UK - Amnesty International Report 2007

Human Rights in UNITED KINGDOM OF GREAT BRITAIN AND
NORTHERN IRELAND

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Head of state: Queen Elizabeth II
Head of government: Gordon Brown (replaced Tony Blair in June 2007)
Death penalty: abolitionist for all crimes
International Criminal Court: ratified

The government continued to erode fundamental human rights, the rule of law and the independence of the judiciary, including by persisting with attempts to undermine the ban on torture at home and abroad, and by seeking to enact legislation inconsistent with fundamental human rights. Measures taken by the authorities with the stated aim of countering terrorism led to serious human rights violations, and concern was widespread about the impact of these measures on Muslims and other minority communities. Public judicial inquiries into cases of alleged state collusion in past killings in Northern Ireland were ongoing, but the government continued to fail to establish an inquiry into the killing of Patrick Finucane.

'War on terror'

The Terrorism Act 2006, the fourth piece of legislation passed since 2000 with the stated aim of countering terrorism, became law in March. Some of its provisions were inconsistent with fundamental human rights. It created new offences, including "encouragement of terrorism", whose scope significantly exceeded international law provisions that the government claimed it would implement. The Act also extended the maximum period of police detention without charge from 14 to 28 days for people held under terrorism legislation.

Instead of bringing people to justice, the authorities continued to seek to deport individuals they asserted posed a threat to "national security", and to impose "control orders" under the Prevention of Terrorism Act 2005 on others allegedly involved in "terrorism-related activity". Consequent judicial proceedings were profoundly unfair, denying individuals the right to a fair hearing, including because of heavy reliance on secret hearings in which intelligence information had been withheld from the appellants and their lawyers of choice, as well as a particularly low standard of proof.

In August the Home Secretary lost his appeal against a ruling quashing "control orders" he had made against six foreign nationals. The court held that the obligations imposed on the men amounted to deprivation of liberty and that, in the circumstances, he had made the orders unlawfully. However, the same court allowed his appeal against a ruling that proceedings under the Prevention of Terrorism Act were incompatible with the right to a fair hearing.

During the year, charges were brought in connection with alleged breaches of "control orders". As a result, at least one man was held in custody. However, since his original "control order" had been ruled unlawful, his subsequent detention for alleged breaches of it was also unlawful. In December, 16 "control orders" were in force, seven of which were against UK nationals.

Appeals continued against the deportation on national security grounds of a number of men. A ruling was awaited on a lead case involving reliance by the

UK authorities on a memorandum of understanding concluded in 2005 with Jordan. The government continued to assert that "diplomatic assurances" featured in this and other memorandums of understanding concluded with other countries could be relied on to relieve the UK of its human rights obligation not to send people to countries where they would face a real risk of torture or other ill-treatment. However, having failed to secure a memorandum with Algeria, and despite acknowledging such a risk upon return to that country, the government claimed that assurances obtained from Algeria on a case-by-case basis would eliminate the risk in any event.

• In August, an Algerian torture survivor and refugee, known for legal reasons only as "Y", lost his appeal against his deportation on national security grounds. Despite ample evidence to the contrary, the court ruled that "Y" would not face a real risk of torture if deported to Algeria. The authorities were allowed to present their case that "Y" would not face such a risk largely in secret hearings, from which "Y" and his lawyers of choice were excluded. Pending further appeal, at the end of 2006 he had not been deported.

In August the European Committee for the Prevention of Torture (CPT) published the reports on its visits to the UK in July and November 2005. It found that the Special Security Unit in Full Sutton Prison was inappropriate for holding people who had previously been interned, in some cases for more than three years; that the threat of deportation to countries where people had apparently suffered torture or other ill-treatment increased the possibility of self-inflicted deaths in custody; that the detainees' medical examination always took place within the hearing of prison officers; that some detainees had not had prompt access to a lawyer following arrest; and that during transport detainees were handcuffed despite being locked inside metal cages. The CPT found that people detained under terrorism legislation were not physically brought before a judge, even for the initial authorization to extend police custody beyond 48 hours. Instead, conferences by video link were held, with the detainee guarded by police officers on one end of the link and the judge on the other end. It recommended that legislation be amended to ensure that anyone arrested has access to a lawyer from the outset of their detention. The CPT also reiterated that the conditions at Paddington Green High Security Police Station were inadequate for prolonged detention.

Guantánamo detainees with UK links

At least eight former UK residents continued to be held at the US detention camp in Guantánamo Bay, Cuba.

• In October, the Court of Appeal of England and Wales refused to order the UK authorities to make representations seeking the return to the UK of Bisher Al Rawi, an Iraqi national and long-term UK resident; Jamil El Banna, a Jordanian national with refugee status in the UK; and Omar Deghayes, a Libyan national also with refugee status in the UK.

• In April the December 2005 ruling that David Hicks, an Australian national detained in Guantánamo Bay, was entitled to be registered as a UK citizen and therefore to receive assistance from the UK authorities was upheld, and the government was refused permission to further appeal. However, the government had successfully introduced measures to thwart the import of the ruling. As a result, in July David Hicks was granted UK citizenship but stripped of it hours later. His appeal against this decision was pending.

Renditions

Despite the emergence of further evidence implicating the UK in the unlawful transfer of Bisher Al Rawi and Jamil El Banna to US custody (see above) and in other known cases of renditions (illegal transfer of people between states outside of any judicial process), the government failed to instigate an independent and impartial inquiry.

Torture

• In June the Appellate Committee of the House of Lords (the Law Lords) granted immunity to Saudi Arabia and its officials at whose hands four UK citizens alleged they had suffered systematic torture. The UK government intervened in the case in support of the Saudi Arabian government's argument that it enjoyed state immunity. AI intervened in the case jointly with other non-governmental organizations, arguing that there should be no immunity for torture.

• In November leaked internal official reports revealed that more than 160 prison officers were implicated in allegations of torture of inmates at Wormwood Scrubs Prison that had come to light in the late 1990s. Reportedly, many of the incidents that the authorities had publicly refused to admit were acknowledged in the reports, and some managers had colluded in the abuse by ignoring it. The author of one of the reports allegedly stated that officers implicated in the abuses continued to pose an ongoing threat to inmates.

Police shootings

• In June police officers mounted a massive operation against a perceived terrorist threat that included forced entry into the home of Muhammad Abdulkahar and his family in Forest Gate, London, during which they shot and wounded him. It emerged that the operation was based on erroneous intelligence. In August an investigation concluded that the shot had been fired accidentally and that, in the circumstances, the officer involved had not committed any criminal or disciplinary offence.

• In July the prosecuting authorities announced that no individual police officer would be prosecuted for any criminal offence in connection with the fatal shooting of Jean Charles de Menezes in London in 2005. Instead, they decided to prosecute the Office of the Commissioner of Police of the Metropolis under

health and safety legislation, a prosecution which, if successful, could result in a financial penalty only. In September the inquest into the death of Jean Charles

de Menezes was adjourned indefinitely pending completion of ongoing criminal proceedings against the Office of the Commissioner of Police. In December a legal challenge brought by the family of Jean Charles de Menezes against the prosecuting authorities' decision not to bring criminal charges against any individuals in connection with his killing was dismissed.

• In July the prosecuting authorities announced that there was insufficient evidence to prosecute any police officer for any offence in connection with the fatal shooting of Azelle Rodney. In April 2005 the vehicle in which Azelle Rodney was travelling was intercepted by police who shot him in the ensuing operation.

• In December the sister of Christopher Alder, who

in 1998 had choked to death on the floor of a police station while handcuffed, won the right to sue the prosecuting authorities for racial discrimination in connection with their handling of the case.

Prisons

In England and Wales alone, the prison population soared to nearly 80,000, among the highest per capita worldwide. Police cells were used as a result of the overcrowding crisis. Among other things, overcrowding continued to be linked to self-harm and self-inflicted deaths, greater risks to the safety of staff and inmates, and detention conditions amounting to cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment.

• In June the report of the public inquiry into the killing of Zahid Mubarek by his cellmate, a known racist, at Feltham Young Offenders Institution in March 2000 was published. Among other things, it found that 186 failings, either institutional or by 19 named individuals, had led to his death, which could have been prevented had appropriate action been taken.

Freedom of expression

• In December the Law Lords confirmed that detaining Jane Laporte to forcibly return her to London had been unlawful and violated her right to liberty. She was among three coach-loads of anti-war protesters who were prevented from reaching the air force base at Fairford - used by US B52 bombers to fly to Iraq - and forcibly returned to London in March 2003. The court also found that by preventing the coaches from reaching Fairford the police had violated Jane Laporte's right to freedom of peaceful assembly and expression.

Northern Ireland

Direct rule continued. In January the government withdrew the Northern Ireland (Offences) Bill after concern was expressed that, if enacted, it would have sanctioned impunity for past human rights abuses committed by state agents and paramilitaries, and would have deprived victims of effective redress. Despite concern about its lack of independence, the Police Service of Northern Ireland continued to investigate unresolved conflict-related deaths.

Collusion and political killings

The government continued to fail to establish an inquiry into allegations of state collusion in the 1989 killing of prominent human rights lawyer Patrick Finucane. The Secretary of State for Northern Ireland stated that a Finucane inquiry would only be constituted under the Inquiries Act 2005. The Irish government and the US House of Representatives stated that the Act would be incapable of delivering an independent and impartial inquiry into the killing.

In December David Wright won his legal challenge against the government's decision to convert the inquiry into allegations of state collusion in the killing of his son, Billy Wright, into an inquiry constituted under the Inquiries Act 2005. AI intervened jointly

with other non-governmental organizations, asserting that the legislation was inadequate to fulfil the requirements of human rights law for such inquiries. On the same grounds, AI had opposed the move in March by the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland to convert the inquiry into allegations of state collusion in the 1997 killing of Robert Hamill into one constituted under the Inquiries Act 2005.

Allegations of collusion between UK security forces and loyalist paramilitaries in many human rights abuses, including bombings at Dublin airport and Dundalk in 1975 and at Castleblayney, County Monaghan, in 1976, were once again raised in an Irish Parliament report in November.

Refugees and asylum-seekers

The Immigration, Asylum and Nationality Act 2006 became law in March. It contained measures that could exclude from the protection of the UN Refugee Convention those seeking asylum on grounds of political persecution.

The vast majority of asylum applications were ultimately refused. Tens of thousands of rejected asylum-seekers who had not left the UK, often through no fault of their own, were condemned to live in abject poverty, living on the charity of others. A minority of rejected asylum-seekers received the statutory provision available to those left destitute who faced a temporary barrier to their removal. However, the majority of rejected asylum-seekers refused to apply, or were not eligible, for statutory provisions available to those left destitute. Rejected asylum-seekers were also not allowed to work, were not eligible for free health care in hospitals unless for emergency treatment, and were not allowed to continue with treatment they were already receiving during the asylum process.

In September, 32 Iraqi Kurds were forcibly returned to northern Iraq despite concern for their safety there.

In December, the government announced that the Independent Police Complaints Commission would be charged with investigating complaints arising from incidents involving immigration officials exercising police-like powers.

In July the European Court of Human Rights found that the UK had violated an asylum-seeker's right to be informed promptly of the reasons for his detention. He had been detained for some 76 hours before his representative had been informed of the reasons

for his detention.

Violence against women

The government failed to address the lack of any strategic work on prevention of violence against women and did not provide adequate financial support to women subject to immigration control to enable them to leave abusive personal or employment situations. Women subject to immigration control - other than asylum applicants - were denied public funds, including for emergency housing.

Conviction rates for different forms of gender violence other than domestic violence remained very low. The conviction rate for the crime of rape was 5.3 per cent of all reported incidents in England and Wales.

AI country reports/visits

Reports

• United Kingdom: Human rights - a broken promise (AI Index: EUR 45/004/2006)

• United Kingdom: Deepcut and beyond - high time for a public inquiry (AI Index: EUR 45/008/2006)

• United Kingdom: Justice denied for British survivors tortured in Saudi Arabia - A major leap backwards in the fight against impunity (AI Index: EUR 45/010/2006)

• United Kingdom: The Killing of Jean Charles de Menezes (AI Index: EUR 45/015/2006)

• United Kingdom: The Killing of Jean Charles de Menezes - let justice take its course (AI Index: EUR 45/021/2006)

• Europe: Partners in crime - Europe's role in US renditions (AI Index: EUR 01/008/2006)

Visits

AI delegates observed judicial hearings in the UK, including those held under terrorism legislation.