U.S. Department of State Country Report on Human Rights Practices 1995 - United Kingdom

UNITED KINGDOM OF GREAT BRITAIN AND NORTHERN IRELAND[1]*   The United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland (UK) is a longstanding, constitutional monarchy with a democratic, parliamentary government elected in periodic, multiparty elections and an independent judiciary. 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, police forces are responsive to, and under the effective control of, civilian officials. In Northern Ireland, because of terrorist violence in the recent past, army units in some areas reinforce the Royal Ulster Constabulary (RUC). The United Kingdom has a highly developed industrial economy. The Government provides comprehensive social welfare services. The Northern Ireland economy has improved since the 1994 cease-fires, but pockets of high unemployment remain. The United Nations Human Rights Committee (UNHRC), as part of a report issued in July, called on the Government to withdraw emergency legislation in Northern Ireland. In response to the decrease in violence, the Government pledged in August to establish an independent panel to review the relevant acts. By year's end, the panel had not been created, and the Government proposed to Parliament that the Emergency Powers Act be extended for 2 years. The Government has already taken several measures in Northern Ireland, including withdrawing some troops, reducing army patrols by 75 percent and ending them entirely in some areas, and opening some border roads with Ireland that had been closed for security reasons. In December the Defense Secretary stated that no further troop withdrawals were planned in the short term. There continued to be allegations that security forces in Northern Ireland physically and psychologically abused detainees in holding centers, although these decreased as the let-up in terrorist violence eased tensions. Allegations of past use of excessive force by the security forces continued to be a matter of contention. Emergency antiterrorist measures enacted during the past 20 years restrict freedom of movement for 36 suspected terrorists and supporters (down from 69 in 1994). Also, primarily due to fear of terrorist violence, many Protestant and Catholic communities in Northern Ireland are self-segregated. Laws and procedures governing detention that deny the right to immediate counsel and encroach on the right to silence have been widely criticized. Provisions of the Criminal Justice and Public Order Act of 1994 that allowed inferences to be drawn from the silence of persons accused of crimes drew censure from the UNHRC. The cease-fires called by Republican and Loyalist terrorist organizations (whose members are Catholic and Protestant, respectively) resulted in a greatly diminished threat to public order in Great Britain as well as in Northern Ireland. Paramilitaries in Northern Ireland are believed to be responsible for seven killings in 1995ÚÚfour in December aloneÚÚin what both authorities and knowledgeable observers believe are Provisional IRA (PIRA) murders of alleged and known drug dealers. Bomb explosions and defusions associated with paramilitary groups totaled 7, down from 22 in 1994. Nonetheless, both Republican and Loyalist paramilitaries continued to engage in vigilante "punishment" attacks on alleged "antisocial elements" and to exile "informers" by force. There have also been instances of arson against (Protestant) Orange halls and Catholic churches. The Government is taking steps to combat violence against women and societal discrimination against nonwhite minorities.

Respect for Human Rights

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

a. Political and Other Extrajudicial Killing

There were no reports of political killings by the Government, but several deaths during apprehension or in custody raised questions about whether police and prison officers had used improper restraining techniques or excessive force against minority group members and criminal suspects. In May a black man, Brian Douglas, died from hemorrhages and a fractured skull 5 days after an arrest during which a witness alleged that the police had struck him on the head; police said he was intoxicated. By year's end, the authorities had not decided whether to press charges. In December a black burglary suspect, Wayne Douglas, died in a police holding cell after resisting arrest. Two postmortems revealed a heart attack, but Douglas' family asserted police brutality. An investigation was under way at year's end. Three other deaths of black men in detention remained under investigation at year's end. All died in prison after struggles that involved guards using extraordinary controls and restraints. In June a court acquitted three London metropolitan police officers of the 1993 manslaughter of Joy Gardner. The officers had gone to Gardner's home to carry out an order to deport her to Jamaica. When she resisted arrest, they gagged her with 13 feet of adhesive tape wound at least seven times around her head, causing her to asphyxiate and subsequently die of brain damage. A police department investigation of the officers' supervisor, for neglect of duty in permitting the use of an unauthorized restraint, continued at year's end. In July the UNHRC, alluding to the Gardner case, expressed its "grave" concern at the use of excessive force in the execution of deportation orders. In November the Southwark Coroners Court returned a verdict of unlawful killing in the April 1994 death of 37-year-old Irishman Richard O'Brien, who suffocated after being handcuffed face down. Police shouting anti-Irish epithets assaulted O'Brien outside a social club where they had been called to investigate a disturbance. The coroner identified 31 separate injuries to O'Brien's body. Following the verdict, the family's attorney petitioned the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS), which had earlier decided there was insufficient evidence, to institute criminal proceedings against the officers involved. At year's end, the CPS had not taken a new decision, and police declined to suspend the officers involved in the interim. 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, and 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. In February the trial of two British soldiers for killing 18-year-old Peter McBride in Northern Ireland in 1992 concluded. The court concluded that the victim had been shot as he ran away after being stopped and searched, and it sentenced the defendants, who had denied murder, to life in prison. Private Lee Clegg, who had been sentenced to life imprisonment in an unlawful death case, was released in July. Clegg had been convicted for the 1990 shooting of an 18-year-old passenger in a stolen vehicle that had accelerated through an army checkpoint in Northern Ireland. In making his decision to parole Clegg after only 4 years of incarceration, the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland cited an appellate decision that found the killing unlawful but regretted mandatory imposition of the life sentence given the circumstances of the case. The decision also took into account the recommendation of the Northern Ireland Life Sentence Review Board. Although Review Board guidelines generally require a prisoner to serve 10 years in confinement before cases are considered, exceptions are permitted and have been made in other instances. The decision resulted in serious rioting in some parts of Northern Ireland and drew criticism from many within the Nationalist Community. According to a report by a quasi-official advisory group, security forces in Northern Ireland have killed over 350 people, many in disputed circumstances, since the troubles began in 1968. While there have been criminal prosecutions in 32 cases involving the security forces, Clegg was only the fourth soldier to be convicted for an offense while on duty. The only other soldier sentenced to life imprisonment prior to the Mcbride case was released after 26 months in prison. During 1995 authorities and other knowledgeable observers attributed six killings of alleged and known drug dealers to the PIRA, presumably acting in a vigilante capacity. A group calling itself "Direct Action against Drugs" (DAAD) took responsibility for four of the murders. While the PIRA denied a connection with DAAD, its refusal to condemn the killings contributed to public suspicion that it was involved. There were no arrests in the cases by year's end. William Elliot, a known Protestant paramilitary, was killed in September in what appeared to be a Loyalist-ordered execution. Elliot was implicated in the April 1994 murder of Margaret Wright, a Protestant woman brutally attacked after being mistaken for a Catholic woman outside a dance hall frequented by Loyalists. The 1989 killing of Patrick Finucane, counsel to many IRA suspects, remains an open case. Although it was widely alleged that Brian Nelson, a former Loyalist paramilitary and agent for British military intelligence, assisted in targeting Finucane, the Northern Ireland Director of Public Prosecutions determined that the available evidence was insufficient and decided not to bring charges against Nelson. 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 Loyalist paramilitaries. Amnesty International in August concluded that the Government had "consistently refused to carry out a thorough, impartial and wide-ranging inquiry into the extent of collusion." Authorities pled security considerations in declining to publish a report by senior police officer John Stevens on the subject. Although newspapers reported that Stevens' 6-year inquiry had uncovered proof of the involvement of four members of the security forces in killings, the Northern Ireland Director of Public Prosecutions declined to press charges, citing a lack of evidence sufficient to gain convictions. In September the European Court of Human Rights ruled in a 10 to 9 decision that the killing of three PIRA terrorists by British commandos in Gibraltar in 1988 was a breach of the European human rights convention.

b. Disappearance

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

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

The law forbids torture and other cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment. Confessions thus obtained are not admissible in court, and judges can exclude even voluntary confessions. Detainees who claim physical mistreatment have the right to an immediate medical examination. Such a claim must be examined by a trial judge. The Independent Commission for Police Complaints (ICPC), established by the Government, supervises police investigations in Northern Ireland. Authorized to review all complaints, it automatically supervises cases involving death or serious injury. It accepts information provided by a complainant and by any other sources, as well as that discovered by the police. The ICPC can advise (but cannot require) the chief constable to take disciplinary action against police officers. The ICPC reported that in 1994 it had received 2,810 complaints of official abuse, that its investigations had led to the substantiation of 30, the disciplining of 107 police officers, and the lodging of criminal charges against 6 more. Local human rights groups complain that the ICPC's powers are inadequate because it cannot act autonomously; it can only review cases in which a state actor or citizen has filed a complaint. In 1993 the Northern Ireland Secretary named an independent assessor of military complaints to deal with procedures regarding complaints of abuses by the army; he, too, has no independent investigative powers. His second report, released in June, noted that, of 217 formal complaints in 1994, only 15 were substantiated. No disciplinary action was taken in five of these cases. In six cases, the soldiers in question were chastised; in two, they were severely reprimanded (in one case for pointing a rifle at a civilian and in another for incivility); in one, the soldier was removed from the area (for harassing a local resident); and in the remaining case, the soldier was fined (for making a rude gesture at civilians). The U.N. Committee Against Torture and many human rights groups have raised concerns about ill-treatment of detainees in Northern Ireland, where suspects arrested under emergency legislation are interrogated in special holding centers. It recommended that interrogations in police custody be videotaped. The Government resisted doing so, on the grounds that videotaping could compromise operations and jeopardize informants. 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 second report in March found some substandard conditions but nothing that would constitute torture. The Commissioner recommended the closure of the holding center at Castlereagh, where there is no exercise facility and no natural light in the cells and interview rooms. The UNHRC also urged that Castlereagh be closed "as a matter of urgency," but the Government has not announced any plans to do so. Following some widely publicized prison escapes in Great Britain, the Home Office in January drafted a plan that stressed prison "security as the overriding priority." Prison facilities and regimes vary depending on location, with the best conditions found in prisons in northern Ireland. Remand facilities in Britain, like holding centers in Northern Ireland, tend to be antiquated, overcrowded, unsanitary, or deficient in exercise areas. Most permanent facilities are good, but human rights groups complained that overcrowding, caused by a 28 percent rise in the prison population between December 1992 and August 1995, led to inmate violence and alienation by reducing work and educational opportunities and limiting time prisoners could spend out of their cells. Women's prisons appeared to suffer the most. In December the new Chief Inspector of Prisons halted his inspection of Holloway prison in London in protest at conditions there. He was reported to have been shocked at the squalor and vermin infestation and particularly concerned at the treatment of prison inmates who were foreign nationals or ill. He called for "immediate improvements" after finding an "over-zealous and heavy-handed" security regime that included the use of shackles on pregnant women having antenatal examinations in nonsecure areas. The Government responded by assigning 16 additional staff members to the facility and issuing new guidelines to eliminate routine use of chains. There have long been accusations that security forces in Northern Ireland harass citizens, particularly young people, in areas where support for terrorists is considered strong. The Government strongly denies that such behavior is widespread or officially tolerated. Police continue to use plastic bullets in crowd control situations, a use which is restricted to Northern Ireland and which has been widely criticized by human rights monitors and by the U.N. Committee Against Torture. In July a demonstrator in Belfast was reportedly seriously injured when a plastic bullet struck him in the face. Both Loyalist and Republican terrorists in Northern Ireland have continued to carry out frequent "punishment" attacks, typically involving beatings with iron pipes and improvised clubs. The RUC recorded 76 Loyalist and 141 Republican assaults of this nature; young men ages 14 years and over were the most frequent victims. While the Loyalists appear to target members of their terrorist cells who have broken ranks, the Republicans extend their vigilante activities to the broader Catholic community, punishing "antisocial" activities (drug-taking, car theft) or sometimes even such acts as dating an IRA prisoner's girlfriend.

d. Arbitrary Arrest, Detention, or Exile

British authorities can and often do make arrests or detain suspects without judicial warrantsÚÚespecially in Northern Ireland, under laws applicable only thereÚÚwhen they believe they have reasonable cause to suspect wrongdoing. The Criminal Justice and Public Order Act of 1994 gives a police officer of the rank of superintendent or above the power to authorize uniformed officers in a specified area to stop and search pedestrians and anything they are carrying for offensive weapons or dangerous articles if the officer reasonably believes there is a prospect of serious violence or terrorism. No reasonable suspicion is required that the person being stopped and searched has committed a crime. 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; to be granted bail they must either have a local address or be firmly established in the community. Under the latest Northern Ireland (Emergency Provisions) Act (EPA), passed in 1991, members of the armed forces on duty there can arrest without a warrant any person they have reason to suspect of any offenseÚÚor intent to commit any offenseÚÚlinked to terrorism. Such suspects may be held for up to 4 hours and then must be transferred to police custody or released. (From April on, routine military patrolling in support of the RUC throughout Northern Ireland dropped by 75 percent compared with levels before the cease-fire.) The most recent Prevention of Terrorism (Temporary Provisions) Act (PTA), passed in 1989, allows the police to arrest without a warrant anywhere in the UK persons they have reason to suspect of being involved in terrorism. The authorities may detain such persons (even those under age 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. Under the 1989 PTA in England or Wales, detainees are granted the right to have lawyers present during interrogation, but this is not the case in Northern Ireland. 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 September a British High Court ruled that the Home Secretary's 6-month delay of parole hearings in the case of five PIRA prisoners serving longer minimum terms than they had been sentenced to was "manifestly unjust" and flouted the principles of the common law and the European human rights convention. Immigration legislation gives the power of administrative detention to immigration officers. There is no time limit for such detention and no right to have it reviewed by a court. In March police detained a Punjab native with permanent residency in the UK, citing national security after the murder in London of a Punjabi newspaper editor. Although the detained Punjabi was not charged, at year's end he continued to be held in custody pending deportation. The Government does not practice exile (see Section 2.d. regarding exclusion orders), but the terrorist organizations do. A human rights group, Families Against Intimidation and Terror (FAIT), said it knew of 287 persons currently in PIRA or Loyalist paramilitary-enforced exile and suspected the true number was significantly higher.

e. Denial of Fair Public Trial

The judiciary is independent. The UK has several levels of courts. The vast majority of criminal cases are heard by magistrates' courts, which are managed by locally based committees. Their decisions may be appealed to the Crown Court, which also hears criminal cases requiring a jury trial, or to the High Court. From the Crown Court, convictions may be appealed to the Court of Appeal, which in turn may refer cases involving points of law to the House of Lords. The Appellate Committee of the House of Lords (which consists of senior judges and is functionally distinct from the legislative arm of the House) is the final court of appeal. Once all of these appeals have been exhausted, defendants in England and Wales may appeal to the Home Secretary to refer a case back to the courts if fresh evidence has emerged that casts doubt on the conviction. (Appeals may be made to the Northern Ireland Office and the Scottish Office in those jurisdictions.) The law provides for fair trial, and the authorities respect this. However, serious exceptions led the Government in 1991 to establish 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. The Government in July passed the Criminal Appeal Act to establish a Criminal Case Review Commission. The Commission, due to start work in 1996, will direct and supervise investigations into possible miscarriages of justice and refer cases for further appeal on factual, legal, and sentencing grounds. The Belfast Crown Court acquitted the remaining three of the "Ballymurphy Seven," a group of teen-agers arrested in 1991 in connection with an attack on the RUC, on procedural grounds. The 3 had been out on bail since October 1994, when 10 boxes of documents pertinent to their trial, the existence of which had been previously denied, were produced by the prosecution. The Court ruled that the failure to disclose the evidence was central to the men's release, but it described the prosecution's actions as an "inadvertent lapse" and strongly implied that the accused were in fact guilty as charged. It called "implausible" the defendants' allegations that police used physical and mental coercion to elicit their confessions. With the entry into effect of the Criminal Justice and Public Order Act of 1994, judges obtained the power to instruct juries that they may draw an inference of guilt from a defendant's refusal to answer questions during interrogation or trial, although no conviction can be based solely on such an inference. Human rights groups and the UNHRC have sharply criticized this change in the law. A similar provision is in effect in Northern Ireland (see below). Indigent defendants have the right to free counsel of their choice. All criminal proceedings must be held in public except those in juvenile court and those involving public decency or security. In a trial under the Official Secrets Act, the judge may order the court closed, but the sentencing must be public. Convictions can be appealed to successively higher courts. In Northern Ireland, special "emergency" restrictions affect due process. Under the 1973 EPA, the Government suspended the right to trial by jury there for certain terrorist-related offenses because terrorists had 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 an adverse inference when a suspect refuses to answer questions. There were no reports of political prisoners.

f. Arbitrary Interference with Privacy, Family, home, or

Correspondence Warrants are normally required for a police search of private premises. However, under the 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.

Section 2 Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

a. Freedom of Speech and Press

Strongly held common-law tradition, an independent press, and a democratic political system combine to secure freedom of speech and the press, including academic freedom. Viewpoints critical of the Government are well represented. The print media are dominated by a handful of national daily newspapers, all privately owned and independent (although often generally aligned with a political party). About half the electronic media are run by the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC), which is funded by the Government but enjoys complete editorial independence. The remainder are run by corporations under renewable government license. Human rights organizations 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 or a public interest defense for disclosing sensitive information, the act shields government activities from public scrutiny, including possible improper or illegal activities. 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. The doctrine of Public Interest Immunity (PII) allows government ministers to prevent certain information from being disclosed during litigation, on the grounds that its revelation would be contrary to the public interest. In May the Northern Ireland Secretary imposed a PII certificate on former Manchester Deputy Chief Constable John Stalker to prevent him from giving evidence in court in a civil action against the greater Manchester police. The Government maintained that any discussion of the RUC's alleged "shoot-to-kill" policy, which Stalker had investigated in the mid-1980's, could jeopardize the current peace process. (Manchester's Chief Constable had taken Stalker off the investigation, and his findings, which he hinted might be damaging to the Government, were never published.)

b. Freedom of Peaceful Assembly and Association

The law provides for the right of peaceful assembly, and the Government respects this right in practice. Under the PTA, the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland may proscribe any organization that "appears to him to be concerned in, or in promoting or encouraging terrorism...." Membership in some 10 Loyalist and Republican paramilitary groups is thus punishable by up to 10 years' imprisonment, and supporting these entities is also illegal. Human rights activists have criticized this law because it criminalizes not only terrorist acts but also association with individuals who commit them.

c. Freedom of Religion

Government policy and general practice ensure freedom of religion. There are two legally recognized official churches of the State: in England, the (Anglican) Church of England, and in Scotland, the (Presbyterian) Church of Scotland. Blasphemy of the Christian religionÚÚand only of that religionÚÚis outlawed. The blasphemy law, however, is rarely enforced. In Northern Ireland, the Constitution Act of 1973 prohibits public authorities from discriminating on the basis of religious or political belief.

d. Freedom of Movement within the Country, Foreign

Travel, Emigration, and Repatriation Citizens enjoy freedom of movement within the country and in foreign travel, emigration, and repatriation. However, the Home Secretary may exclude from Great Britain anyone believed linked with terrorism in Northern Ireland, except anyone born in Great Britain or resident there for 3 years; and the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland can likewise exclude persons not native to or resident in that province. Currently 36 persons (down from 69 in 1994) are subject to exclusion orders. Several Members of Parliament, human rights groups, and the media have objected to exclusion orders. The Secretary of State need not reveal the grounds for exclusion, and the evidence is not tested in any court. There is no right of appeal to the courts, but appeal may be made informally to an independent advisor. The Government cooperates with the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees and other humanitarian organizations in assisting refugees. The charge has been levied, however, that the Government regularly detains a small percentage of asylum seekers, on average for over 4 months, as a deterrent to others who might follow. The Government denies this, but figures show a higher percentage of detainees ultimately gain refugee status than do asylum seekers permitted to live in the community. Applications for political asylum dropped from a peak of 44,840 in 1991 to 32,840 in 1994. Of those, 825 were grantedÚÚthe lowest proportion ever. Because asylum procedures are cumbersome and cases are backlogged, the law provides for granting of "exceptional leave to remain" (ELR) as a step short of full refugee status. Home Office statistics show that three to four times as many asylum seekers are granted ELR as are granted full refugee status. While in ELR status, however, individuals are denied the benefit of family reunion. Human rights groups maintain that the Government does not apply safeguards, such as assurance of access to a fair asylum-determination procedure, when removing asylum seekers to safe third countries and that these policies undermine 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 the right to change their government 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.) Despite periodic attempts, there has been no devolved government in Northern Ireland since 1972 because of the troubles. In 1979 a majority of Scottish people voting (but not the required majority of those on the Scottish electoral rolls) voted in favor of devolution for Scotland. Parties committed to the establishment of some form of Scottish parliament received some 75 percent of the vote during the last general election (in 1992). The Government has chosen not to call a further referendum on Scottish devolution. 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). In August Bermudians voting in an independence referendum chose to maintain their island's status as a British dependency. 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. Female members constitute about a 10th of the House of Commons (including the Speaker of the House) and a 20th of the House of Lords. Both major parties recognize the need to increase the number of women representatives. The Labour Party has sought to require local constituencies to nominate only women candidates for safe seats that fall vacant. About a fifth of Councillors on local authorities are women. Several members of minority ethnic groups serve in Parliament, and many work in local governments.

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

The many nongovernmental human rights organizations operate with no government interference, and the UNHRC praised their submissions to it as "a tribute to the democratic nature of United Kingdom society." In 1973 the Government established a standing Advisory Commission on Human Rights to monitor human rights in Northern Ireland but has not adopted many of its recommendations. A number of international, nongovernmental human rights organizations, including Amnesty International and Article 19, 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 Status

The law prohibits 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. Conversely, discrimination on grounds of religious or political opinion is unlawful in Northern Ireland but not in Great Britain. Discrimination on the basis of religion is only illegal in Great Britain when its effect is to discriminate against a member of a minority ethnic group. The Government respects all extant antidiscrimination laws. In 1991 the Prime Minister announced that sexual orientation would no longer be a bar to receiving a security clearance. Nevertheless, in November an Appeal Court ruling upheld the Ministry of Defense's power to dismiss male and female homosexual members of the armed services on grounds of "incompatibility." The Ministry commenced a review of the policy in order to advise a House of Commons special select committee due to consider the quinquennial armed forces bill in early 1996.


Statistical and other evidence indicates that most victims of societal violence are women. Domestic violence constitutes one-third of all reported crimes against women and accounts for almost 25 percent of all reported violent crimes. A coordinator of refuge provision, the Women's Aid Federation in England, says that it receives approximately 130,000 calls about domestic violence each year. Almost 50 percent of all homicides of women are committed by partners or ex-partners. The law provides for injunctive relief, personal protection orders, and exclusion orders for women who are victims of violence. The Government provides shelters, counseling, and other assistance for victims of battery or rape, and it offers free legal aid to battered women who are economically reliant upon their abusers. 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. A 1994 law abolished the warning that judges had previously been required to give juries to the effect that a victim's testimony alone should not be adequate for a rape conviction. The Criminal Justice and Public Order Act of 1994 made sexual (as well as other intentional) harassment a criminal offense. The law provides for equal opportunity between the sexes. A government minister cochairs the Women's National Commission, a forum for women's organizations that presents women's views to the Government. An Equal Opportunities Commission supports persons who bring discrimination cases before industrial tribunals and courts, and it produces guidelines on good practice for employers. Women in Britain earned approximately 21 percent less than their male counterparts in comparable positions. In Northern Ireland, the figure is 25.9 percent less. The 1975 Sex Discrimination Act as amended in 1986 prohibits indirect as well as direct discrimination in training, education, housing, and provision of goods and services, as well as in employment. In February the Government promulgated regulations to ensure that employees working part-time, almost 90 percent of whom are women, are entitled to qualify for employment protection rights on the same basis as full-time workers. Women have equal rights regarding property and divorce.


The Government demonstrates its strong commitment to children's rights and welfare through its well-funded systems of public education and medical care. In 1993 the Government initiated a 3-year grant to create an extra 50,000 out-of-school childcare places. Nine out of 10 children ages 3 and 4 now attend some form of nursery school or play group. In July the Government announced that it would provide parents with vouchers for nursery education for 4-year-olds. However, publicly funded care is available for only 2 percent of children under age 3. While there is no pattern of societal abuse of children, indications are, despite the lack of reliable data, that child abuse is nevertheless a problem. Various laws covering England and Wales stipulate that children have the right to apply for court orders, to give or withhold consent for medical treatment (for those capable of making an informed decision), to make complaints to the relevant local authority, to have their ethnic, linguistic, and religious background considered in decisions affecting them, to have reasonable contact with their family (usually applied in a circumstance where there has been abuse), and in general to be consulted regarding their desires. The U.N. Committee on the Rights of the Child concluded in January that emergency legislation in Northern Ireland operated to the detriment of children there: for example, the police and army power to stop, question, and search people on the street led to complaints of youths being mistreated. The UNHRC in July regretted that corporal punishment is lawful in certain circumstances in independent schools.

People with Disabilities

The Companies Act of 1985 requires firms employing more than 250 people to set out in their annual reports their policies on recruitment, training, and career development for disabled workers. A 1994 survey commissioned by SCOPE, a charity and lobbying group, of 1,568 disabled people in England, Wales, and Scotland found that nearly a fifth had been refused service in a pub or restaurant because of their disability, 45 percent found it difficult to get information about available health and social services, and 51 percent believed that they had been refused a job interview or a job because of their disability. In November the Government passed the Disability Discrimination Act, outlawing discrimination against disabled people in provision of access to public facilities. The Act does not cover discrimination in education, and the Government declined to create an enforcement body, creating the National Disability Council instead as an advisory body to carry out research and report regularly to the Secretary of State for Social Security. 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 put in place similar regulations for sensory-impaired persons. Government regulations mandate that by the year 2000 all taxis be accessible to wheelchairs.

Religious Minorities

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 for Catholic men there remained twice that for Protestant men. Government efforts to increase recruitment of Catholics into the police force (currently 92 percent Protestant) and related security fields in the province have been hampered by PIRA assassinations and death threats, as well as widespread antipathy in the Catholic community to the security forces. Applications by Catholics to join the RUC have nonetheless risen since the cease-fires from 12 to 22 percent of the total, and the most recent class of inductees included about 20 percent Catholics. With postcease-fire downsizing likely, however, the RUC acknowledged that raising its percentage of Catholics to approximate that of the general population would remain problematic. While active recruitment of Catholics by the Northern Ireland civil service has produced rough proportionality in overall numbers, the service has acknowledged that Catholics remained significantly underrepresented in its senior grades, and in November 1993 it declared its intention to overcome this imbalance. Service-wide employment cutbacks have thus far hampered its efforts. The Fair Employment (Northern Ireland) Act of 1989, as amended, aims to end even unintentional or indirect discrimination in the workplace. (There is no legislation to prohibit religious discrimination in housing, education, or provision of goods and services.) A fair employment tribunal adjudicates complaints. All public-sector employers and all private firms with over 10 workers must report annually to the Fair Employment Commission on the religious composition of their work force and must review their employment practices at least once every 3 years. Noncompliance can bring criminal penalties and loss of government contracts. Victims of employment discrimination may sue for damages. While critics of the act have asserted that its targets and timetables are too imprecise, most leaders of the Catholic community have praised it as a positive step.

National/Racial/Ethnic Minorities

Although the law prohibits discrimination based on race (except in Northern Ireland), persons of African or South Asian origin face substantial unofficial discrimination. The Home Office has estimated that there are between 130,000 and 140,000 incidents of racial attack and harassment involving all races every year. An April study by the Northern Ireland Anti-Poverty Network found that 90 percent of the approximately 7,000 ethnic Chinese living in the province had experienced some form of racial prejudice. Incitement to racial hatred is a criminal offense punishable by a maximum of 2 years' imprisonment. The Government strictly enforces these laws and regulations. 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. Although ethnic minorities are only 5.5 percent of the population, they are a quarter of those stopped and searched by police. Various studies have shown that, on average, black men face more serious charges for the same substantive offenses than do white men, they are more likely to be cautioned, and they are more likely to receive custodial sentences. Statistically, blacks are 7.1 times as likely as whites to be in prison. Ethnic minorities are seriously underrepresented in the criminal justice professions.

Section 6 Worker Rights

a. The Right of Association

Workers have the right to form and join unions, and the Government fully respects this right in practice. Unions 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." Voluntary cessation of work may be considered a breach of contract. A system of legal immunities from prosecution for unions engaged in lawful industrial action was narrowed by acts of Parliament in the 1980's. These acts exclude secondary strikes and actions judged to have political motives; unions encouraging such strikes are subject to fines and seizure of their assets. The legislation also restricts the ability of unions to act against subsidiaries of prime employers with which they are in dispute when the subsidiaries are not party to the dispute and are the employers of record. In 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, because it is no longer a party to the Charter. Legislation in 1978 and 1990 made it illegal to deny employment on the grounds that the applicant is not a union member. The Trade Union Reform and Employment Rights Act of 1993 set new procedural requirements for union strikes, dues collection, and membership rules. It also made it possible for private citizens, when deprived of goods or services due to strike action, to seek damages and to obtain assistance in this effort from the Government. The Trade Unions Congress (TUC) in 1993 lodged complaints with the International Labor Organization (ILO) on various provisions of the 1993 Act (see Section 6.b.); the ILO has not completed consideration of these complaints. In March the House of Lords upheld a provision of the Employment Protection Act of 1978, as amended by the Employment Act of 1988, allowing employers to offer workers financial inducements to give up trade union representation.

b. The Right to Organize and Bargain Collectively

Although there is no legal obligation for employers to bargain with workers' representatives, and while labor-management contracts are not enforceable in the courts, collective bargaining is longstanding and widespread, covering about 40 percent of the work force. Workers who believe themselves victims of antiunion discrimination may seek redress through industrial tribunals. Remedies available include payment of indemnities and reinstatement. Contrary to ILO Convention 98 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. There are no export processing zones.

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 age 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. No legislation limits daily or weekly working hours. The Health and Safety at Work Act of 1974 requires that the health and safety of employees not be placed at risk. A Health and Safety Commission effectively enforces regulations on these matters and may initiate criminal proceedings. Workers' representatives actively monitor the enforcement. Workers can remove themselves from hazardous conditions without risking loss of employment as provided in the European Union Framework Directive on Safety and Health.  

[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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