security forces, all killed by Provisional IRA. Although no deaths resulted from shootings by security forces in Northern Ireland, charges continued that soldiers resorted to lethal force precipitately and carried out a "shoot to kill" policy.

The Committee on the Administration of Justice (CAJ), an independent Northern Ireland civil liberties organization, claims that there have been approximately 340 killings by the security forces under disputed circumstances since "the troubles" began in 1968, with criminal prosecutions in only 30 cases, and 4 convictions by the end of 1993.

The authorities investigated several deaths in which critics of the security forces alleged a "shoot to kill" policy was in effect. A January inquest into the 1986 killing of Seamus McElwaine, an acknowledged Provisional IRA volunteer and escaped prisoner, ruled that soldiers had opened fire without giving him the opportunity to surrender and that McElwaine had actually been killed 5 minutes after being wounded in the initial gunfire. The Director of Public Prosecutions reviewed the case to determine whether prosecution was warranted. An inquest into the August 1988 killings of three IRA members was inconclusive. None of the security forces members involved in the shooting was required to be present at the inquest; their written statements were read out as evidence. They admitted they gave no warnings before firing, and the jury found inconclusive the evidence on who had fired first. An inquest into another case, a February 1988 death in which a soldier claimed his fingers were wet and had slipped on the trigger of his gun, determined that the soldiers involved were guilty of contravening orders in relation to the handling of weapons.

In the case of the deaths of four Provisional IRA terrorists after an attack on a police station in Coalisland in 1992, the court ruled in 1993 that the involved security forces were innocent of murder but enjoined five of the six accused to take more caution. Relatives of the three Provisional IRA terrorists who were killed in Gibraltar by UK security forces in 1988 have claimed that the terrorists were lured into an ambush. They were unarmed at the time the attack occurred, although British officials have claimed that they intended to bomb a military band concert. A police investigation and inquest in Gibraltar found in favor of the Government, but the relatives sued the Government for compensation. The Government claimed exemption for actions of its forces overseas, but the European Commission on Human Rights ruled that the European Court should consider the case. Two Royal Marines who were charged with the murder of Fergal Caraher in 1992 were acquitted in December when the judge, citing conflicting and in some cases apparently perjured testimony, accepted the Marines' contention that they believed another member of their patrol was in danger. In the September 1990 killing of Karen Reilly, a Belfast Crown Court found one soldier guilty of murder and another guilty of evading the investigation. They were sentenced to life in prison and 7 years respectively. The McBride case and another case involving the death of a 19-year-old student were still pending at year's end. Following an investigation, the DPP decided not to prosecute in the case involving the death of Pearse Jordan (see 1992 report).

In 1993 the European Commission found that the use of lethal force to prevent the running of a roadblock by a person reasonably suspected of being a terrorist is not a violation of international human rights law.

The RUC investigates all killings committed in Northern Ireland by the RUC, as well as by the Army. The Independent Commisssion for Police Complaints (ICPC), established by the Government, supervises investigations by police but has little independent investigative capability. The RUC Chief Constable may accept or reject its recommendations for disciplinary action, as may the DPP in the case of criminal prosecutions. In 1992, 66 police officers were disciplined as a result of ICPC investigations, and criminal charges were brought against 8 police officers. The ICPC has no responsibility for complaints leveled against the Army (see Section 1.c. for additional discussion of the ICPC). In early 1993, the Northern Ireland Secretary named a senior British lawyer as Independent Assessor of Military Complaints to deal with procedures for complaints against the Army; he has no independent investigative powers. His first report was due in early 1994.

Although the European Convention on Human Rights established a standard for use of lethal force only when "absolutely necessary" in specific circumstances, British law requires only that the use of lethal force be "reasonable in the circumstances." Soldiers involved in shooting incidents have argued that they were in "imminent danger" before opening fire. The courts have generally accepted this defense, and very few on-duty soldiers have been convicted.

Security forces members are subject to the same legal guidelines on the use of lethal force as are other citizens. In practice, this means that if a court determines in a death case that a policeman or soldier intended to cause serious bodily harm but was not justified in doing so, the only applicable charge is one of murder. Manslaughter is applicable in death cases only where there is no intent to cause serious bodily harm. This means a charge of manslaughter is possible when a negligent discharge of a weapon is suspected, and there have been a few convictions on this basis. Since sentencing rules require a life sentence for murder, the courts have been unwilling to impose such heavy penalties in borderline cases.

Human rights organizations have called for the establishment of an independent public inquiry to investigate allegations of police threats to and intimidation of defense lawyers in Northern Ireland, including an investigation of the 1986 killing of Patrick Finucane, counsel to many Provisional IRA suspects. In February the U.S.-based Lawyers Committee for Human Rights released the report of its investigation into Finucane's death, in which they concluded that there was "credible evidence suggesting collusion between elements within the security forces and Loyalist paramilitaries" in Finucane's killing. Three people were charged and convicted of possession of the weapons used to kill Finucane, but police have not found sufficient evidence to charge them with murder. The case remains open. The Government maintained that harassment of defense lawyers was unacceptable and invited those with evidence of such actions to provide it to the ICPC.

Security forces in Northern Ireland continued the use of plastic bullet rounds (PBR's) for riot control, though in recent years their use declined sharply, consonant with the decline in the number of street riots. PBR rounds were shot at Protestant groups in the riots leading up to the annual July 12 celebration, resulting in some minor injuries and a serious one.

For the second year in a row, Loyalists killed more people than did the Provisional IRA. Loyalist terrorists continued to perpetrate random sectarian killings of Catholics in Northern Ireland, culminating in the indiscriminate slaughter of seven Catholics in Greysteel in late October. The Provisional IRA conducted bomb attacks that led to numerous deaths. A Provisional IRA bomb in Belfast in October killed nine civilians as well as one of the bombers. A huge Provisional IRA bomb in London in April caused massive damage and one death, and two smaller bombs in a shopping district in Warrington, England, killed two small boys and injured more than 50 others.

In August police arrested Joy Gardner, a Jamaican illegal alien subject to a deportation order. According to official reports, she collapsed and died of renal failure after 4 days on life support in a hospital. Her family alleges she died of asphyxiation after being gagged by the police. The Commissioner of the Metropolitan Police ordered an immediate investigation and suspended the officers involved. In January 1994, the Home Office issued guidelines banning the use of gags.

b. Disappearance

There were no disappearances attributed to government forces. Instances of persons abducted or held hostage by terrorists in Northern Ireland continued.

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

British laws forbid torture and other cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment of prisoners and provide penalties for violations of those laws. Confessions obtained by such methods are not admissible as evidence in court. However, Helsinki Watch asserted that "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." Allegations of torture and ill-treatment of persons detained by the police in holding facilities in Northern Ireland continued. A new code of practices, which went into effect January 1, 1994, is designed to implement greater standardization of police interrogation procedures and strengthen oversight requirements.

The "Beechmount Five" and the "Ballymurphy Seven" were two groups of teenagers arrested and interrogated in connection with two separate attacks on the RUC. They alleged that they were coerced into making confessions, in the absence of their lawyers, after being subjected to mental and physical abuse. Inadequate methods for monitoring police interrogations make it virtually impossible to prove or disprove these claims. The Beechmount Five were convicted primarily on the basis of confession evidence. The trial of the Ballymurphy Seven began but has not been concluded. In March an eighth teenager from Ballymurphy was tried, convicted, and sentenced to 14 years. The principal evidence against him was the statement which he claimed he was coerced into signing.

The Independent Commission for Police Complaints in Northern Ireland has limited powers. It reviews all complaints against the police and automatically supervises police investigations in cases involving death or serious injury, as well as any other cases of its choosing. It may insist that disciplinary charges be preferred against police officers and may comment on the quality of police investigations, but it has no control over the outcome of disciplinary cases. The ICPC has been unable to substantiate any claim of ill-treatment in police custody submitted. In most cases, complainants refused to cooperate with the police or the ICPC. Some claimed they could not get a fair trial. The Government notes that complainants often prefer to sue in civil court, where they may be awarded substantial damages as a result of court rulings or out-of-court settlements, and where a lower evidentiary standard is applied.

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 refused to accept their recommendation on the grounds that the tapes could compromise ongoing operations and jeopardize the safety of detainees who cooperate with the police. Instead, the Government announced in December 1992 the appointment of a senior barrister as Independent Commissioner for Holding Centers in Northern Ireland. He has the authority to make irregular and unannounced visits to any of the three holding centers, observe interrogations on television monitors, and interview detainees. His first report is due to be submitted in early 1994.

Security forces in Northern Ireland, both the Army and the RUC, frequently harass citizens verbally, particularly young people in areas where community support for terrorists is considered strong. Security forces have also been accused of more serious incidents of physical mistreatment. The CAJ reported that harassment included threats to kill, kidnap, or maliciously prosecute. Most complaints come from Republican neighborhoods, but after police crackdowns on Loyalist terrorism, there were also reports of abusive house searches and street harassment in some Protestant areas. Officials state that soldiers and policemen found guilty of harassment are punished severely but have provided no statistics.

Northern Ireland terrorist groups, both Loyalist and Republican, frequently carry out "punishment shootings" of persons allegedly engaged in "antisocial activities." These assaults, which typically involve shooting through one or both knees at short range, have been widely condemned.

Prison facilities in the UK vary depending upon location. Remand facilities, which tend to be located in old Victorian structures, are often overcrowded and lack proper exercise areas and modern sanitation. Permanent facilities are generally good, although a government-appointed investigator found problems of overcrowding, substandard conditions, and lax discipline at some prisons in Great Britain. In Northern Ireland, prison facilities have improved notably in recent years, but conditions at the three holding centers are substandard. Uniformed police can observe all interrogations on television monitors although the content of the interviews cannot be heard, and, as noted above, they do not allow tapes to be made.

Some teenagers continued to be detained in adult holding centers in Northern Ireland despite a government policy to separate them from adult prisoners. Helsinki Watch reported allegations by young detainees that they had been subjected to physical and mental abuse and pressured to become informers during detention.

Children under the age of 18 convicted for murder may be held for an indeterminate length of time. for example, the two 10-year-old children who murdered toddler Jamie Bulger received indeterminate sentences. Such sentences are periodically reviewed. If it is found that a person has been rehabilitated, the individual may be released. Throughout the UK there are some 400 children under the age of 18 serving indeterminate sentences.

d. Arbitrary Arrest, Detention, or Exile

In instances when reasonable cause to suspect criminal guilt exists, police may make arrests without warrants. Those arrested without warrants must be released on bail within 36 hours unless brought before a magistrate's court. The court may authorize an additional 60 hours of detention before charges must be brought. Generally, persons charged with what British law defines as "nonserious" offenses may be released on bail. In cases such as crimes of violence, however, magistrates have remanded persons for periods of up to 3 years before trial.

Reacting to the violence in Northern Ireland, the Government adopted the Northern Ireland (Emergency Provisions) Act of 1991 (EPA), which is applicable only to Northern Ireland, and the Prevention of Terrorism (Temporary Provisions) Act of 1989 (PTA), most of which is applicable to the entire United Kingdom. Both Acts replaced earlier versions enacted in 1973 and 1974 respectively, and both must be renewed annually by Parliament.

Under the EPA, police and military personnel, in dealing with cases of suspected terrorism, may enter and search without a warrant, and members of the armed forces on duty may arrest without a warrant any person suspected of having committed or being about to commit any offense. Such persons may be held for up to 4 hours, after which they must be transferred to police custody or released. The 1991 EPA introduced new offenses – of directing a terrorist organization and possessing items intended for terrorist purposes – and gave authorities new powers to examine financial and other documents found in terrorist-related searches. The PTA allows the police to arrest without a warrant, anywhere in the UK, persons whom they reasonably suspect to be 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. Although people detained in England and Wales under the PTA have the right to have lawyers present during interrogation, in Northern Ireland lawyers are never allowed to be present during interrogation of PTA detainees. 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. In 1988 the European Court of Human Rights held that this practice violated the European Human Rights Convention. As a consequence, the UK derogated from that portion of the Convention. In 1993 the European Court held that British derogation from this portion of the Convention was allowable. The Court reasoned that detention of suspected terrorist beyond 4 days was reasonable under the circumstances.

The Government does not practice exile (see, however, Section 2.d.). In Northern Ireland, the Provisional IRA and to a lesser extent Loyalist paramilitaries forced a substantial number of Catholics and Protestants to leave the province by threatening them with death or injury if they remain. The paramilitaries claim that these persons have cooperated with security forces or engaged in "antisocial behavior", but the latter reportedly includes personal feuds with paramilitary members. Families Against Intimidation and Terror, an organization that assists persons under threat, dealt with 35 cases in 1993, including 7 entire families.

e. Denial of Fair Public Trial

Fair trial is provided for by law and observed in practice, but there have been some serious exceptions. In the late 1980's, after 10 years of intense public pressure on several cases, the Home Secretary directed the courts to reconsider them. The cases were reviewed at the appellate level and the appellate courts reached a number of troubling conclusions: lower courts often relied too heavily on uncorroborated confessions and assumed the integrity of the police was irreproachable; appellate court judges tended to accept lower court rulings without closely examining procedural flaws and new evidence and occasionally displayed open hostility to the defense; and courts accepted tainted forensic evidence and exculpatory evidence was withheld from the defense. As a result of these apparent miscarriages of justice, the Government in 1991 established a Royal Commission to review all aspects of the criminal justice system in England and Wales (see below).

An indigent defendant has the right to counsel of his choosing. All criminal proceedings must be conducted in public, with the exception of juvenile court cases and cases involving public decency or security. In a trial under the Official Secrets Act, the court may be closed at the judge's discretion, but the sentence must be passed in public.

The UK has several levels of courts. The vast majority of criminal cases are heard by magistrate's 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 of the House) is the final court of appeal in the UK. Once all 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 which casts doubt on the conviction. (Appeals may be made to the Northern Ireland Office and the Scotland Office in those jurisdictions.)

Since 1989, following referrals from the Home Secretary, courts in England have overturned the convictions of 18 persons previously imprisoned in connection with Provisional IRA terrorist attacks in the 1970's. A precedent has been established that all evidence held by the prosecution, whether or not intended for use in court, may be released to the defense at the judge's discretion.

Perceived miscarriages of justice prompted the Government in March 1991 to appoint a Royal Commission to review all aspects of the criminal justice system in England and Wales. The Commission spent 2 years collecting submissions from numerous professional bodies, nongovernmental organizations, and individuals, and commissioning surveys of lawyers, defendants, and the general public on how the administration of justice is perceived. The Commission's report was released in 1993 and includes 352 recommendations. The following recommendations have generated the most discussion: credible confession evidence should be allowed, if the judge gives a strong warning to the jury; in so-called either way cases – triable in either a magistrate's court or the Crown Court; where the case is tried is dependent upon the severity of the case – a defendant should not have the right to insist on trial by jury; the defense should disclose its theory of the case after the prosecution has disclosed its case; an independent criminal cases review authority that would send cases to the Court of Appeal (instead of the Home Office) should be established; and continuous video recording of all custody offices, passages, and stairways should be introduced as soon as possible. The proposal that the defense should reveal its case theory and the denial of a defendant's right to opt for a jury in an either way case stirred the most controversy. Some proposals from the report were included in the crime bill introduced into Parliament in December (see below).

Although the Commission did not study Northern Ireland, the Government indicated it would consider whether changes implemented as a result of the Commission's findings might also be applied in Northern Ireland.

In October the Home Secretary announced a series of proposals designed to crack down on rising crime rates throughout the UK, some of which have caused concern among human rights monitors. These include allowing judges, at their discretion, to instruct juries that they could draw an inference of guilt from a defendant's refusal to answer questions during interrogation or trial; ending the presumption in favor of bail for serious or repeated offense; and creating new categories of terrorism offenses. The proposals were included in a criminal justice bill introduced into Parliament in December. Opposition parties and human and civil rights groups particularly criticized the erosion of the right to remain silent.

In 1973 the Government suspended the right to trial by jury for certain terrorist-related offenses in Northern Ireland because of intimidation of the judiciary, jurors, and lawyers. In such cases, a "Diplock Court," in which a single judge presides over a trial without jury, is used. The judge in a Diplock Court must justify his or her decision to convict in a document that becomes part of the court record, and appeal courts may overturn Diplock Court convictions on substantive as well as legal grounds. These courts have been widely criticized. The Government claims that the conviction rate for defendants pleading not guilty in Diplock Courts is virtually identical to the rate in regular courts, but one human rights group has contested this claim, citing other statistics that indicate a 50 percent higher conviction rate in Diplock Courts in 1991. The group also notes that most Diplock convictions are based on uncorroborated confessions.

A court in Northern Ireland may draw whatever inference it deems proper, including an inference of guilt, if a subject remains silent during interrogation by police or at trial, though he cannot be convicted solely on the basis of such an inference. The change was intended to deal with a Provisional IRA tactic of advising members not to say anything under interrogation, then to present a surprise alibi at trial, but it substantially erodes the presumption of innocence and the right not to be compelled to testify against oneself or confess guilt. Furthermore, it is part of the general criminal law of Northern Ireland and applies to all criminal suspects, not only terrorist suspects.

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

The right to privacy is generally respected in both law and custom, though see below on Northern Ireland. Warrants are normally required for a police search of private premises. However, under the EPA, on-duty members of the armed forces or policemen may enter any premises or other place if they consider it necessary to preserve peace or maintain order. The Act requires a standard of "reasonable grounds of suspicion" before a dwelling may be entered without a warrant.

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. The Government conducts intensive training of security personnel in proper procedures but acknowleges that official guidelines are still sometimes violated.

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. British print media are dominated by a handful of national daily newspapers, all privately owned and highly independent (though often generally aligned with one of the major political parties). About half the electronic media are run by the British Broadcasting Service (BBC), which is funded by the Government but enjoys complete editorial independence. The remainder are run by corporations under renewable government license.

The Government continued to prohibit radio and television in the UK from broadcasting the voices of members of proscribed terrorist organizations such as the Provisional IRA, and of representatives of Sinn Fein (the legal political arm of the Provisional IRA), as well as the voices of those who "solicit, support, or invite support for such organizations." Critics charge that the vagueness of this last category intimidates broadcasters into applying the ban even in ambiguous cases. However, there are no restrictions on reporting such persons' words, and broadcasters may and do use actors with similar accents to read the words in synchronization with the lips of the actual speaker. Exceptions to the ban are made for coverage of election campaigns and parliamentary proceedings.

Human rights and civil liberties 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 claim that, in the absence of freedom of information legislation, actions of the Government are effectively shielded from the public, even in instances where government agencies have acted improperly or illegally. Alleged offenses under the Act may be tried in secret, and the Government need not disclose its justification for holding a secret trial. In practice, however, the Act is seldom invoked and has not prevented the disclosure of numerous internal government documents and instances of alleged wrongdoing. Attempts by the Government in the 1980's to prosecute officials who leaked documents generally failed.

The Government demonstrated its commitment to freedom of speech by providing police protection to author Salman Rushdie, the subject of an incitement to murder by former Iranian leader Khomeini, and by affording Rushdie a series of meetings with senior British officials. The Government has stated that the refusal of Iranian authorities to repudiate the incitement to murder, or to lift the bounty offered for his death by an Iranian organization, prevents the restoration of full relations between the two countries.

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 assemblies when they deem that violence or vandalism is likely to result. The Act is seldom invoked, but has been used in recent years 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, organizations involved in terrorism. These organizations are specifically listed in the statutes. The lists do not include political parties.

c. Freedom of Religion

Government policy and general practice ensure freedom of religion. Britain has two established churches legally recognized as official churches of the State: in England the (Anglican) Church of England, and in Scotland the (Presbyterian) Church of Scotland. In Northern Ireland, the Constitution Act of 1973 prohibits discrimination by public authorities on the basis of religious belief or political opinion (see Section 5 concerning the Fair Employment Act). Ministers of the Church of England and the Church of Scotland are ineligible to sit in the House of Commons. However, the most senior ministers of the established religions hold seats in the House of Lords.

The Government provides funds for many schools maintained by various religious denominations, including Anglicans, Catholics, Methodists, and Jews. In May 1992, the High Court ruled that a local council's decision to deny funding to a Muslim-run school was "manifestly unfair" and that the Education Secretary should reconsider. In August the decision not to fund the school was reconfirmed. In Northern Ireland, the Government provides full funding for nonsectarian (but overwhelmingly Protestant) state schools. For denominational (mostly Catholic) schools, the Government provides 100 percent of operating costs and 85 percent of capital costs. In December 1992 the Government announced that denominational schools could qualify for full state funding if no single (sectarian) group comprised a majority of the school's board of governors.

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

Citizens of the UK enjoy freedom of movement within the country and in foreign travel, emigration, and repatriation, with very limited exceptions as noted below. The Home Secretary may exclude from Great Britain anyone connected with terrorism in Northern Ireland, unless that person was born in Great Britain or has been resident there for 3 years. Similar authority is granted to the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland to exclude persons not native to or resident in that province. In ordering exclusion, the Secretary of State need only be "satisfied" that a person is or has been involved in the commission, preparation, or instigation of acts of terrorism. Currently 92 persons are subject to exclusion orders, including 2 new orders issued in 1993 by the Home Office. In April John Matthews was arrested in London and detained for 10 weeks in connection with a Provisional IRA bombing. When the case came to court in July, the prosecution dropped charges, but Matthews was immediately served with an exclusion order and flown back to Northern Ireland. Several Members of Parliament, human rights groups, and most of the British media objected to the exclusion order. In October the exclusion order on Sinn Fein president Gerry Adams was reinstated after 10 years during which he had been elected to Parliament but had not traveled to Britain. Exclusion orders are contentious because the Secretary of State need not reveal the grounds for exclusion, the evidence is not tested in any court, and there is no formal right of appeal to the courts.

Immigration rules require that all requests for asylum be considered by the Home Office in accordance with the 1951 Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees. The Government makes generous provision for political refugees, but faced with an exponential rise in asylum applications in recent years, it introduced legislation to speed processing of unsubstantiated requests. Human rights groups claim the legislation would undermine Britain's commitment to provide haven for legitimate refugees. In 1992 approximately 24,000 people (excluding dependents) applied for asylum. This was about 20,000 fewer than in 1991. The Government believes the decrease is largely due to a more rigorous applicant recording system. Approximately 5 percent of the applicants received asylum; most of the remainder were granted exceptional leave to stay in the UK. In July former Home Secretary Baker was found in contempt of court for failing to stay the deportation of a Zairian teacher, whom the court had granted a right to remain in the UK.

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

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. Several attempts have been made since then to restore devolved government. Another major effort continued in 1993.

Women and minorities face no legal constraints on their ability to participate in the political process through voting or holding office. The Head of State is a Woman, the Head of Government was a woman from 1979 to 1990, two women are members of the present Cabinet, and the deputy leader of the main opposition party is a woman. The Labor Party has initiated a policy of reserving a substantial number of candidacies for women, with the goal of equalizing the number of its male and female Members of Parliament (M.P.'s). Several members of minority ethnic groups serve in parliament. However, voter turnout among some ethnic minorities is far below that of the majority community, and some women M.P.'s complain that late-night sittings and lack of child care facilities pose unfair obstacles to female politicians.

Most British dependent territories – Hong Kong is an exception – 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 Rights

A large number of local nongovernmental human rights organizations operate freely with no government interference or restriction. In 1973 a Standing Advisory Commission on Human Rights was established by the Government to monitor human rights in Northern Ireland, although 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 UK. The Government cooperates fully with international inquiries into alleged violations of human rights and usually takes steps to rectify its own laws and policies when they are found inconsistent with human rights agreements to which it is a party.

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

The law in Great Britain bars discrimination on the basis of race, color, nationality, or national or ethnic origin and outlaws incitement to racial hatred (see below).


Equal opportunity for both sexes is protected by law. 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.

In 1992 the number of complaints filed with the EOC, including those involving sexual harassment, reportedly increased almost 65 percent. Complaints from males made up about 40 percent of the total. The Inspectorate of Constabulary, in an official report, said there were "serious" problems of sexual harassment and denial of equal opportunities in the country's police forces. On December 8, Sarah Locker was awarded an out of court settlement of 32,000 pounds (approximately $50,000), an apology from the Metropolitan Police Commissioner, and a promotion. Scotland Yard decided to set up a women's support network and begin training for all ranks in equal opportunity and race awareness.

Although there were continuing reports of career progress by women in most sectors of the economy, the adequacy of British law and administration in dealing with sex discrimination was subjected to a series of legal challenges. In August 1992, the European Court of Justice ruled that the UK's statutory limit on financial awards in discrimination cases, the equivalent of $16,500, was illegal. Shortly after that ruling, the Trade Unions Congress (TUC), Britain's central labor organization, filed a complaint with the European Commission charging that the Government, by abolishing the statutory wage councils (which set minimum wages in certain low-paid and largely female industries), was violating its obligations under EC law to provide the affected women workers with equal opportunity. (Other aspects of the abolition of the wage councils were the subject of a separate complaint to the International Labor Organization (ILO); see Section 6.b.) The EOC endorsed the TUC action and announced it would be filing its own complaint with the EC, alleging that the UK legislation, in its entirety, "fails to provide effective access to justice."

The same statute which abolished the wage councils also established EC-mandated maternity leave of 14 weeks, and protections against dismissal on maternity-related grounds.

Women have equal property rights and equal rights in the divorce courts, and in 1993 a divorced wife's claim to a share of her husband's pension was upheld in court. Although there are no reliable statistics, experts on women's studies suspect that violence against women is the predominant form of violence in the UK. However, in an effort to educate and encourage women who have been the victims of abuse, the Women's Aid Federation, a private voluntary organization, organized an advertising campaign outlining the problems of abuse and stressing that women need not suffer them. The advertisement gives phone numbers where women may seek help. It has been disseminated widely. Offenders in domestic violence cases are prosecuted and are subject to imprisonment. Victims of battery and rape are given assistance, including accommodation and counseling, and the courts have held that nonconsensual marital sex can constitute a criminal offense.

Women in Northern Ireland's Maghaberry Prison maintained that the conditions under which they were imprisoned were abusive and discriminatory, and a group brought an action for sex discrimination against the Northern Ireland Office. They complained that, compared to the male prisoners at Maghaberry, women had shorter visiting hours, poorer facilities for visits, and, as opposed to male prisoners, no provisions for care of visiting children. The women further claimed they had less access to educational and exercise facilities than men.


In 1989 Parliament passed the Children's Act, which covers England and Wales and highlights growing acceptance of children's rights in domestic law. The basic premise of the Act is twofold: first, the best interests of the child must be taken into account when decisions are made regarding the child; and second, children should be consulted about their wishes and desires. Various governmental agencies (e.g., health, education, social services) also play a role in childrens' law. The overlapping legislation paints a complex legislative picture. However, it is clear that children have the right to apply for court orders, to give or withhold consent for medical treatment (where they have sufficient cognitive ability to make an informed decision), to make complaints to the relevant local authority, to have their ethnic, linguistic, and religious background considered, to have reasonable contact with their family (usually applied in a circumstance where there has been abuse), and to be consulted regarding their desires. Scotland and Northern Ireland employ principles and law similar to that found in the children's act. Children receive generous benefits packages. Children's advocates have commented that the laws reflect a growing acceptance of children's rights in domestic law. However they are concerned about cuts in social services to children, inconsistent application of the Children's Act of 1989, and lack of adequate monitoring of the law (e.g., statistics are not adequately kept).

National/Racial/Ethnic Minorities

Approximately three million persons in the UK, representing 5 1/2 percent of the population, belong to ethnic minorities. About half of them are Asians of Indian, Pakistani, and Bangladeshi descent. While British law bars discrimination on the basis of race, color, nationality, or national or ethnic origin and outlaws incitement to racial hatred, racial discrimination is not specifically outlawed in Northern Ireland. The Secretary of State for Northern Ireland agreed to investigate the scope for possible legislation on racial discrimination and determine what additional action should be taken by government departments to further enhance equal treatment of ethnic groups. A government-appointed, independent Commission for Racial Equality (CRE) supports persons taking court action under the Race Relations Act of 1976, provides guidelines on good practice, and may initiate court action. After formally investigating complaints, the CRE may issue notices requiring that discrimination cease. Such notices are followed up over a 5-year period to ensure compliance.

Although law prohibits discrimination based on race, persons of African and South Asian origin face substantial discrimination. In 1992 a government study concluded that racial discrimination existed at all stages of the criminal justice system. 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 and African minorities were also victims of racial insults and occasional "skinhead" violence. The Home Office reported over 7,700 racial incidents in England and Wales in 1992. CRE commented that the great majority involved insults or verbal abuse. About a dozen persons have been killed in racial attacks since June 1992. In April a black youth was stabbed to death by whites at a south London bus stop. In September a Bangladeshi youth was badly beaten by a group of whites in London's East End, sparking a weekend of violent clashes between Asians and whites. In October a black man was beaten, stabbed, and run over with a car by three white persons in east London. The Government is strongly opposed to discrimination and violence and prosecutes cases in which evidence is available.

Religious Minorities

Although discrimination in employment on the grounds of religious belief or political opinion has been unlawful since 1976, it continued to occur in Northern Ireland, including at times by local governments. Within the Northern Ireland civil service, the proportion of Catholics under age 36 reflects overall demographic patterns, but they continue to be underrepresented in the upper age groups and grades. A Fair Employment Tribunal adjudicates individual cases of alleged discrimination. In 1992 the Fair Employment Commission noted that Catholics were not as well represented in the senior management levels of the public work force. In mid-November the civil service announced its intention to increase Catholic representation in the senior management levels. Government efforts to increase recruitment of Catholics into the police force and related security fields have been hampered by Provisonal IRA assassinations and death threats, as well as public suspicion of the security forces. For a variety of historical and social reasons, the Protestant community controls much of the local economy, and anti-Catholic discrimination persists in the private sector. Despite government efforts and a recent drop in unemployment in Northern Ireland, the Catholic male unemployment rate remained 2 1/2 times that of Protestant men, partly due to Catholic inability or unwillingness to engage in security-related work.

The Fair Employment (Northern Ireland) Act of 1989 was intended to end employment discrimination and aimed at outlawing even unintentional or "indirect" discrimination. All public sector employers and private firms with more than 25 workers must register with the Fair Employment Commission, monitor the religious composition of their work force, supply annual monitoring reports to the Commission, and review their overall employment practices at least once every 3 years. These obligations were extended to small firms (employing between 11 and 25 workers) beginning in 1992. While the Fair Employment Act has been criticized for not establishing sufficiently rigorous targets and timetables, it has generally been praised by leaders of the Catholic community as a positive step. Employers who fail to comply face criminal penalties and loss of government contracts, and victims of employment discrimination may be awarded damages. In 1992, six companies were subject to criminal sanctions and fines for failure to comply with the Act.

People with Disabilities

According to surveys, 6.5 million inhabitants of the UK have disabilities. Official discrimination against disabled persons is not sanctioned. However, studies indicate that social discrimination exists. Although the UK does not have one overarching law which addresses the rights of disabled people, a number of pieces of legislation guarantee social services. Benefits packages for disabled people are administered by various governmental departments. The benefits are designed to provide education, mobility, home care, and access to buildings. Access to buildings is generally poor.

Interest groups point out that the age of most buildings in London makes it difficult for a physically disabled person to obtain access even if there are ramps. Many buildings do not have elevators. Since 1985, government regulations have required that all new buildings meet the access requirements of all individuals with impaired mobility. In June 1992, the government made similar regulations for sensory impaired persons.

Government regulations mandate that by the year 2000 all taxis be wheelchair accessible. In 1944 the Government passed the Disabled Person's Employment Act, which instituted a quota system requiring businesses with more than 20 employees to hire disabled persons as 3 percent of their workforce. There have been 10 prosecutions under this Act. Government estimates are that 75 percent of companies fail to comply with the Act. Statistics with regard to unemployment of the disabled are not kept.

Section 6 Worker Rights

a. The Right of Association

Workers have the right to form and join representative organizations, associate freely, choose representatives, publish journals, openly promote members' interests and views, and elect representative assemblies to determine union policies and procedures. Unions participate freely in international organizations.

Unions are free of government control but, like employers' associations, must register their accounts with a government-appointed "certification officer." 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 individual trade union members to lodge complaints against their union with a government-appointed "Commissioner for the Rights of Trade Union Members."

No specific statutory "right to strike" exists in the UK. Voluntary cessation of work may be considered a breach of contract. A system of legal immunities, which protected unions from prosecution when engaged in lawful industrial action, was narrowed by a series of acts of Parliament introduced in the 1980's. These acts excluded secondary strikes and actions judged to have political motives. Unions encouraging such strikes are subject to fines by the courts and may have their assets seized. 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. This has led to union complaints that they have no protection against the transfer of work within the corporate structure (making unions the victims of a form of employer secondary action). The 1990 Employment Act made unions liable for all industrial actions, including unofficial strikes, unless the unions concerned write to strikers repudiating their action. Unofficial strikers may be legally dismissed. In instances where the right to strike is prohibited (e.g., for police officers), there are alternative means to resolve differences.

The Trade Union Reform and Employment Rights Act of 1993 abolished the Wage Councils (see also Section 5 above) and placed new procedural requirements on union strikes, dues collection, and membership rules. It also permits private citizens to seek damages, with government aid, when denied goods or services through illegal strike action.

Except in the case of the armed forces, the police, or the security services, it is illegal to deny a person employment on the ground he or she is not a union member. An amendment to the 1993 Act also reverses a court ruling that banned employers from offering financial inducements to workers in exchange for giving up trade union representation.

The compatibility with Great Britain's international undertakings of parts of the recent legislation affecting unions has been subject to challenges by the TUC in various European and international bodies (see below and also Section 5).

b. The Right To Organize and Bargain Collectively

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

Recent British legislation affecting trade union rights and protection have been the subject of challenge by the TUC in various international forums (see below and also Section 5).

Workers who believe themselves victims of antiunion discrimination may seek redress through industrial tribunals.

Remedies available include payment of indemnities and reinstatement.

The adequacies of these protections and the impact of recent legislation on trade unions and their members have been the subject of repeated complaints by the TUC to the International Labor Organization (ILO), the European Community (EC) and the Council of Europe (COE).

In May 1993, the Governing Body of the ILO endorsed the findings of the Committee on Freedom of Association on complaint filed by the TUC. At issue was the compatibility of British law and practice with ILO Convention 98 on the Right to Organize and Bargain Collectively, as it concerned the circulating of blacklists of trade unionists seeking employment. The ILO held that the British Government is obliged, inter alia, to protect trade unionists from such discrimination.

In September 1993, the Committee of Ministers of the COE accepted its Committee of Experts' finding that UK labor law was in violation of the European Social Charter. The issue, based on a TUC complaint, was that the British legislation which permits an employer to dismiss all employees who take part in strikes and then, after 3 months' time, selectively rehire them, was incompatible with the Charter's protection of collective action. The Committee recommended that the Government take this decision into account and notify it of what measures it will adopt.

As of August 1993, the Committee of Experts of the ILO had before it several other outstanding complaints from the TUC concerning various aspects of British labor law and practice. These were:

– the ban on unions at the Government's communications center GCHQ, an alleged violation of Convention 87 on Freedom of Association. The Government is to report in 1994 on efforts to negotiate a settlement.

– various provisions of the Trade Union Act of 1988 which prevent unions from disciplining members who refuse to join lawful strikes and bar unions from reimbursing their officials or members. All are alleged violations of Convention 87.

– the removal of unions' protection from civil liability for strike action, and the inadequacy of legal protection against the dismissal of strikers. Both are alleged violations of Convention 87.

– the denial to school teachers in England and Wales of the right to have their pay determined through collective bargaining. An alleged violation of both Convention 87 and 98 (right to organize).

– various provisions of the Trade Union Reform and Employment Rights Act of 1993, including the abolition of the wage councils (Convention 100 on equal pay), abolition of the Mediation Services' mandate to promote collective bargaining, new procedural limits on strikes and the collection of dues, and the removal of protection from disciplinary action short of dismissal designed to deter trade union membership. All are alleged to be violations of Conventions 87 and 98.

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 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 August 30, 1993 had established minimum hourly wages and overtime rates for adult workers in 26 low-wage industries. The UK does not have a law 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 enforces regulations on these matters and may initiate criminal proceedings. The system of occupational health and safety is efficiently managed and operates with the full involvement of workers' representatives.

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

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