Section 6. Discrimination, Societal Abuses, and Trafficking in Persons
Rape and Domestic Violence: The law criminalizes rape of both men and women, including spousal rape. The maximum legal penalty for rape is life imprisonment. The law also provides for injunctive relief, personal protection orders, and protective exclusion orders (similar to restraining orders) for victims of violence. The government enforced the law effectively in reported cases. Courts in some cases imposed the maximum punishment for rape. The government provided shelters, counseling, and other assistance for survivors of rape or violence. NGOs warned that police and Crown Prosecutorial Services have raised the bar for evidence needed, causing victims to drop out of the justice process. In July the Crown Prosecution Service launched a five-year plan for the prosecution of rape and serious sexual offenses (RASSO) to help reduce the gap between reported cases and prosecutions. The plan committed to improving cooperation between police and prosecutors, fully resourcing RASSO units, and training to improve communication with victims.
The law criminalizes domestic violence. Those who abuse spouses, partners, or family members face tougher punishment than those who commit similar offenses in a nondomestic context.
The NGO Women’s Aid reported that as of April 6, a total of 38 of 45 service providers had reduced or suspended at least one service due to COVID-19. NGOs expressed concern that the digitization of medical services due to COVID-19 disproportionately affected women and children of color who were less likely to have access to computers or smart phones.
The Office for National Statistics (ONS) reported in November that while police-recorded cases of domestic violence in England and Wales rose by 7 percent from March to June, compared with the same period in 2019, the rise could not be attributed entirely to the COVID-19 pandemic because police made an effort to record these crimes better in recent years. The same report stated demand for domestic violence services increased since the start of COVID-19 restrictions on movement outside the home in March, and it acknowledged that victims trapped at home with their abuser due to restrictions may not able to report the crime to police.
The #YouAreNotAlone campaign introduced by the home secretary during the COVID-19 response aimed to raise public awareness about domestic violence and encourage those experiencing abuse to seek help. NGOs criticized the fact that the campaign was carried out entirely in English. Additionally, in April the Home Office provided an additional two million pounds ($2.64 million) to NGOs and the Domestic Abuse Commissioner to bolster domestic abuse helplines and online support. Throughout the year professional organizations responsible for safeguarding women and children issued COVID-19 specific guidance to help practitioners, such as nurses, police, and social workers, to identify and report signs of abuse.
Domestic violence and abuse was at a 15-year high in Northern Ireland, having increased by 9.1 percent with more than 32,000 incidents (18,885 crimes) recorded by the Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI) from June 2019 to July 2020. Year on year, more incidents were reported during the height of the COVID-19 lockdown in April (291 more) and May (258) than in the same months in 2019. Restrictions to reduce the spread of COVID-19 forcing people to spend much more time at home created what some women’s aid NGOs described as the “perfect storm” for abusers. Domestic abuse accounted for 19.1 percent of all crime recorded by the PSNI during the year, and Northern Ireland remained the only region in the UK without specific legislation on coercive control.
Female Genital Mutilation/Cutting (FGM/C): The law prohibits FGM/C. The law also requires health and social care professionals and teachers to report to police cases of FGM/C on girls younger than age 18. It is also illegal to take a British national or permanent resident abroad for FGM/C or to help someone trying to do so. The penalty is up to 14 years in prison. An FGM protection order, a civil measure that can be applied for through a family court, offers the means of protecting actual or potential victims from FGM/C under the civil law. Breach of an FGM protection order is a criminal offense carrying a sentence of up to five years in prison.
FGM/C is illegally practiced in the country, particularly within some diaspora communities where FGM/C is prevalent. The government issued 298 FGM protection orders to protect children perceived as at-risk of FGM/C.
The government took nonjudicial steps to address FGM/C, including awareness-raising efforts, a hotline, and requiring medical professionals to report FGM/C observed on patients. The National Health Service reported 6,590 newly recorded cases between April 2019 and March 2020.
Sexual Harassment: The law criminalizes sexual harassment at places of work. Authorities used different laws to prosecute cases of harassment outside the workplace.
Reproductive Rights: Couples and individuals have the right to decide the number, spacing, and timing of their children; and to manage their reproductive health. They had access to the information and means to do so, free from discrimination, coercion, or violence. The government provided access to sexual and reproductive health services for survivors of sexual violence. Health policy was devolved to constituent parts of the United Kingdom. The Northern Ireland Department of Health has not funded some reproductive health services, and certain aspects of reproductive rights remain under political debate.
Coercion in Population Control: There were no reports of coerced abortion or involuntary sterilization on the part of government authorities.
Discrimination: The law provides the same legal status and rights for women and men. Women were subject to some discrimination in employment.
Birth Registration: A child born in the UK receives the country’s citizenship at birth if one of the parents is a UK citizen or a legally settled resident. Children born in Northern Ireland may opt for UK, Irish, or dual citizenship. A child born in an overseas territory is a UK overseas territories citizen if at least one of the child’s parents has citizenship. All births must be registered within 42 days in the district where the baby was born; unregistered births were uncommon.
In May the UK government confirmed that family members of British or dual Irish-British citizens in Northern Ireland would be eligible to apply for status through the EU settlement scheme. Prior to this, the government faced legal action for a claimed breach of rights in relation to citizenship and the Belfast/Good Friday Agreement. The citizen, whose application for a residence card for her U.S.-born husband was rejected, identified only as Irish and not as British but was told that under the law she is also a British citizen and legally registered as such despite her objection.
Child Abuse: Laws make the abuse of children punishable by up to a maximum sentence of 14 years’ imprisonment. Social service departments in each local authority in the country maintained confidential child protection registers containing details of children at risk of physical, emotional, or sexual abuse or neglect. The registers also included child protection plans for each child.
Child, Early, and Forced Marriage: The minimum legal age for marriage is 16. In England, Northern Ireland, and Wales, persons younger than 18 require the written consent of parents or guardians, and the underage person must present a birth certificate. The legal minimum age to enter into a marriage in Scotland is 16 and does not require parental consent.
Forcing someone to marry against his or her will is a criminal offense throughout the UK with a maximum prison sentence of seven years. Forcing a UK citizen into marriage anywhere in the world is a criminal offense in England and Wales. In 2019 the joint Foreign, Commonwealth, and Development Office and the Home Office Forced Marriage Unit provided support in more than 1,355 cases of potential or confirmed forced marriage involving UK citizens, which represented a 10 percent decrease from 2018. According to the Forced Marriage Unit, this figure was “in line with the average number of cases per year since 2011.” Assistance included safety advice as well as “reluctant spouse cases” in which the UK government assisted forced marriage victims in preventing their unwanted spouse from moving to the UK. The government offers lifelong anonymity for victims of forced marriage to encourage more to come forward.
In Scotland 22 cases of forced marriage were reported in 2019, down from 30 in 2018.
Sexual Exploitation of Children: The penalties for sexual offenses against children and the commercial sexual exploitation of children range up to life imprisonment. Authorities enforced the law. The law prohibits child pornography in all parts of the UK. The minimum age of consensual sex in the UK is 16.
International Child Abductions: The UK, including Bermuda, is party to the 1980 Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction. See the Department of State’s Annual Report on International Parental Child Abduction at .
The 2011 census recorded the Jewish population at 263,346. Some considered this an underestimate, and both the Institute for Jewish Policy Research and the British Board of Deputies suggested that the actual figure was approximately 300,000.
The semiannual report of the NGO Community Security Trust (CST) recorded 789 anti-Semitic incidents during the first six months of the year. This was a 13 percent decrease from the same period in 2019, but still the third-highest number of incidents the CST has recorded during the first semester of a year. The CST noted the COVID-19 pandemic influenced how anti-Semitism manifested in the early part of the year. March and April saw the lowest monthly totals, with April being the first month since December 2017 in which the CST recorded fewer than 100 anti-Semitic incidents. These months correlated with the period when COVID-19 prevention measures regarding movements outside the home were at their strictest. The CST recorded 344 online anti-Semitic incidents, a 4 percent increase from 332 in 2019. This was the highest number of reported online anti-Semitic incidents recorded by the CST for the first half of a year. Of the 244 online incidents, 10 were reports of educational or religious online events being “hijacked” with anti-Semitic content or behavior. The CST also recorded 26 incidents of anti-Semitic rhetoric alongside references to COVID-19, such as conspiracy theories accusing Jews of inventing the COVID-19 “hoax,” of creating and spreading COVID-19 itself for malevolent and financial purposes, or of simply wishing that Jews would catch the virus and die.
The CST recorded 47 violent anti-Semitic assaults during the first half of the year, a 45 percent decrease from of the same period in 2019. One of the violent incidents was classified by the CST as “extreme violence,” meaning the incident involved potential grievous bodily harm or a threat to life. There were 28 incidents of damage and desecration of Jewish property; 673 incidents of abusive behavior, including verbal abuse, graffiti, social media, and hate mail; 36 direct anti-Semitic threats; and five cases of mass-mailed anti-Semitic leaflets or emails. All of the listed totals were lower than the incident totals in the same categories in the first half of 2019.
More than two-thirds of the 789 anti-Semitic incidents were recorded in Greater London and Greater Manchester, the two largest Jewish communities in the UK. The CST recorded 477 anti-Semitic incidents in Greater London in the first half of the year, an increase of 2 percent from 2019. The 69 incidents the CST recorded in Greater Manchester were down from 123 in 2019 and represented a reduction of 44 percent. Anti-Semitic incidents in Manchester tended to be more street based than in Greater London, where online incidents targeted national Jewish leadership bodies and public figures. Elsewhere in the UK, the CST recorded an anti-Semitic incident in all but two of the country’s 43 police regions, compared with nine regions in the first half of 2019.
In April the newly elected Labour Party leader, Sir Keir Starmer, and the deputy leader, MP Angela Rayner, met virtually with representatives of the Jewish community to apologize to the Jewish community for allowing a culture of anti-Semitism within the party. The meeting attendees, including the Board of Deputies of British Jews, the Jewish Leadership Council, the CST, and the Jewish Labour Movement, praised Starmer for his proactive plan to root out anti-Semitism within the party, including the establishment of an independent complaints process, cooperating fully with the EHRC’s inquiry into anti-Semitism allegations, dealing promptly with all outstanding anti-Semitism cases, and training all Labour Party staff to recognize anti-Semitism.
On October 29, the EHRC published the findings of its investigation into whether the Labour Party “unlawfully discriminated against harassed or victimized people because they are Jewish.” The report found that the Labour leadership under former party leader Jeremy Corbyn breached the Equality Act by committing “unlawful harassment” in several cases in which Labour MPs were found to have used “anti-Semitic tropes and suggesting that the complaints of anti-Semitism were fakes or smears.” The report’s targeted recommendations for the party were to commission an independent process to handle anti-Semitism complaints; implement clear rules and guidance that prohibit and sanction political interference in the complaints process; publish a comprehensive policy and procedure, setting out how anti-Semitism complaints will be handled; commission and provide education and training for all individuals involved in the anti-Semitism complaints process; and monitor and evaluate improvements to ensure lasting change. In addition to the targeted recommendations that the EHRC has a legal mandate to enforce, the commission urged changes to both the party culture and its processes. In a press briefing immediately following the report’s release, Starmer said Labour would implement all of the report’s recommendations. Corbyn issued a statement suggesting the report’s findings were overblown. Starmer suspended Corbyn from the Labour Party, but a panel of the Labour National Executive Committee subsequently readmitted him as a party member. Starmer also removed Corbyn from Labour’s parliamentary group and did not reinstate him. Corbyn remained an independent member of parliament.
The law prohibits discrimination against persons with physical, sensory, intellectual, and mental disabilities. The government effectively enforced the law.
On September 18, the ONS reported that from March 2 to July 14 persons with disabilities accounted for 59 percent of the deaths in the country from the COVID-19 virus.
Children with disabilities attended school through secondary education at similar rates to children without disabilities. The law requires all publicly funded preschools, nurseries, state schools, and local authorities to try to identify, help assess, and provide reasonable accommodation to children with “special educational needs or disabilities.”
In a report to Parliament in September, the Equality and Human Rights Commission stated that the Coronavirus Law 2020 gave localities overly broad powers to cease the provision of reasonable accommodation for students with disabilities. The report also stated that, as a result of COVID-19 related delays in service provision, the drop in support for education, health, and care plans for children with disabilities could result in gaps in educational attainment between students with disabilities and those without disabilities.
Bermudian law protects the rights of persons with disabilities in the workplace. The law does not include any protection from discrimination on mental health grounds.
The Department for Works and Pension recorded 44,751 official complaints about its disability benefit assessment process from April 2019 to March 2020, a 12 percent decrease from the same period in 2019. In July the Supreme Court found that the Department for Work and Pensions had not awarded the right amount of points to benefits applications involving those with mental disabilities or to those who struggle to engage with others. In September the Department for Work and Pensions started a review of claimants affected by the Supreme Court decision, which could pay eligible claimants as much as 13,000 pounds ($17,160).
The Crown and Procurator Fiscal’s Office, Scotland’s prosecutor, reported in June that the number of recorded hate crimes against persons with disabilities had risen by 29 percent to 387 in 2019/20.
The EHRC provided legal advice and support to individuals and a hotline. It could also conduct formal investigations, arrange conciliation, require persons or organizations to adopt action plans to ensure compliance with the law, and apply for injunctions to prevent acts of unlawful discrimination.
Members of National/Racial/Ethnic Minority Groups
The law prohibits racial and ethnic discrimination, but Travellers, Roma, and persons of African, Afro-Caribbean, South Asian, and Middle Eastern origin at times reported mistreatment on racial or ethnic grounds.
Racially motivated crime remained the most commonly reported hate crime. In October the Home Office reported 76,070 racial hate crimes in England and Wales from April 2019 to March 2020, a 6 percent increase from the same period in 2018/19. The UK government responded to nationwide antiracist demonstrations by announcing a cross-governmental commission. Prime Minister Johnson said the commission would look at “all aspects of inequality” in employment, in health outcomes, in academia and all other walks of life.
In Scotland racial or other discriminatory motivation may be an “aggravating factor” in crimes. Race-based hate crime was the most commonly reported hate crime in Scotland, accounting for 3,038 charges in 2019/20, an increase of 4 percent on the previous year.
In Northern Ireland there were 624 racially motived hate crimes between April 2019 and March 2020, a decrease of 78 from the previous year. “Right to Rent” rules require all landlords in England to check the immigration documents of prospective tenants to verify they were not irregular or undocumented migrants. Landlords may be fined up to 3,000 pounds ($3,960) for noncompliance. Although in May 2019 the UK High Court ruled that the rules discriminate against anyone without a British passport, the rules remained in force at year’s end.
“Right to Rent” rules require all landlords in England to check the immigration documents of prospective tenants to verify they were not irregular or undocumented migrants. Landlords may be fined up to 3,000 pounds ($3,960) for noncompliance. Although in May 2019 the UK High Court ruled that the rules discriminate against anyone without a British passport, the rules remained in force at year’s end.
Bermuda had its largest ever recorded antiracist protests in June. While 54 percent of residents described themselves as black, arrests of black persons constituted 84 percent of all arrest cases in 2017.
The law in England and Wales prohibits discrimination and harassment based on sexual orientation. It encourages judges to impose a greater sentence in assault cases where the victim’s sexual orientation was a motive for the hostility, and many local police forces demonstrated an increasing awareness of the problem and trained officers to identify and moderate these attacks. In November the Home Office reported a 15 percent increase in hate crimes based on sexual orientation compared with 2018/19.
Sexual motivation may be an “aggravating factor” in crimes. Crime aggravated by sexual orientation was the second most common type of hate crime in Scotland. Hate crime against lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex persons accounted for 1,486 charges in 2019/20, an increase of 24 percent year on year. In April the Scottish government announced that work on the Gender Recognition Act would be delayed indefinitely because of the COVID-19 pandemic. The act, which would have made it easier for persons legally to change their gender, faced criticism, including from within the governing Scottish National Party, over how it would affect women-only services.
PSNI statistics showed there were 218 homophobic crimes and 41 transphobic crimes.
Hate speech, notably against Muslims, in some traditional media, particularly tabloid newspapers, continued to be a problem, with dissemination of biased or ill-founded information. Online hate speech also was a problem.
In a report released in March, the NGO Tell Mama found that anti-Muslim hate crimes in the UK increased by 692 percent in the weeks following the New Zealand Christchurch mosque attack in March 2019.
Several anti-Muslim COVID-19 conspiracy theories spread online in the UK, including theories that Muslims were not adhering to strict rules against convening at places of worship and were therefore spreading the disease. The Muslim Council of Britain’s Centre for Media Monitoring submitted a report to Parliament in August suggesting that mainstream media outlets were also perpetuating images and stories that unfairly linked Islam and Muslim persons to COVID-19.
Scottish law criminalizes behavior that is threatening, hateful, or otherwise offensive at a regulated soccer match, and penalizes any threat of serious violence and threats to incite religious hatred through the mail or the internet.
In Northern Ireland crimes related to faith or religion totaled 15 for the same period, marking a reduction of eight from the previous year. Sectarian crimes decreased by 19 to 628.
In March the government introduced measures to protect renters affected by COVID-19. As long as the protections remain in force, no renter in either social or private accommodation may be evicted for failing to make rent payments. From August 29, landlords are required to give renters six months’ notice if they intend to begin eviction proceedings. Simultaneously, all housing possessions going through court were suspended from March through September 20. When the suspension was lifted, courts were ordered to prioritize only the most egregious cases involving criminal behavior. Longer notice periods and new court rules will continue to apply while COVID-19 restrictions are in place, whether at the national or local level. Evictions were suspended during the second national lockdown from November 5 to December 2, after which the suspension was extended through January 2021.