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United Kingdom

Overview and Key facts:

Capital: London

Land Area: 244,820 sq km

Head of Government: Prime Minister The Rt Hon David Cameron

Population: 60,769,000 (2007)

Major Languages: English, Welsh (about 26% of the population of Wales), Scottish form of Gaelic

Major Religion(s): Christian (Anglican, Roman Catholic, Presbyterian, Methodist) 71.6%, Muslim 2.7%, Hindu 1%, other 1.6%, unspecified or none 23.1% (2001 census)

Status of FOI Legislation:

The United Kingdom has no single Constitutional document. Instead, the UK has a number of written laws, which read in conjunction with existing constitutional conventions, make up its constitutional framework. The Human Rights Act 1998 is one such law. It includes certain provision of the European Convention on Human Rights, notably article 10 that protect the right to receive and impart information.

England

The Freedom of Information Act 2000 legislates for the right to access information. The Act came into force on January 2005. Since the Act was passed, there have been various amendments and rules passed in support of the primary legislation.

Scotland

The Freedom of Information (Scotland) Act 2002 legislates for access to information held by Scottish public authorities.

Wales

The Welsh Code of Practice on Public Access to Information applies to information held by the national assembly for Wales, assembly-sponsored public bodies and private companies contracted by the national assembly. The Code adds to the Freedom of Information Act 2000 (UK).

Status of National Human Rights Institutions:

Equality and Human Rights Commission.

News Updates:

Law Lords rule in favour appeal against the use of 'secret evidence'

On 10 June 2009 Law Lords ruled in favour of the appeal by nine suspected terrorists after they had argued that restrictive control orders eroded their fair trial rights because they did not know what they were accused of. The decision does not rescind the control orders, which allow for evidence that is withheld from dependents to be heard, but instead ordered their cases to be heard again in lower courts.

Fair trial campaigners had raised concerns regarding the growing number of cases in UK courts, which hear 'secret evidence'.

Metropolitan Police officers suspended pending Independent Police Complaints Commission (IPCC) investigation following allegations of police brutality

On 10 June 2009 the BBC reported that Six Metropolitan Police officers have been suspended or placed on restricted duties following allegations of 'torture' (including water torture) alleged to have taken place in November 2008 following a raid in the north London borough of Enfield. The Independent Police Complaints Commission (IPCC) is investigating the allegations.

UK/ Commonwealth: The Commonwealth Day was celebrated on 9 March 2009. This year the Commonwealth Day inaugurates the sixtieth anniversary of the association of nations. The theme for the Commonwealth Day 2009 is 'Serving a new generation'. This is also expected to be the theme for this anniversary year and the focus is expected to be on young people in the Commonwealth. In her Commonwealth Day message, The Queen, the head of the Commonwealth, stated that the Commonwealth's "beliefs in freedom, democracy and human rights; equality and equity; development and prosperity mean as much today as they did more than half a century ago". While the Commonwealth Secretary-General's message did not include any express reference to human rights, freedom or equality, it talked of the Commonwealth as a champion of "democracy, development and diversity".
http://www.thecommonwealth.org/files/188060/FileName/Secretary-Generals-message-2009.pdfhttp://www.thecommonwealth.org/files/188059/FileName/Queens-Message-2009.pdf

United Kingdom: On 8 February 2009 'BBC News' reported that MPs have called on the Treasury to provide the Foreign Office (FCO) with additional funding to cover shortfalls caused by the pound's declining value.

United Kingdom: On 14 January 2009 'BBC News' reported that Plans to exclude relatives, juries and the press from some inquests - on national security grounds - are being brought back by ministers.

United Kingdom: On 27 January 2009 'BBC News' reported that pressure is growing for the House of Lords to impose tougher rules on peers who do paid consultancy work.

Cayman Islands: On 16 January 2009, 'Caribbean Net News' reported that efforts to craft a new a new Bill of Rights and a Constitutional arrangement with the UK for the governance of Cayman Islands has resumed.

Bermuda: On 13 January 2009 'The Royal Gazette' reported that Premier Ewart Brown yesterday reiterated his Government's support for public access to information — but again failed to name the date when a draft law will be tabled in parliament.

United Kingdom: On 10 December 2008 'BBC News' reported that Scots want legal access to documents held by bodies such as private prisons, a new survey has indicated.

United Kingdom: On 12 October 2008 'BBC News' reported that the UK Government's proposal to extend the period of detention for terror suspects from 28 to 42 days was set to be debated in the House of Lords. It was expected that peers would reject the plan which forms part of the Counter-Terrorism Bill.

United Kingdom: On August 7, 2008, 'BBC News' reported that under a new Liberal Democrat crime strategy for England young offenders would not longer be prosecuted for minor crimes and anti-social behaviour. Instead their punishment will be to appear in front of a public panel to apologise for their crime and pay fines for the damage they caused. School Minister Jim Knight has said that this approach may send the "wrong message" to youths.

United Kingdom: On 20 July 2008, BBC News reported that the British Army is considering a recruitment drive in Jamaica to help boost its depleted numbers. Figures show the UK military is currently 4,900 short of its fully-trained requirement, with the Army needing 3,330 more troops. The military accepts Commonwealth and Irish applications but does not normally recruit overseas, except for Gurkhas from Nepal.

United Kingdom: 13 July 2008, BBC News reported that the government is to change a loophole in the law after a 20-year campaign by a woman who was not allowed to pass on her British citizenship to her daughter.

United Kingdom: 13 July 2008, BBC News reported that openly gay US bishop Gene Robinson was forced to halt a sermon at a west London church after being heckled.

United Kingdom: 7 July 2008 - 10 July 2008, Commonwealth Secretariat reported that the Commonwealth Law Ministers met in Edinburgh from 7 to 10 July 2008. It was stated that a High Level Panel, consisting of a broad cross-section of Commonwealth Law Ministers and Attorneys-General, was convened to draw on its individual and collective experience to discuss, in a Special Session, the theme of this Meeting: The Developing Role of the Justice Minister in the Light of Challenges Facing the Rule of Law in the Commonwealth.

Pakistan/UK: Thursday, 3 July 2008, BBC News, reported that the International Development Minister, Douglas Alexander, is in Islamabad to announce that UK aid to Pakistan will double to £480m ($956m) over the next three years. The move comes amid British security concerns over growing Islamic militancy in the country. The increase will make Pakistan second only to India as the recipient of the UK's largest aid programme worldwide.

United Kingdom: On 12 June 2008, BBC News reported that home secretary David Davis has resigned as an MP, promising to fight to regain his seat on a platform of defending "British liberties". Mr Davis said he would fight the by-election campaigning against the government's plans to extend pre-charge detentions for terror suspects to a maximum of 42 days.

United Kingdom: On 11 June 2008, BBC News reported that the UK Government narrowly won a vote (315 -306) passing the Counter-Terror Bill which will now go to the House of Lords. The Bill has provoked widespread criticism for its proposal to extend detention without charge for terrorism suspects from the existing 28 day limit to 42 days.

United Kingdom: On 7 June 2008, Hirondelle News Agency reported that a British judge accepted the extradition request formulated by Rwanda against four men, accused by Rwanda of genocide, conspiracy to commit genocide, complicity in genocide, crimes against humanity, murder and looting committed in 1994. The decision of the British judge is contrary to that rendered by the magistrates of the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR) on 28 May, in which they refused to transfer Yussuf Munyakazi's case to Rwanda, giving the reason that the Rwandan legal system does not allow, to date, for a fair trial, due notably of the pressure exerted by the executive on the judges.

United Kingdom: On 5 June 2008, United Kingdom's Department for International Development reported that Secretary of State for International Development has announced a £500,000 funding package to provide assistance to migrants in temporary shelters in South Africa affected by the recent violence.

United Kingdom: On 20 May 2008, BBC News reported that MPs have rejected a proposal to reduce the upper time limit on abortions from 24 weeks to 20 weeks or less. Prime Minister Gordon Brown voted for the 24-week limit to be maintained. Earlier MPs rejected a cross-party move for doctors to consider the need for a "father and a mother" before allowing IVF treatment.

United Kingdom: On 5 May 2008, 'BBC News' reported that four men have been charged with conspiring to support the banned Tamil Tigers terrorist organisation. The men are accused of possessing laptops, antennas and high-powered magnets for terrorist purposes. They have been arrested in London.

United Kingdom: On 10 April 2008, 'ABC News' reported that Britain's Prime Minister Gordon Brown decided to miss opening the ceremony at the summer Olympics in Beijing. He became the second major world leader after German Chancellor Angela Merkel to decide to stay away from the opening ceremonies.

United Kingdom: On 27 November 2007 "BBC News" reported the Prime Minister Brown has decided not to attend EU-Africa talks due to be held in Portugal in December, after hearing that Zimbabwe President Robert Mugabe would be present. According to the report, Mr. Brown will not attend because of a decade of poor relations between the two countries and the constant refusal of Mugabe to accept assistance from the UK. He will reportedly send a junior representative to the meeting.

United Kingdom: The United Kingdom will enhance its preventive measures to counter terrorism from 2008. Improved security will be installed in the 250 busiest railways stations of the kingdom, as well as airports, ports and more than 100 other sensitive locations. There will be new security barriers, vehicle exclusion zones and blast resistant buildings, additional screening of baggage,... A new unit bringing together police and security intelligence will be created as well. Guidance will be sent to thousands of cinemas, theatres, restaurants, hotels, sporting venues and commercial centres, as well as all hospitals, schools and places of worship to advise them on how to keep visitors safe against terrorism. About 160 counter-terrorism advisers will train civilian staff responsible for the surveillance of crowded places to watch out for suspect activity, ensure premises have adequate emergency facilities and make best use of their CCTV footage. A new forum of head teachers will also be convened to find ways to protect pupils from extremist propaganda. More disturbingly: a review of the use of intercept evidence in court cases (currently banned) will be produced in January; Mr Brown expects a consensus on allowing terrorist suspects to be questioned after they are charged; and he pushes as well for the extension of the 28 days detention period without charges.

United Kingdom: On 25 October 2007 the online news service "BBC News" reported that Justice Secretary Jack Straw stated that Britain needs a Bill of Rights and Responsibilities. Such a bill is reportedly central to Prime Minister Gordon Brown's plan to reform the British constitution and to ensure that "British values are better understood". Mr. Straw indicated that ideas for the Bill of Rights would be unveiled in the coming months. http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/uk_politics/7062654.stm

United Kingdom: The head of the UK's new Human Righs and Equality Commission highlighted the need to rewrite UK's history manual to make them more inclusive of Muslims as well as other ethnic groups.
http://news.scotsman.com/uk.cfm?id=1539962007

The trial of the London Police begins today and will examine whether the police behaviour that led to the death of Jean Charles de Menezes, who had allegedly been mistaken to be a suicide bomber, violated health and safety laws.
http://www.reuters.com/article/worldNews/idUSL261841020070930

United Kingdom: On 9 September 2007 the newspaper "The Telegraph" reported that a High Court ruling called for parole boards to be given more autonomy from the state. The court found that thousands of prisoners seeking freedom are being denied a basic human right in being assessed by a body deemed not able to "sufficiently demonstrate its objective independence". Jack Straw, the Justice Secretary, will appeal the decision but if he loses the entire parole system will have to be revamped to allow for a parole assessment committee with more autonomy from the state. (09/09/07)

United Kingdom: On 21 August 2007 the newspaper "The Times" reported that a senior Roman Catholic Bishop of East Anglia, Rights Reverend Michael Evans, has resigned from Amnesty International after the organisation's controversial decision to change its stance on abortion. The organisation had previously been neutral on the subject, but has reportedly recently changed its policies to support the decriminalization of abortion, especially where rape is used as a tool of war. The bishop reportedly stated that he was leaving the organisation because of the irreconcilability of the right to life, which he called the most fundamental human right, with the organisation's new policy on abortion. The Catholic Church has also reportedly begun to distance itself from Amnesty for similar reasons.(21/08/07)

United Kingdom: On 30 July 2007 the online social care website "Community Care" reported that a parliamentary committee on human rights would be examining a new government decision to extend the powers of secure training centres staff to restrain child prisoners. The Committee, it is reported, has asked for evidence to prove that the extension of powers was compatible with the United Kingdom's international human rights commitments. According to the report, until recently staff could only restrain children if they felt there was a risk of harm or escape however now the staff are allowed to use restraint for reasons of "good order and discipline". The prisons minister reportedly stated his belief that the extension of power was within the boundaries of international human rights agreements. (30/07/07)

United Kingdom: On 25 July 2007 the news service 'BBC News' reported that the UK Intelligence and Security Committee wants Prime Minister Brown to change how the United Kingdom handles rendition cases in its anti-terror operations with the United States and other countries. The committee reportedly stated that record-keeping must improve, that ministerial approval should be obtained in rendition cases and that there should be a ban on approvals of rendition that could lead to detainees being kept in secret foreign prisons. The committee found that although there was no evidence of United Kingdom's direct involvement in foreign renditions, the Government has inadvertently helped one case involving the United States. Some groups fear that the proposed ban on approvals of foreign renditions will lead to more detainees ending up in secret prisons around the world. (25/07/07)

United Kingdom: On 23 July 2007 the newspaper 'The Guardian' reported that an online poll conducted by Migrationwatch found that 61% of British people believe that the UK should pull out of the European Convention on Human Rights because it does not allow the UK Government to deport convicted terrorists to countries where they may be tortured. In an online survey conducted by YouGov, 75% of respondents supported the idea that the UK Government should have the power to keep terror suspects in jail "as long as necessary". (23/07/07)

United Kingdom: On 4 July 2007 the newspaper 'The Guardian' reported that two prisoners have launched a High Court lawsuit for the breach of their human rights. The two prisoners stated that conditions at Norwich prison in Norfolk are "appalling". A wing of the prison planned to be condemned for demolition was kept open because of overcrowding. Problems include rodent infestation, lack of heating and clean water systems and structural safety issues. The court has to decide if the conditions violate the European Convention on Human Rights. (04/07/07)

Uganda/ Nigeria/Kenya/Ghana/UK: On 18 June 2007 'New Vision' newspaper reported that, Africans Unite Against Child Abuse, a UK based charity, has identified over 330 children trafficked from Uganda, Nigeria, Kenya, Ghana in the UK. According to reports the group is demanding more efforts form African and European countries to put an end to child trafficking. (18/06/07)

United Kingdom: On 17 June 2007 'pakistanlink.com' reported that a United Nations independent expert found new laws created in response to terrorist attacks discriminatory against the British Muslim population. Stop and search policies would encourage religious profiling. (17/06/07)

United Kingdom: On 15 June 2007 the 'BBC News' service reported that the Prison Service paid £2.5m in compensation to prisoners in England and Wales last year. Prisoners in 94 jails were compensated over abuse, medical negligence, and unlawful detention claims. Almost half of the total compensation came from Wormwood Scrubs in London and Northallerton Young Offenders Institution in north Yorkshire. (15/06/07)

United Kingdom: On 15 June 2007 the newspaper 'The Asian Tribune' reported that conditions are worsening in Britain's Immigration Removal Centres. Undercover films aired by the 'BBC' show detainees being violently abused and harassed. This abuse is linked to increasing numbers of detainees who practice self-mutilation. Detainees reported sexual abuse, use of derogatory terms, hunger strikes, humiliation, beatings, and riots. (15/06/07)

United Kingdom: On 14 June 2007 'The Guardian' reported that a landmark decision by the Highest Court mandates that the Human Rights Act applies overseas, including in the detention centres administered by British soldiers. The Court was ruling on the case of Baha Mousa's death in 2003 while in British custody in Basra. A court martial into the death of Mousa showed that soldiers used techniques that had been banned in 1972, including stressing, sleep and food deprivation and noise. The Government had argued that British soldiers could use these techniques abroad. Shami Chakrabarti, Director of the human rights group Liberty, said that this ruling means that there will never be a British Guantanamo. (14/06/07)

Malta/UK/Cyprus: On 14 June 2007 the newspaper 'The Malta Independent' reported that Malta, Britain, Cyprus, and three other European Union nations, blocked attempts to guarantee suspects the right to an interpreter and legal assistance in their mother tongue. The dissenting nations argue that the European Convention on Human Rights already offers guarantees to suspects and that the EU should not have the power to set such high standards for domestic criminal cases. (14/06/07)

Sri Lanka/UK: On 13 June 2007 the newspaper 'The Colombo Page' reported that Britain will not lift the ban on the Tamil Tigers until they stop all terrorist activities. This statement came from Dr. Kim Howells, the British Foreign and Commonwealth Office Minister, at the end of his visit to Sri Lanka. He stressed the importance of diplomacy between the two sides. (13/06/07)

UK/Zimbabwe: In 28 May 2007, 'New Zimbabwe' newspaper reported that 19 year old Tanyaradwa Maisiri, a Zimbabwean national, would be granted asylum in the UK in view of the current Zimbabwean Government's human rights abuses. Ms. Maisiri was to be deported after her asylum application was rejected in March 2007. In May 2006 however Ms. Maisiri found herself in the centre of an immigration scandal when UK newspapers revealed that UK immigration officials would be offering help to asylum seekers in return for sex. (28/05/07)

Kenya/UK: On 23 May 2007 The East Africa Standard newspaper reported that the British Government has refused to officially take responsibility for alleged atrocities committed in Kenya against Mau Mau freedom fighters during the colonial emergency period, between 1952 and 1959. Reports indicate that the British Government claimed that the colonial administration in Kenya "was appointed by the Crown in the right of Kenya" and that it was not in any way under the control of the government of UK. The Kenya Human Rights Commission and the Mau Mau War Veteran Association are reportedly planning to file a lawsuit in London against the UK Government before November 2007. A team from the Kenya Human Rights Commission would have left for London on 23 May 2007 for researches for the upcoming lawsuit. Reports have indicated that the UK claims that the Limitation Act bars any such lawsuit. (23/05/07)

United Kingdom: On Wednesday 25 April, the BBC reported that migrant workers are being lured to Britain with false promises and then face 'systematic underpayment and exploitation.' Migrants faced deception, intimidation and overcrowded living conditions in the UK. On Thursday 26 April BBC reported that the UK government is planning to launch an official inquiry into the conditions of migrants, based on evidence gathered by BBC. (25/04/07)

United Kingdom: Bisher al-Rawi, an Iraqi citizen who lived in the UK for 19 years, is to be released after four years detention at Guantanamo Bay. Concerns over nine British residents being held at Guantanamo Bay without the right to a fair trial still remain. (30/03/07)

Overseas Territories

There are 14 British Overseas Territories that make up part of the Commonwealth, these are:

  • Anguilla
  • Bermuda
  • British Antarctic Territory
  • British Indian Ocean Territory
  • British Virgin Islands
  • Cayman Islands
  • Falkland Islands
  • Gibraltar
  • Montserrat
  • Pitcairn Islands
  • Saint Helena (including Ascension, Tristan da Cunha)
  • South Georgia and the South Sandwich Islands
  • Sovereign Base Areas of Akrotiri and Dhekelia (Cyprus)
  • Turks and Caicos Islands

News Updates:

British Virgin Islands: On 19 June 2007 'Caribbean Net News' reported that the Legislative Council of the British Virgin Islands has been dissolved. According to reports the order for dissolution came from the Governor in consultation with the Chief Minister. The islands are to head for polls in October of this year-they are also to be empowered with a new Constitution that grants it more autonomy from the UK Government. (19/06/07)

British Virgin Islands: On 9 May 2007 Caribbean Net News reported that the Legislative Council passed it its 49th sitting the final draft of the Virgin Islands Constitution Order 2007. The Order is expected to put a new Constitution in place in the Islands. The Council would have stated that the full acceptance of the new Constitution was however contingent on the receipt of a satisfactory letter of entrustment from the UK Government. The entrustment would allow the British Virgin Islands to exercise control over certain matters related to external affairs, including the negotiation and conclusion of multilateral and bilateral agreements. (09/05/07)

 
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