An official website of the United States Government Here's how you know

Official websites use .gov

A .gov website belongs to an official government organization in the United States.

Secure .gov websites use HTTPS

A lock ( ) or https:// means you’ve safely connected to the .gov website. Share sensitive information only on official, secure websites.

United Kingdom

Executive Summary

The United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland (the UK) is a constitutional monarchy with a multiparty, parliamentary form of government. Citizens elect representatives to the House of Commons, the lower chamber of the bicameral Parliament. They last did so in free and fair elections in June 2017. Members of the upper chamber, the House of Lords, occupy appointed or hereditary seats. Scotland, Northern Ireland, Wales, and Bermuda each have elected legislative bodies and devolved administrations, with varying degrees of legislative and executive powers. The UK has 14 overseas territories, including Bermuda. Each of the overseas territories has its own constitution, while the UK government is responsible for external affairs, security, and defense.

Civilian authorities throughout the UK and its territories maintained effective control over the security forces.

The most significant human rights issues included violence motivated by anti-Semitism and against members of minorities on racial or ethnic grounds. Authorities generally investigated, and where appropriate prosecuted, such cases.

The government investigated, prosecuted, and punished allegations of official abuse, including by police, with no reported cases of impunity.

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

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

There were no reports the government or its agents committed arbitrary or unlawful killings.

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, and there were no reports that government officials employed them.

Prison and detention center conditions generally met international standards but had serious problems. A July 18 report from the chief inspector of prisons for England and Wales noted, “violence continued to escalate at an unacceptable rate.”

Physical Conditions: The Annual Report 2016-17 of the chief inspector of prisons for England and Wales released on July 18 stated, “There have been startling increases in all types of violence,” and that “safety had declined in 15 prisons inspected with just five prisons showing improvement.” In the 12 months to December 2016, assaults on staff rose by 38 percent to 6,844 incidents. Of these, 789 were serious, an increase of 26 percent. In total, throughout the prison system, there were 26,000 assaults, an increase of 27 percent. Of the 29 local prisons and training prisons inspected, 21 were judged to be “poor” or “not sufficiently good” in the area of safety. There were more than 40,161 incidents of self-harm in 2016, an increase of 24 percent from 2015, and in the year up to March 2017, 113 prisoners took their own lives. Between May and August, the number of prisoners in England and Wales unexpectedly rose by 1,200, reaching a total of 86,413. A former head of the prison service, Phil Wheatley, called the system, “woefully short of spare capacity” and said prisons were “in crisis.” The president of the prison governors’ association said the unforeseen surge in numbers had left them with “virtually no head room” at a time when many prisons were already in crisis.

Regarding children and young people, the report notes “there is not a single establishment that we inspected in England and Wales in which it was safe to hold children and young people.”

The Official Annual Report of the Prisons and Probation Ombudsman for England and Wales for the period 2016-17 released in July stated there were 361 deaths in custody, an increase of 19 percent from the preceding year. Of these deaths, 11 were in “approved premises” (halfway houses), down from 12 in the preceding year; three deaths were in immigration removal facilities, the same as in the previous year. There were 115 self-inflicted deaths, an increase of 11 percent from the previous year, and an increase of nearly 50 percent over the past two years. There were 208 deaths from natural causes; the ombudsperson explained the higher number by the increase in the number of older prisoners. The prison service also noted four deaths as apparent homicides; a further 16 deaths were classified as “other non-natural,” of which nine were drug related.

Two of the four young offender institutions the chief inspector visited were “not sufficiently good in the area of safety.” “Increasing violence” led to reduced time out of cell, meaning that many “served most of their sentence locked up,” according to the report.

UK media, including the BBC, raised concerns about inmates still held under “IPPs”–Imprisonment for Public Protection sentences. Introduced in 2003, IPPs are designed to detain serious offenders, mostly sex offenders, perceived to be a risk to the public. Prisoners can be kept in prison indefinitely as long as the Parole Board believed they still posed a threat. In 2012 IPPs were abolished following a European Court of Human Rights ruling. The abolition, however, was not retrospective, and there remained 3,500 prisoners serving sentences without a release date.

Scottish Prison Service figures showed 28 deaths in prisons in Scotland in 2016, an increase of four over 2015. Of those 28 deaths, the cause of 23 was still to be determined, following the conclusion of a Fatal Accident Inquiries that must take place following any death in custody. Two deaths were suicides and three were from natural causes.

A July 2017 report by the investigative website The Ferret stated that incidents in which people tried to hurt or kill themselves in Scottish prisons had risen by more than one-third in the last four years. Official reports of actual, attempted, and threatened self-harming incidents in 15 Scottish prisons increased to more than 400 a year in the last two years. The figures were released to The Ferret under Freedom of Information legislation. The Scottish Prison Service stated that self-harm figures could be misinterpreted because they included threats as well as actual incidents.

A July 2017 report carried out by Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Prisons for Scotland claimed that the Scottish Prison Service was not equipped to deal with the needs of older prisoners. The report claimed many prisoners over the age of 60 received poor health care and faced isolation, boredom, and loneliness.

In Northern Ireland women did not have a separate facility from juveniles. According to the prisoner ombudsperson for Northern Ireland’s annual report for 2016-17, the ombudsperson began investigations into five deaths (three more than in 2016). Three of the deaths appeared to be suicides, and the cause of the other deaths was unclear.

Independent Monitoring: 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 life in their local facility and to ensure that proper standards of care and decency are maintained. Members have unrestricted access to their local prison or immigration detention center at any time and can talk to any prisoner or detainee they wish, out of sight and hearing of staff, if necessary.

For two weeks beginning on March 30, 2016, the Council of Europe’s Committee for the Prevention of Torture (CPT) visited places of detention in England. The report, published in April, expressed “serious concerns over the lack of safety for inmates and staff” because of “prison violence spiraling out of control, poor regimes, and chronic overcrowding.” Government statistics in April showed 68 percent of prisons hold more inmates than their usable “certified normal accommodation” with 80 prisons out of 117 holding more than 50 percent over the recommended levels.

In August 2016 the Independent Prison Monitoring in Scotland, a voluntary advisory group, marked its first full year of operation. More than 150 volunteers joined the new system, working in 15 teams, one in each prison in Scotland.

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/her arrest or detention in court, and the government routinely observed these requirements.

Stop-and-search in the country has declined from 1.2 million to 380,000 during the last five years. Three-in-four black, Asian, or minority ethnic Britons, however, feel that their communities are targeted by stop-and-search policies.

In January the Scottish government published new guidelines regarding the appropriate use of stop-and-search actions. Under the new guidelines, which came into force in May, police are able to stop and search persons only when they have “reasonable grounds.”

In Bermuda there were approximately 1,123 stop-and-search actions in the first half of the year, a significant decrease from a high of approximately 5,500 at the end of 2012, when gang violence was at its height. Civil rights groups stated the stop-and-search law unfairly targeted blacks.

Except in Scotland and Northern Ireland, the national police maintained internal security and reported to the Home Office. The army, under the authority of the Ministry of Defense, is responsible for external security and supports police in extreme cases. The National Crime Agency (NCA) investigates many serious crimes in England, Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland, and it has a mandate to deal with organized, economic, and cybercrimes as well as border policing and child protection. The NCA director general has independent operational direction and control over the NCA’s activities and is accountable to the home secretary.

By law authorities must refer to the Independent Police Complaints Commission all deaths and serious injuries during or following police contact, including road traffic fatalities involving police, fatal police shootings, deaths in or following police custody, apparent suicides following police custody, and other deaths to which the action or inaction of police may have contributed. In March an inquest into the death of a prisoner in 2015 ruled that he died after being unlawfully restrained by prison officers in Manchester.

A coalition of community and human rights groups urged Home Secretary Amber Rudd to publish a report on deaths in police custody, which was ordered by former home secretary Theresa May in 2015. The report was to examine whether the criminal justice system made it too hard to get answers about such deaths. The report was due in 2016 but was not made public.

Scotland’s judicial, legal, and law enforcement system is fully separate from that of the rest of the UK. Police Scotland reports to the Scottish justice minister and the state prosecutor. Police Scotland reports cross-border crime and threat information to the national UK police and responds to UK police needs in Scotland upon request.

Northern Ireland also maintains a separate police force, the Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI). The PSNI reports to the Northern Ireland Policing Board, a nondepartmental public body composed of members of the Northern Ireland Assembly and independent members of the community. Northern Ireland’s minister of justice appoints the board. Due to the lack of devolved government, 10 political appointments remained vacant. The other nine independent members continued to meet.

The Bermuda Police Service (BPS) is responsible for internal security on the island. The BPS reports to the governor appointed by the UK but is funded by the elected government of the island.

Civilian authorities maintained effective control over the security forces, and the government has effective mechanisms to investigate and punish abuse. There were no reports of impunity involving the security forces during the year.

Coroner’s inquests investigated deaths related to the Troubles in Northern Ireland. The Historical Enquiries Team was closed in 2014 and replaced by the Legacy Investigations Branch located in the PSNI. The 2014 Stormont House Agreement and the Fresh Start Agreement of 2015 provide for the creation of legacy bodies to deal with the past, which would include establishment of a historical investigations unit. Two years on, these institutions had not been established.

Nationally there is a functioning bail system, and defendants awaiting trial have the right to bail, except for those judged to be flight risks, likely to commit another offense, suspected terrorists, or in other limited circumstances.

If questioned at a police station, all suspects 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. Detainees may make telephone calls. The maximum length of pretrial detention is 182 days. The court may extend the detention in exceptional cases. Suspects were not held incommunicado or under house arrest. Authorities routinely respected these rights.

In Gibraltar the CPT found that, while the right of access to a lawyer is adequately enshrined in law, a lawyer was only accessible at the detainee’s own expense.

In Scotland police may detain a subject 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 detainee 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. Depending on the nature of the crime, a suspect should be released from custody if the detainee is deemed not to present a risk. If police consider it important that the case be heard at court quickly, the suspect may be released on an “undertaking,” that is, without bail but under certain conditions and with a promise to attend court when summoned. Suspects perceived to be a risk to the public can be held in custody until the next court day. There is a functioning bail system.

In Bermuda a person must usually be arrested with a warrant issued by a court. The law permits arrests without warrant in certain conditions. No arrests or detentions can be made arbitrarily or secretly. The detainee must be told the reason for his arrest immediately upon being arrested. Detainees may be held for 42 hours for investigation, but detention should be reviewed at specified intervals of initially six hours, then every 12 hours, until 42 hours are reached. For serious crimes, a senior police officer may authorize additional detention of up to 72 hours before charges are filed. Crimes with firearms automatically allow detention up to 72 hours and have special provisions under the law to detain without charge for two weeks, followed by an additional two-week period with the approval of the Supreme Court.

There is a functioning system of bail in Bermuda. A detainee has the immediate right of access to a lawyer, either through a personal meeting or by telephone. Free legal advice is provided for detainees. A detainee who wishes to have another lawyer can have one at his own expense. Police may interview without a lawyer in exceptional circumstances that must be authorized, such as to save life or to find a kidnapping victim. Police must inform the arrestee of his 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. House arrest does not legally exist but may be a condition of bail.

Formal complaints about arrests in Bermuda can be made to an independent criminal compensation board, the police complaints authority, the Human Rights Commission, or a court.

Detainees Ability to Challenge Lawfulness of Detention before a Court: All citizens in the UK have a right to habeas corpus; in Northern Ireland they apply via Northern Ireland’s devolved judicial system. In Scotland the right to habeas corpus is protected by law.

e. Denial of Fair Public Trial

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

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, with free interpretation as necessary from the moment charged through all appeals. 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. Defendants have the right to be present at their trial. Under the Official Secrets Act, the judge may order the court closed, but sentencing must be public.

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. Defendants have the right to confront witnesses against them, present witnesses and evidence, and not to be compelled to testify or confess guilt. Defendants have the right to appeal adverse verdicts.

In Bermuda the Disclosure and Criminal Reform Act 2015 passed early in 2016 requires a defendant to declare to the prosecutor and the court within 28 days of his arraignment whether he intends to give evidence at his trial. Failure to do so permits the court to direct the jury to draw inferences from the defendant’s refusal to testify.

There were no reports of political prisoners or detainees.

Nationally, 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 for Human Rights decisions involving alleged violations by the government of the European Convention on Human Rights.

In Bermuda the Human Rights Tribunal adjudicates complaints.

The UK complies with the goals of the Terezin Declaration. 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.

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.

The Investigatory Powers Act 2016 came into effect in 2017 granting intelligence and police forces greater investigatory powers, including new powers for interception and collection of communications.

Human Rights Reports
Edit Your Custom Report

01 / Select a Year

02 / Select Sections

03 / Select Countries You can add more than one country or area.

U.S. Department of State

The Lessons of 1989: Freedom and Our Future