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United Kingdom

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

a. Arbitrary Deprivation of Life and Other Unlawful or Politically Motivated Killings

The Independent Office for Police Conduct investigates whether security force killings were justifiable, and if appropriate, passes cases to the Crown Prosecution Service to pursue prosecution.

b. Disappearance

There were no reports of disappearances by or on behalf of government authorities.

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

The law prohibits such practices, but there were a few reports that government officials employed them.

A female convict with a diagnosed borderline personality disorder alleged to the visiting delegation from the Council of Europe’s Committee on the Prevention of Torture (CPT) visiting Scotland in October 2019 that she was twice roughly handled during transfers between prisons resulting in bruises on her left upper thigh, on her left elbow, and a black eye in the first instance and injuring her elbow in the second. The CPT investigated uses of force at the Cornton Vale Prison in Scotland, where the woman was incarcerated. Authorities provided more than 200 incident reports covering the period from October 2018 to the day of the visit (i.e., one year). Half of all the incidents involved control and restraint measures and, notably, the use of wrist and thumb-locks. In approximately 25 percent of the incidents when force was used, the female prisoners involved had shown aggression and had first attacked prison staff. In approximately 75 cases, the female prisoners had failed to comply with orders to move cells or get into their cells. In 27 of these control and restraint cases, the refusal to comply with orders had happened after acts of self-harm or suicide attempts.

On February 20, the Subcommittee on Torture of the UN Human Rights Council reported on a visit to the country in September 2019. The report has not been published.

Impunity was not a problem in the security forces. The Independent Office for Police Conduct, Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary and Fire & Rescue Services, and Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Prisons carried out investigations into complaints of abuses by security forces. The United Kingdom’s (UK’s) College of Policing incorporates human rights-oriented guidance on policing into its Authorized Professional Practice, the official source of policing practice.

Prison and Detention Center Conditions

Prison and detention center conditions met international standards but had shortcomings. The government has documented and was investigating these problems.

Physical Conditions: The 2019-20 annual report by Her Majesty’s chief inspector of prisons found that 12 of 14 men’s prisons in the UK had “poor or less than suitable” levels of safety. It also found that only 40 percent of prisons followed the recommendations laid out by the Prisons and Probation Ombudsman following a death in custody, and that several men’s prisons, such as Hewell, and youth institutions, such as Feltham A, were missing documentation recording the use of force, making it difficult to evaluate whether force was used proportionally.

The Ministry of Justice recorded 64,552 incidents of self-harm in UK prisons from March 2019 to March 2020, up 11 percent from the previous 12 months. The chief inspector of prisons found that self-harm had risen in all immigration detention centers.

The CPT delegation that visited England found severe overcrowding (147 percent of capacity) at Doncaster Prison. The CPT also noted that the population of women prisoners was 85 percent higher than what facilities were designed to support, resulting in many women prisoners being held in primarily men’s facilities. According to the International Center for Prison Studies, as of August 28, the overall occupancy level in prisons in England and Wales was 104.6 percent. The CPT also recommended a “deep-cleaning and refurbishment” of the Liverpool and Wormwood Scrubs Prisons.

The House of Commons Justice Select Committee conducted an inquiry in July to evaluate the effectiveness of measures put in place in March to guard the prison population from COVID-19. The final report showed that some prisoners detained during the pandemic were kept in conditions akin to “internationally accepted definitions of solitary confinement.” Citing the wide variation in the interpretation of COVID-19 prevention measures in prisons across the UK, the committee recommended that the Ministry of Justice set a standard minimum time out of cell and provide additional mental health support to prison populations. During the strictest pandemic lockdown measures from March to July, 23 prisoners and nine prison staff members eventually died after testing positive for the virus.

The CPT’s report on its visit to Scotland expressed concern about the use of “long-term segregation” and recommended that “alternatives…should urgently be considered.”

The Urgent Notification Protocol allows the chief inspector of prisons to alert the lord chancellor and secretary of state for justice directly if he or she has an urgent and significant concern about the performance of a prison. There were no urgent notifications during the year.

According to the Ministry of Justice, from June 2019 to June 2020, there were 294 deaths in prison custody, a decrease of 5 percent from 309 deaths the previous 12 months. Of these, 76 deaths were self-inflicted, a 13 percent decrease from the 87 self-inflicted deaths in the previous 12 months. Serious prisoner-on-prisoner assaults decreased by 8 percent to 2,782 in the 12 months to March. During the same period, serious assaults on staff decreased by 5 percent to 953.

Offenders younger than age 20 were held in young offender institutions. Security training centers (STCs) are institutions for young persons up to the age of 17. There were three STCs in England and Wales. The Inspectorate of Prisons warned the House of Commons Justice Select Committee it was “unacceptable” that children in young offender institutions were being locked up in excess of 22 hours a day during the COVID-19 pandemic. The CPT report on England stated that between 2016 and 2019, assaults both on staff members and on other young persons at the Feltham A and Cookham Wood Young Offenders Institutions and the Rainsbrook Secure Training Centre had risen by 10 percent at Cookham Wood and by more than 100 percent at Feltham A and at Rainsbrook. It noted “widespread” use of force by guards in all three institutions.

Separate from prisons, there were seven immigration removal centers in England and Wales used solely for the detention of failed asylum seekers and migrants. In May a report by Her Majesty’s Chief Inspectorate of Prisons found that four of the eight immigration removal centers had “dramatically reduced their populations” since March because migrants can only be held if there is a reasonable expectation of removal. Given the widespread use of travel bans to stop the spread of COVID-19, this expectation did not exist, allowing detainees to be released until removal proceedings could be resumed. There was no update to this trend at year’s end.

The CPT delegation that visited Scotland in October 2019 considered the separation and reintegration unit of the Scottish Cornton Vale Prison was “a totally inappropriate environment for holding vulnerable women prisoners, especially mentally ill and young women, for long periods of time.” In Scotland the CPT found that two women in the segregation unit at Cornton Vale Prison (known as “the Dumyat”) were locked alone in their cells for 23.5 to 24 hours each day, allowed at most one hour of outside exercise alone and 15 minutes on the telephone every day. They were offered no purposeful activities to structure their days and no mixing with other prisoners.

There were 13 publicly managed and two privately managed prisons in Scotland.

In 2019 there were 37 deaths in custody in Scotland, of which 28 resulted from natural causes and nine resulted from suicide.

According to the annual Northern Ireland prisoner ombudsman report for 2018/19, the latest data available, investigations into eight deaths were carried out. Five of those deaths were suicides, and the other three were due to natural causes.

Administration: Authorities conducted investigations of credible allegations of mistreatment.

Independent Monitoring: In England and Wales, the government permitted monitoring by independent nongovernmental observers. Every prison, immigration removal center, and some short-term holding facilities at airports have an independent monitoring board. Each board’s members are independent, and their role is to monitor day-to-day activity in the facility and to ensure proper standards of care and decency. Members have unrestricted access to the facility at any time and can talk to any prisoner or detainee they wish, out of sight and hearing of staff, if necessary.

Scotland operates the Independent Prison Monitoring system. The 2018-19 annual report by the chief inspector of prisons for Scotland, the latest information available, found that “prisoners and staff reported they felt largely safe” and that there were “positive and respectful relationships between staff and prisoners.”

On April 30, the CPT published the report of its visit to England in May 2019. On October 8, it published the report of its visit to women’s prisons in Scotland in October 2019.

d. Arbitrary Arrest or Detention

The law prohibits arbitrary arrest and detention and provides for the right of any person to challenge the lawfulness of his or her arrest or detention in court. The government routinely observed these requirements.

Police officers in England and Wales have powers to stop and search anyone if they have “reasonable grounds” to suspect the individual may be in possession of drugs, weapons, stolen property, or any item that could be used to commit a crime.

In Scotland guidelines allow police to stop and search persons only when police have “reasonable grounds,” a refinement after criticism that stop-and-search was being used to target specific racial groups. Data published in April revealed 32,107 stop and searches conducted between April and December 2019.

Arrest Procedures and Treatment of Detainees

Nationally there is a functioning bail system, but defendants may be denied bail if they are judged to be flight risks, likely to commit another offense, are suspected terrorists, or for other limited circumstances.

If questioned at a police station, all suspects in the UK have the right to legal representation, including counsel provided by the government if they are indigent. Police may not question suspects who request legal advice until a lawyer is present. In Gibraltar the Duty Legal Representative Scheme provides free legal representation to anyone in Gibraltar police custody earning less than 14,000 pounds ($18,480) per year, the minimum wage. All law firms in Gibraltar with five or more lawyers are required to register as part of the scheme.

In Scotland police may detain a suspect for no more than 24 hours. After an initial detention period of 12 hours, a police custody officer may authorize further detention for an additional 12 hours without authorization from the court, if the officer believes it necessary. Only a judge can issue a warrant for arrest if he or she believes there is enough evidence against a suspect. A suspect must be informed immediately of allegations against him or her and be advised promptly of the charges if there is sufficient evidence to proceed. Police may not detain a person more than once for the same offense. Authorities respected this right. Depending on the nature of the crime, a suspect should be released from custody if he or she is deemed not to present a risk. There is a functioning bail system.

In Bermuda a court must issue a warrant for an arrest to proceed. The law permits arrests without warrant only in certain conditions. When a police officer has reasonable grounds for suspecting that any offense that is not an arrestable offense has been or is being committed or attempted, they may arrest the relevant person if it appears that service of a summons is impracticable. No arrests or detentions may be made arbitrarily or secretly, and the detainee must be told the reason for his or her arrest immediately. Individuals may be detained initially for six hours, and for two further periods of up to nine hours each subject to review and justification. Authorities respected this right.

There is a functioning system of bail in Bermuda. House arrest and wearing an electronic monitoring device may be a condition of bail. A detainee has an immediate right of access to a lawyer, either through a personal meeting or by telephone. Free legal advice is provided for detainees. Police must inform the arrestee of his or her rights to communication with a friend, family member, or other person identified by the detainee. The police superintendent may authorize incommunicado detention for serious crimes such as terrorism.

Pretrial Detention: On September 26, temporary legislation came into effect extending the maximum length of pretrial detention from 182 to 238 days to address delays in jury trials due to COVID-19.

e. Denial of Fair Public Trial

The law provides for an independent judiciary, and the government respected judicial independence and impartiality.

Trial Procedures

The law provides for the right to a fair and public trial, and an independent judiciary routinely enforced this right. Defendants enjoy a presumption of innocence, and the right to be informed promptly and in detail of the charges. Criminal proceedings must be held without undue delay and be open to the public except for cases in juvenile court or those involving public decency or security. Under the Official Secrets Act, the judge may order the court closed, but sentencing must be public. Defendants have the right to be present at their trial.

Defendants have the right to communicate with an attorney of their choice or to have one provided at public expense if unable to pay. Defendants and their lawyers have adequate time and facilities to prepare a defense and free assistance of an interpreter if necessary, from the moment charged through all appeals. Defendants have the right to confront witnesses against them, to present their own witnesses and evidence, and not to be compelled to testify or to confess guilt. Defendants have the right to appeal adverse verdicts.

Political Prisoners and Detainees

There were no reports of political prisoners or detainees.

Civil Judicial Procedures and Remedies

Nationally, individuals, nongovernmental organizations (NGOs), and groups of individuals may seek civil remedies for human rights violations and have the right to appeal to the European Court of Human Rights decisions involving alleged violations by the government of the European Convention on Human Rights.

In Bermuda the Human Rights Tribunal adjudicates complaints.

Property Restitution

The UK complies with the goals of the 2009 Terezin Declaration and 2010 Guidelines and Best Practices. The government has laws and mechanisms in place, and NGOs and advocacy groups reported that the government made significant progress on resolution of Holocaust-era claims, including for foreign citizens.

The Department of State’s Justice for Uncompensated Survivors Today (JUST) Act report to Congress, which covers Holocaust-era restitution and related issues, was released publicly on July 29, 2020. The report is available on the Department’s website: https://www.state.gov/reports/just-act-report-to-congress/.

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

The law prohibits such actions, and there were no reports that the government failed to respect these prohibitions.

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

a. Freedom of Expression, Including for the Press

The law provides for freedom of expression, including for the press, and the government routinely respected these rights. An independent press, an effective judiciary, and a functioning democratic political system combined to promote freedom of expression, including for the press.

Freedom of Speech: The law prohibits expressions of hatred toward persons because of their color, race, nationality (including citizenship), ethnic or national origin, religion, or sexual orientation as well as any communication that is deemed threatening or abusive and is intended to harass, alarm, or distress a person. The penalties for such expressions include fines, imprisonment, or both.

Freedom of Press and Media, Including Online Media: The law’s restrictions on expressions of hatred apply to the print and broadcast media. In Bermuda the law prohibits publishing written words that are threatening, abusive, or insulting, but only on racial grounds; on other grounds, including sexual orientation, the law prohibits only discriminatory “notices, signs, symbols, emblems, or other representations.”

In September the Council of Europe issued a “Level 2 Media Freedom Alert” to the UK after Ministry of Defence press officers refused to engage with Declassified UK, an investigative media outlet. The secretary of state for defence issued an apology to lawyers for Declassified UK and said he would open an investigation into the incident.

Violence and Harassment: During Black Lives Matter protests in London in June, two Australian and one British journalist, were violently attacked. The National Union of Journalists called for the arrest of the perpetrators, which had not taken place at year’s end.

In July charges were brought against a suspect for the killing of freelance reporter Lyra McKee in April 2019 in Londonderry, Northern Ireland.

Libel/Slander Laws: On February 12, the governor of the British Virgin Islands signed into law a bill that criminalizes with imprisonment for up to 14 years and a fine “sending offensive messages through a computer.” The law applies to a message that is “grossly offensive or has menacing character” or that is sent “for the purpose of causing annoyance or inconvenience.” The provision carries penalties up to 14 years in prison and a fine. Media freedom NGOs strongly criticized the law.

Internet Freedom

The government did not restrict or disrupt access to the internet or censor online content, and there were no credible reports that the government monitored private online communications without appropriate legal authority. The country has no blanket laws covering internet blocking, but the courts have issued blocking injunctions against various categories of content such as depictions of child sexual abuse, promotion of violent extremism and terrorism, and materials infringing on copyrights.

By law the electronic surveillance powers of the country’s intelligence community and police allow them, among other things, to check internet communications records as part of an investigation without a warrant.

Academic Freedom and Cultural Events

There were no government restrictions on academic freedom or cultural events. Under emergency COVID-19 legislation, participation in cultural events was severely restricted.

In March the UK’s cultural scene, including restaurants, museums, galleries, cinemas, and sporting events, was closed down because of the COVID-19 pandemic. Outdoor music events were allowed from July, but indoor musical events remained restricted at year’s end. The government provided a support package of 1.57 billion pounds ($2.07 billion) for arts groups and venues. From March through the end of the year, the government imposed restrictions on the number of persons from separate households who could gather socially indoors and outdoors, including with regard to protest.

b. Freedoms of Peaceful Assembly and Association

The law provides for the freedoms of peaceful assembly and association, and the government routinely respected these rights. Under emergency COVID-19 legislation, the government banned mass gatherings.

c. Freedom of Religion

See the Department of State’s International Religious Freedom Report at https://www.state.gov/religiousfreedomreport/.

d. Freedom of Movement

Except for areas affected by COVID-19 laws and guidelines, the law generally provides for freedom of internal movement, foreign travel, emigration, and repatriation, and the government routinely respected these rights.

In March, Prime Minister Boris Johnson introduced extraordinary measures, including curbs on the freedom of movement, to slow the spread of COVID-19 in England. These measures continued in force in some form at year’s end. From March 24 through May 13, the government instructed individuals they were only allowed out of their homes to purchase essential items.

COVID-19 legislation empowers police to enforce the evolving government guidelines. Police officers could issue fixed penalty notices (FPNs) to those they suspected of acting contrary to government guidelines on social interaction. FPNs allowed the accused to pay a fine rather than face prosecution for the offense.

On May 13, the prime minister announced changes that allowed those in England to leave their homes for outdoor recreation. The governments of Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland also began easing their lockdown restrictions in May. From May through year’s end, COVID-19 guidelines in all four nations of the UK were frequently relaxed or tightened to account for shifting trends in the spread of COVID-19 as well as public pressure to reopen schools and businesses. The prime minister announced that from July 4, lockdown laws in England would no longer provide legal restrictions associated with the government’s social distancing guidance. The other three nations made similar changes to their laws in July. Laws across the UK mandate some restrictive rules on social gatherings. As the spread of COVID-19 began to slow, the government took steps in July and August to loosen restrictions, allowing individuals to have small gatherings, return to the office and schools, and reopen retail businesses, restaurants, and pubs. The UK government passed laws in September that imposed additional restrictions called “local lockdowns” in areas where the virus was most prevalent. From November 5 until December 2, the prime minister imposed a lockdown across England to slow the spread of the virus.

In-country Movement: The home secretary may impose terrorism prevention and investigation measures (TPIMs) based on a “balance of probabilities.” TPIMs are a form of house arrest applied for up to two years to those thought to pose a terrorist threat but who cannot be prosecuted or deported. The 14 measures include electronic tagging, reporting regularly to the police, and facing “tightly defined exclusion from particular places and the prevention of travel overseas.” A suspect must live at home and stay there overnight, possibly for up to 10 hours daily. Authorities may send suspects to live up to 200 miles from their normal residence. The suspect may apply to the courts to stay elsewhere. The suspect may use a mobile phone and the internet to work and study, subject to conditions.

Exile: The law permits the home secretary to impose “temporary exclusion orders” (TEOs) on returning UK citizens or legal residents if the home secretary reasonably suspects the individual in question is or was involved in terrorism-related activity and considers the exclusion necessary to protect people in the UK from a risk of terrorism. TEOs impose certain obligations on the repatriates, such as periodic reporting to police. The measure requires a court order and is subject to judicial oversight and appeal.

In May a UK high court issued a preliminary ruling that the restrictions imposed on individuals under TEOs must be in accordance with the provision of the European Convention on Human Rights providing for a fair trial. The ruling allows those under TEOs to know the evidence against them and to contest the terms of their obligations.

Citizenship: The law allows the home secretary to deprive an individual of citizenship if officials are satisfied this is “conducive to the public good,” but not if this renders a citizen stateless.

In 2019 the home secretary started the process of revoking the citizenship of Shamima Begum, a 20-year-old British citizen by birth of Bangladeshi extraction who left the UK to join ISIS. Because Begum was British by birth, the home secretary could only cancel her British citizenship if she were a dual national. The home secretary asserted that Begum held dual citizenship with Bangladesh. Begum’s lawyers disputed that she had Bangladeshi citizenship. In August the Court of Appeal of England and Wales ruled that Begum should be allowed to return to the UK to have a fair and effective appeal against being stripped of her British citizenship. In November the Supreme Court held hearings on the home office’s appeal.

e. Status and Treatment of Internally Displaced Persons:

Not applicable.

f. Protection of Refugees

The government cooperated with the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and other humanitarian organizations in providing protection and assistance to refugees, asylum seekers, stateless persons, or other persons of concern.

During the year the UK government consolidated its various refugee resettlement programs into a single “global scheme” aimed at providing more consistency in the way that refugees are resettled and to broaden the geographical focus beyond the Middle East and North Africa. UNHCR welcomed the shift.

Abuse of Migrants, Refugees, and Stateless Persons: Home Office officials have the power to detain asylum seekers and unauthorized migrants who do not enter the asylum system. There was no maximum time limit for the use of detention. Immigration detention was used to establish a person’s identity or basis of claim, to remove a person from the country, or to avoid a person’s noncompliance with any conditions attached to a grant of temporary admission or release.

On September 20, Glasgow’s six members of Parliament (MPs) signed a joint letter calling for a fatal accident inquiry into the deaths of three asylum seekers housed in the city during the year. Adnan Walid Elbi, Mercy Baguma, and Badreddin Abedlla Adam died in separate incidents. The causes of Elbi’s and Baguma’s deaths were not determined, although the NGO Positive Action in Housing stated they were living in “extreme poverty.” In June police officers shot and killed Adam after he stabbed six persons at a hotel temporarily housing asylum seekers. Scotland’s Police Investigations and Review Commissioner launched an investigation into the police shooting, but had not published the results at year’s end. Media reports and NGOs suggested the government contractor providing services to Adam and other asylum seekers at the location of the attack may have been negligent in the provision of health services.

Access to Asylum: In England, Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland, the law provides for granting asylum or refugee status, and the government has established a system for providing protection to refugees. Asylum is a matter reserved for the UK government and is handled centrally by the Home Office. Bermuda’s constitution and laws do not provide for granting asylum or refugee status, and the government does not have an established system for providing protection to refugees.

NGOs criticized the government’s handling of asylum seekers crossing the English Channel from France. By October an estimated 7,000 persons had crossed the channel in more than 500 boats. Media reported that many of these asylum seekers were being held in detention centers.

Safe Country of Origin/Transit: Until the end of the year, the country was subject to the EU’s Dublin III regulation and considered all other EU member states to be countries of safe origin or transit. The regulation permits authorities to remove an asylum applicant to another country responsible for adjudicating an applicant’s claim. The government placed the burden of proof on asylum seekers who arrived from safe countries of origin, who passed through a country where they were not considered to be at risk, or who remained in the country for at least five consecutive months before seeking asylum.

For the duration of their asylum application, asylum seekers are eligible for government support at 30 percent below the normal rate for their family size, an amount that NGOs continued to deem inadequate. NGOs continued to criticize the government for cutting off benefits 28 days after a person is granted refugee status, which they say left some destitute.

Employment: Refugees are eligible to work or to receive state benefits if unable to work. In Scotland the devolved government funded the Refugee Doctors’ Program to help refugees to work for the National Health Service Scotland. The program offers doctors advanced English lessons, medical classes, and placements with general practitioners or hospitals, providing them with the skills needed to get their UK medical registration approved.

Temporary Protection: The government may provide temporary protection to individuals who may not qualify as refugees. In the year ending in March, the government granted humanitarian protection to 1,482 individuals (up 24 percent from 2019), 1,026 grants of alternative forms of leave (down 18 percent), and 4,968 grants of protection through resettlement schemes.

g. Stateless Persons

The government provides a route to legal residence for up to five years for stateless persons resident in the country. After the initial five-year period, stateless persons are able to apply for “settled status” or further extension of their residency. The government did not publish data on the number of habitual residents who are legally stateless.

Section 5. Governmental Attitude Regarding International and Nongovernmental Investigation of Alleged Abuses of Human Rights

A wide variety of domestic and international human rights groups operated without government restriction, investigating and publishing their findings of human rights cases. Government officials were routinely cooperative and responsive to their views.

Government Human Rights Bodies: Parliament has a Joint Committee on Human Rights composed of 12 members selected from the House of Lords and the House of Commons. The committee investigates human rights matters in the country and scrutinizes legislation affecting human rights. It may call for testimony from government officials, who routinely comply.

The Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) is an independent, nondepartmental public body that promotes and monitors human rights and protects, enforces, and promotes equality across nine “protected” grounds: age, disability, gender, race, religion and belief, pregnancy and maternity, marriage and civil partnership, sexual orientation, and gender reassignment. The sponsoring department is the Government Equalities Office. The commission was considered effective.

The Scottish Human Rights Commission, which is accountable to the Scottish Parliament, monitors and protects human rights in the region.

The Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission, sponsored by the Northern Ireland Office, and the Equality Commission for Northern Ireland, sponsored by the Office of the First Minister and Deputy First Minister, monitored human rights in that province. These entities were considered effective.

In Bermuda the Human Rights Commission is an independent body that effectively administered human rights law through the investigation and resolution of complaints lodged with it.

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The Lessons of 1989: Freedom and Our Future