Human Rights Committee
2 July 2015
The Human Rights Committee today considered the seventh periodic report of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland on its implementation of the provisions of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.
The report was presented by Scott McPherson, Director of the Law, Rights, and International Directorate of the Ministry of Justice, who said that the United Kingdom had a proud tradition of respect for human rights which dated all the way back to the Habeas Corpus Act of 1679. He noted that the United Kingdom had recently celebrated the 800th anniversary of the Magna Carta, the first general statement of rights in England. Mr. McPherson updated the Committee on the Police Service of Northern Ireland and other important developments in Northern Ireland, as well as the new Modern Slavery Bill and the steps taken by the Scottish Government to protect civil and political rights.
In the interactive dialogue that ensued, Committee Experts inquired about the jurisdiction and extraterritorial applicability of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, the ratification of the Optional Protocol and reservations to the Covenant, the Bill of Rights for Northern Ireland, the Police Ombudsman, and the historical accountability mechanisms. They also raised questions on abortion rights in Northern Ireland, hate crimes, stop and search powers, the definition of terrorism, the use of Tasers, domestic violence against women, prison conditions, the deportation of detainees, the Law on Defamation, criminal prosecution for minors, the Modern Slavery Bill, and the freedom of assembly.
Fabian Salvioli, Chairperson of the Committee, in his concluding remarks, thanked the delegation for their thorough responses and for the way in which the questions had been answered. The United Kingdom’s reflection on its position on the extraterritorial application of the Covenant would be warmly welcomed. The Committee would continue to closely monitor serious violations of human rights in Iraq and Afghanistan, notably the Danny Boy case. It would also monitor the situation in Northern Ireland and reparations and remedies there, as well as the matters of interceptions and surveillance.
Scott McPherson, in concluding remarks, reiterated the United Kingdom’s long standing history in protecting human rights at home and abroad and its commitment to a strong global role in the field of human rights. He thanked his delegation and the Committee for the positive spirit in which the discussion had been led.
The United Kingdom’s delegation included representatives of the Ministry of Justice, the Department of Justice of Northern Ireland, the Northern Ireland Office, the Home Office, the Scottish Government, the Welsh Government, the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, and the Permanent Mission of the United Kingdom to the United Nations in Geneva.
The next public meeting of the Committee will take place at 3 p.m. today when it will start its review of the third periodic report of The Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia (CCPR/C/MKD/3), to be concluded tomorrow morning.
The seventh periodic report of the United Kingdom is available here: CCPR/C/GBR/7.
Presentation of the Report
SCOTT MCPHERSON, Director of the Law, Rights and International Directorate at the Ministry of Justice, noted that the United Kingdom was a multi-national country, in which Northern Ireland, Wales and Scotland had responsibilities in major areas of public policy, including health, education, housing, local government, and, for Northern Ireland and Scotland, justice. In May this year, a new Government had been elected in the United Kingdom, with Prime Minister David Cameroon leading a Conservative cabinet. The List of Issues referred to the United Kingdom’s previous coalition Government. It was less than two months since the general election, and some new policies were at an early stage. However, a number of reforms had been started: the Bill of Rights to replace the Human Rights Act was now being brought forward, as recommended by the Human Rights Committee. Human rights were woven into the tapestry of the devolution settlements, and the Government would consider the implications of a Bill of Rights on devolution as it developed the proposals.
Mr. McPherson stressed that the United Kingdom had a proud tradition of respect for human rights, which long pre-dated the Human Rights Act of 1998. The Government had been able to refer back to the right to challenge unlawful detention from the Habeas Corpus Act of 1679. The United Kingdom had recently celebrated the 800th Anniversary of the Magna Carta, the first general statement of rights in England. Mr. McPherson updated the Committee on the review of the Police Service of Northern Ireland into the use of powers of arrest under section 41 of the Terrorism Act 2000 (Arrest without warrant), as that had not been provided in the written response. The new Modern Slavery Bill had entered into force, while in Northern Ireland, the Stormont House Agreement provided a significant opportunity to tackle outstanding issues in dealing with the past. Mr. McPherson commended steps taken by the Scottish Government to protect civil and political rights, and stated that equality and inclusion remained at the heart of the Welsh Government and its actions, notably with the Tackling Hate Crimes and Incidents – Framework for Action delivery plan.
FARAH ZIAULLA, Deputy Director of the Law, Rights and International Directorate at the Ministry of Justice, read a summary of the Response to the List of Issues, in which she indicated that the United Kingdom’s human rights obligations were primarily territorial and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights could only have effect outside of the territory of the United Kingdom in exceptional circumstances. Regarding the Optional Protocol, the United Kingdom remained unclear about the practical benefits of the rights of the individual petition. On the progress on the Bill of Rights for Northern Ireland, the content of such a Bill was contingent on political consensus within Northern Ireland. The “Talent Action Plan” captured plans to build a world-class civil service where the most talented succeeded and reached top positions, regardless of gender, ethnicity, sexuality or disability. Additionally, the gender pay gap had been falling steadily for many years. Regarding judiciary diversity in England and Wales, the Government had implemented new provisions to allow diversity to be taken into account when two applicants for a judicial post were of equal merit.
With regards to the allegations against British armed forces, the United Kingdom had taken those seriously and had established the Iraq Allegations Team to investigate them. While the Al-Sweady public inquiry report on 20 Iraqis killed by the British forces in May 2004 had upheld some of the allegations of ill-treatment, it accepted that the armed force and taken appropriate steps to correct virtually all of them. The investigation by the Parliamentary Intelligence and Security Committee of the Parliament continued, and the criminal investigation into the allegations made in the two Libya cases was ongoing.
On measures against terrorism, Ms. Ziaulla sad that a number of safeguards governing the application of the statutory definition of terrorism were in place. Additionally, the Counter-Terrorism and Security Act 2015 provided the Independent Reviewer of Terrorism Legislation with additional capacity in the form of a new Privacy and Civil Liberties Board. This Board would provide additional assurances to the public that the United Kingdom’s counter-terrorism arrangements stroke the right balance between the threat faced by the United Kingdom from terrorism, and the respect for privacy and civil liberties.
The report on the case of Patrick Finucane had been published in December 2012 and the Prime Minister at the time had made a statement in which he admitted seeing the report which proved that there had been State collusion in the death of the lawyer, and apologized to his family. In Northern Ireland, the Minister of Justice conducted consultations on the criminal law on abortion in cases of lethal foetal abnormality and sexual crime. The public consultation had closed earlier this year.
Questions by Experts
An Expert hoped that the Northern Ireland authorities would be able join in responding to the answers during the following periodic report. Although the United Kingdom had a strong record on human rights, those could always be stronger. Regarding jurisdiction and extraterritorial applicability of the Covenant, he reiterated the position of the Committee, namely that a State party had to respect and ensure the rights laid down in the Covenant to anyone within the power or effective control of that State Party. The Committee thus expected the State party to report on the application of the Covenant to the individuals found in territories effectively controlled by the United Kingdom. Did the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights have a different scope of extraterritorial application from the European Code of Human Rights?
It appeared that the Government felt that the Human Rights Act of 1998 was sufficient to cover the European human rights framework, as well as the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. Highlighting his concern that the piecemeal approach might result in gaps between consistencies in the application of human rights, the Committee Expert asked the delegation to provide information on measures taken to give effect to all Covenant rights not covered by that Act in the domestic law order, and indicate which Covenant articles were specifically protected by law in Scotland. Concern was expressed on the slow progress in the implementation of the Bill of Rights for Northern Ireland in accordance with the Belfast (Good Friday) Agreement, and asked what measures the State party was taking to address obstacles.
The delegation was asked to explain what process of review and consideration had been put in place to give effect to the Committee’s previous recommendations on accession to the Optional Protocol and removal of reservations to the Covenant. Given that the United Kingdom had a positive track record on human rights and was an example to the world, ratification of the Optional Protocol was all the more necessary.
On Northern Ireland, an Expert commended measures taken to address the continued threat posed by paramilitaries, but concern was expressed about the sheer number of bodies involved in administering the process of accountability in relation to the Troubles in Northern Ireland. The delegation was asked to indicate measures to address the absence of a comprehensive framework for dealing with conflict-related deaths in Northern Ireland, as well as police and political interference in the work of the Police Ombudsman for Northern Ireland, and delays in the Northern Ireland Coroner’s Court.
What led to the resignation of the previous Police Ombudsman and what measures had been put in place to restore the integrity and independence of that office? Was it true that the current legislation Police Ombudsman of Northern Ireland could only initiate a new investigation into historical cases of police misconduct which had been previously investigated if there was new evidence in the case?
Regarding historical accountability mechanisms, there was concern that the new branch, namely the Legacy Investigations Branch, also operated under the hierarchy of the Police Service of Northern Ireland, and lacked adequate independence and resources. Why did it take so much time to establish a new historical unit? A delegate noted that it seemed that there were too many mechanisms, and there was concern whether necessary infrastructure existed to put those in place.
The delegation was also asked to explain how the State dealt with the concern regarding the functioning of the Coroner’s inquest system in legacy cases, which were raised by the European Court of Human Rights in cases such as the McCaughey case.
On the Inquiries Act of 2005, what existing safeguards for independence were in place and was it true that serving judges had refused in past to chair inquiries because of their perceived lack of independence? The delegation was asked to comment on the Patrick Finucane investigation, and why the selected course of action had been chosen. Did the informal investigation meet the international standards of investigation?
Could the delegation give information on the sources of funding that the State intended to find to fund the Human Rights Commission in Northern Ireland? The Commission had not been able to access penitentiary centers and services, or was able to do so only when accompanied. Was it possible to reform legislation on that matter?
With regards to racial discrimination, according to the reports that the Committee had received, xenophobia and racial hatred against Muslims were prevalent. Allegedly, military ships had been used to stop the arrival of migrants. In 2005, the Human Rights Committee had called upon the United Kingdom to tackle xenophobia. What means did the Government employ to tackle xenophobia, particularly against Muslims and Afro descendants on the internet?
What measures were employed to deter racial disparities in the criminal justice system?
Another Committee Expert asked the delegation on the plan to adopt a new Bill of Rights replacing the Human Rights Act of 1998. He also asked the delegation to give an estimate of the time it would take to enact legislation on discrimination. Did the ruling in a recent case mean that the existing law was sufficient to combat caste discrimination? Did the Government envision a plan for Roma and traveler communities? Regarding discrimination based on sexual orientation, why was there no plan in Bermuda to legalize the age of sexual conduct among homosexuals?
On the stop and search powers, the State had replied that those could be exercised only if a Chief Constable had first authorized powers in a specified area. How was that specified area determined, and what were the criteria to specify it? Did the Equality Act provide safeguards against stop and search practices based on political opinion? The Scottish Government had been trying to address the issue of stop and search powers. Between April and December 2013 the number of search was almost double that of the entire year in the London Metropolitan Area. Allegedly, 80 percent of the searches had been consensual. Could the delegation explain that?
The State party was commended on the introduction of a web portal on the use of Tasers and weapons. However, it would be better if the portal also included information on the circumstances under which they were used.
An Expert asked about the number of female Members of Parliament and Permanent Secretaries in the Civil Service. More details were also needed on the gender wage gap issue.
What steps were taken to ensure the participation of women in the addressing the conflict in Northern Ireland? In Northern Ireland, how was the new Gender Equality Strategy being implemented?
On violence against women, including domestic violence, could the delegation inform about the rape cases and domestic violence convictions? How was the National Rape Action Plan being put into place? How many female genital mutilation cases had been reported? How was the plan to stop violence against women in Northern Ireland being implemented?
The definition of terrorism in the Terrorism Act of 2000 had been maintained, but was being used sparingly. Could the delegation comment on the number of cases it had been used in? The Miranda High Court Judgment had raised concerns about the freedom of journalists: how had those concerns been addressed? Allegedly, the police could hold the passport of an individual for 14 days before they applied for judicial authority. Was that period not too long?
Another Expert noted that many measures had been taken to prevent or decrease suicide in prisons; however, there was still a rise in the number of suicides. The Scottish Government had launched a new prevention strategy. What measures were being taken to reduce or eliminate suicide rates in Scotland and what was the impact of such measures? The high levels of self-harm among women in prison was of particular concern, and showed deterioration of mental health. Situations leading to suicide attempt and alcohol use or abuse among women were on the rise. How were those addressed in Scotland?
Experts expressed concern about women’s and girls’ human rights in Northern Ireland, including on abortion, when it involved rape and incest.
Answers by the Delegation
The delegation repeated the United Kingdom’s view on extraterritoriality, which was firm and clear. The International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and the European Convention of Human Rights wordings were different on that point. That did not mean that members of the United Kingdom armed services were not subject to the law when overseas. They were subject to the United Kingdom legislation, through which human rights and international humanitarian law were applicable, and the United Kingdom upheld them internationally.
Regarding the British Indian Ocean Territories, a delegate stated that the United Kingdom ratification had never been extended to those areas.
On the implementation of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, one of the strengths of the United Kingdom was that human rights were protected not just in the Human Rights Act, but through a number of other laws. Regarding the new proposed Bill of Rights of the United Kingdom, the delegation reiterated that the Human Rights Act of 1998 had opened the system to abuse and an expansive judicial interpretation of the principle of civil rights, while undermining legal certainty. The new Bill would correct that.
Answering questions on the Northern Ireland Bill of Rights, it was stated that the United Kingdom Government was committed to advancing that issue on the basis of the overall consensus by all political parties.
The delegation informed that a new Police Ombudsman had been appointed. The criminal justice system carried out inspections in 2013 and 2014, and thereupon the independence had been restored. 86 percent of the respondents had expressed confidence in the Police Ombudsman, who had the same powers as the police in investigating.
On the new Historical Investigating Unit, it was explained that the Unit was led by the Department of Justice, and involved victims and victim groups on all relevant sides. The institution would be established and operational in 2016.
There was no political consensus on the use of energy projectiles in Northern Ireland.
The Gender and Equality Strategy (2006 to 2016) provided for equal pay for equal work by men and women, and the achievement of a gender balance on all Government appointed committees and boards. The Northern Ireland Judicial Appointments Commission was working to address the women solicitors within that profession. On the role of women in political life in Northern Ireland, the delegation informed that women accounted for 11 percent of the Members of Parliament and 23 percent of the Northern Ireland Counselors. Two of the three Northern Irish Members of the European Parliament were female. The involvement of women was encouraged as was their contribution in peace process.
Regarding the cases of rape and incest in relation to abortion in Northern Ireland, a delegation member stated that abortion for sexual crime was a complex issue and there were currently no proposals on that issue.
The United Kingdom had extended the option of individual petitions to the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women and the Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. Since then, all cases had been inapplicable; thus, no benefits were seen from individual petitions.
Regarding the Northern Ireland contributions to the response, it was explained that the United Kingdom Government had raised the issue with the Northern Ireland administration, which had requested more time in order to prepare the answers. The delegation asked the Committee to take into account the unique political circumstances in Northern Ireland, as well as the fact that the executive consisted of 12 separate departments.
On the issue of hate crimes against Muslims and individuals of African descent, the delegation assured the Committee that the United Kingdom took those issues very seriously, and those were part of the 2012 Hate Crime Action Plan put in place by the previous Government. Police forces formally recorded hate crimes, and a number of criminal offenses had been brought forward, including murder based on sexual orientation.
Referring to the diversity in the civil service, a delegate stated that good progress had been made over time, but more had to be done. There were 4,390 civil servants, 53 percent of whom were women, and a significant increase in persons of minority backgrounds. The Civil Service Talent Action Plan published in September ensured that civil servants advanced in their careers based on competence and talent only. A two-year catalyst program would soon be put into place to ensure diversity.
In relation to the question on Roma and traveler communities, the United Kingdom was advancing their integration through broader integration policies, in line with commitments made at the European Union level. In April 2012, a report had been published on how to improve the situation of Roma and traveler communities, particularly in the areas of health and education.
The Government would carefully consider the 2014 court ruling and ensure that the appropriate legal protection was available for all caste-based discrimination.
Regarding the age of consent for sex for homosexual couples in Bermuda, the delegation stated that the United Kingdom Government was not aware of plans to bring the current age into line with that of heterosexual couples, adding that the United Kingdom Government would encourage the Bermuda Government to do so.
On the question of stop and search operations by police in Scotland, a delegate stated that the approach was used to keep people safe. The Scottish Government was required to publish information on all firearm use, including the use of Tasers.
The Scottish Government was committed to having a diverse work force - currently 23 percent of sheriffs were female, and, with new appointments, they would be 33 percent women.
The delegation stated that the funding of 11.8 million pounds had been allocated for 2015 for a range of projects and activities in the effort to fight violence against women.
The suicide rate in Scotland had fallen thanks to the strategy in place. The new Suicide Prevention Strategy had 11 specific commitments, while the implementation committee had met in March and would meet again in September.
In relation to suicide in prisons, the delegation said that there was a very comprehensive strategy to ensure support and early intervention. The Government recognized that women in prison had particular needs, and it was in the process of implementing reforms in that regard.
The rise in self-inflicted deaths in prisons and facilities in the United Kingdom was of serious concern to the Government, which would respond to the Harris Report on that issue in due course. The law obliged that inquests be held for all deaths.
Regarding the funding for the Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission, the delegation stated that it was in line with the Paris Principles, and the Commission was welcome to seek further funding.
On domestic violence strategy in Northern Ireland, it was explained that the Departments of Health, Social Safety, and Justice had published strategies on tackling sexual violence at home and abuse. They were currently preparing a joint strategy, expected to be launched this year. Major achievements were a 24-hour hotline, risk assessment conferences to address high risk, and the establishment of Northern Ireland‘s first reception centre.
Public inquiries were regarded as a means of bringing into open and providing answers to some of the most troubling events. The 2014 Report of the House of Lords had made a number of measures to increase the accountability of its Members.
Regarding the questions on terrorism, a delegate ensured the Committee that all terrorism operations had oversight. Stop and search powers were vital in fighting the crime of terrorism; they were down by 34 percent since 2010. In August 2014 the Government had launched a voluntary stop and search scheme, which worked very well.
Answering to the question on the Miranda case, the delegation stated that the Court had ruled that it was proportionate, legitimate, and pressing. The law said that there had to be the striking of a balance: press freedom on one hand, and national security on the other. The balance in that case was clearly in favor of national security.
Temporary exclusion orders allowed for an individual to return to the United Kingdom under particular circumstances. The order did not remove United Kingdom citizenship. On temporary passport sieges, there were requirements for a senior police officer to review its implication within 72 hours.
Responding to the question on the use of Tasers, a delegation member stated that the Government provided seven categories in which they could be used, and additional information could be provided.
On ethnic minorities in the criminal justice system in Wales, it was explained that 86 percent of the population identified itself as white, while the rest with various background. The figures from 2014, showed that 79 percent of the arrested in Wales were white.
Regarding violence against girls, the rate of conviction for rape and sexual offenses had risen to 5,850 in 2013-2014, a rise of 8.3 percent from the previous year. Between 2007-8 and 20013-14 there had been a rise in the figure of convictions from 57.3 percent to 60 percent. Police records pointed at an increase in cases of rape, but evidence showed more victim confidence and better recording by police, rather than more incidence. Recorded domestic violence cases had risen by 21 percent from 2012 to 2013. The National Rape Action Plan had been launched in 2015 by the Crown Prosecution Service and the Police. It would help prosecute cases of violence against women and girls and look for reasons why they sometimes withdrew complaints.
A delegate said that the UK was committed to ratifying the Istanbul Convention.
It was explained that only one case of female genital mutilation had been prosecuted and the perpetrator had been acquitted. Some 14 cases had been recorded since. Measures on victim anonymity had been adopted as well as other measures to bring perpetrators to justice.
On specialized funding of victims of violence against girls, the delegation stated that funds had been provided to support independent domestic and sexual violence advisors, some of whom were working particularly for ethnic minority, disabled minority, and lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender individuals. In Wales, an act had been adopted on violence against women, which would be supported by comprehensive educational measures.
The delegation confirmed that the powers of the Police Ombudsman were comparable to those of the Police in Northern Ireland. In relation to historical cases, the Ombudsman could take up a case which was more than 12 months old, if he considered that the case should be investigated because of the gravity of the case and exceptional circumstances.
Follow-Up Questions by Experts
On the extraterritorial applicability of the Covenant, an Expert reiterated the longstanding position of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, which had been confirmed by the International Court of Justice in 2004. Thus, the State party was expected to report on issues on conduct of military forces overseas.
Regarding the Optional Protocol, the Expert was intrigued by the answer involving the complaints mechanism. Existing mechanisms had safeguards against abuse. It was better to have corrective mechanisms that were rarely invoked, such as the Optional Protocol, than not to have them at all.
With respect to the reservations on Articles 10 and 14 pertaining to logistical budgetary and operational issues, it was difficult for the Committee to accept that a developed country could not afford to introduce measure of segregation between minor and adult offenders, or ensure due process in islands. An Expert observed that there was a price to be paid by introducing unnecessary reservations.
On the Inquiries Act, the delegation was asked for further information on safeguards against the abuse of executive power and authorities’ attempting to suppress information.
The issue of the overseas conduct of the British military, and the need to investigate human rights violations by the British military, was raised. The adequacy of the methods employed were questionable. Could more information be provided on the detainee inquiry headed by Peter Gibson, and on the balance between security needs and human rights? Was thought being given to introducing full judicial investigation regarding some dubious cases?
Concern was voiced on the slow pace of investigation on “the Danny Boy incident” in Iraq, which suggested that more robust accountability measures were needed. Statistics on number of investigations related to human rights violations in Iraq were needed, and whether any cases had resulted in convictions or acquittals.
Regarding the allegations of the United Kingdom forces handing over detainees to US forces in Camp Nama, the “no comment” answer by the delegation was difficult to accept. No State was above the law, and the State party was asked to reconsider its position and provide a proper response.
On the issue of prisoner voting, the Committee wished that the Government would take a position similar to that of the European Court of Human Rights.
An Expert noted that corporal punishment of children was not prohibited in Bermuda, Gibraltar, and other places. Was it prohibited in other overseas dependencies?
There was no provision on the availability of bail for terrorist suspects in pretrial detention in the United Kingdom. How was that limitation justified under Article 9 of the Covenant?
Was the Managing and Minimizing Physical Restraint not used any more in the security centers? If that was the case, the decision was commendable. Was that technique used in other places, and was it monitored and evaluated? Was it prohibited in cases of young offenders? In the replies, the State party had said that it was restricted and not prohibited.
In the case of juvenile justice in Northern Ireland, when would the Guidance be ready and implemented, an Expert asked.
Restraint in child care centers should not be used as a form of punishment. How did the State party ensure that it was not used as punishment and what measures did it use to prevent it?
What was the status of the Fines and Enforcement Bill to reduce the number of people going to prison for fines?
Regarding human trafficking, the delegation was asked to give a status report on the implementation of the recommendations. Could it also give the status on the Modern Slavery Bill and the Human Trafficking and Exploitation Scotland Bill?
On freedom of religion, belief, assembly and association, an Expert asked when the Scottish Government would repeal the 2015 Act. In Scotland, a number of areas had been identified where those rights had to be enhanced, including reducing the notification period for demonstration and ensuring that exercise of those rights was not subject to cost recovery measures. The notification period had grown from seven to 28 days; would it go back to seven days?
Another Expert asked about practical actions concerning internet sites with hate speech?
What legal guarantees were provided to those persons who were not in a position to provide their consent when they were being cared for in Scottish psychiatric institutions? Did the Government intend to take measures to strengthen legal guarantees for that vulnerable segment of the population?
A Committee Expert was concerned about the amendments of the 2012 law which had restricted legal aid. Could information be provided on extraordinary funding, notably when dealing with immigrant detainees cases, and the shutting down of various legal aid centers, notably in Manchester?
The Expert also expressed concern that in Scotland there was no intention to raise the age of legal or criminal responsibility for children. There was a common practice of detaining children overnight. What measures had been taken to curb that practice?
Regarding pre-trial delays in Northern Ireland, an introduction of statutory time limits had been introduced in some but not all cases. Why was that the case?
There was information that detainees had been deported to Algeria, Jordan, Lebanon, Ethiopia and Morocco. Were there other countries to which detainees were being deported, and, if so, which countries had the United Kingdom signed an agreement with? Could the State party inform how many people were detained in those centers, how many centers there were, and what was the average period of detention? Time limits for detention were a rule in most countries in Europe and the State party was asked to consider that.
What were the exact provisions for retaining DNA and fingerprint material from detainees, and why were those retained indefinitely in Northern Ireland?
Another Expert welcomed the intention of the Ministry of Justice in Northern Ireland to establish exceptions to restrictions on abortion in circumstances of fatal fetal abnormality and pregnancy resulting from rape or incest. However, the restrictions on travel for pregnant women were of concern. What measures were there to address consequences of illegal abortion?
Question was asked about the State party plans to revise the Data Retention Investigatory Act of 2014. For which crimes could data be requested? What was the territorial extent of the Act which provided a basis for mass interception for personal communication data, such as Facebook and Twitter? How could the extension beyond jurisdiction of territory of the United Kingdom be possible in that case, while there was no application of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights beyond the British Isles?
Another Expert inquired again about the definition of terrorism, which was unduly restrictive of political expression. The potential breadth of that detention had been seen in the Miranda case. Why had the State party not revised the law to comply with the international standards?
Answers by the Delegation
Regarding prisons in Northern Ireland, the delegation said that the Attorney General’s Human Rights Guidance had been published in December 2014. A special facility for women prisoners was under construction, and would be available in autumn. The Northern Ireland prison service had introduced prisoner development service to place rehabilitation of prisoners at the center of the process of change, including with education, parenting skills, and other actions. Main provisions of the Support for Victims Act were in force.
The delegation stated that the Government was working to improve response to offensive and hate related content online. An inter-parliamentary group worked together with all segments of society to find collaborative solutions to reduce the harm from the internet. Guidelines for prosecuting cases, providing clarity to prosecutors and the police for hate crimes on the internet had been drafted.
Regarding the definition of terrorism, the delegation said that the position of the Committee was noted, but the Government had a firm stance.
It was explained that, when it came to the Civil Liberties Report, signification proposals on oversight around the way data was dealt with were being currently looked at.
Answering the questions on the case of Mr. Miranda, the delegation stressed that he had had 58,000 highly classified stolen official documents, which were not journalistic materials, and which would have aided terrorists.
On the extraterritoriality, the Optional Protocol and the existing reservations, the delegation said that the United Kingdom would reflect upon them.
Regarding detainees and recommendations in Sir Peter Gibson’s Detainee Inquiry Report, the Government had provided answers on treatment to detainees.
The delegation reiterated that it was a longstanding policy not to comment on the country’s special forces. Regarding allegations of abuses in Iraq and Afghanistan a number of investigations had taken place, resulting in convictions.
The Iraq Historic Allegations Team had been given funding of GBP 2.5 million for investigation. That was part of the efforts to ensure that there was no delay.
Regarding the definition of torture in the Criminal Justice Act, the delegation stated that the United Kingdom would not allow people to commit torture without impunity. The definition had to be understood in the context of the justice system of the United Kingdom.
Responding to the questions on child abuse, the commitment of the United Kingdom to protect all children from abuse or neglect was reiterated. The system was to ensure that abuse was detected early. In all territories, laws on assault of children were clear, however criminalization of parents for giving a child a smack was not considered.
On the statistics of arrest under the Terrorism Act, a delegate informed that 289 persons had been arrested for terrorism offences in 2014, which was a 30 percent increase from the previous year. To grant bail at an important stage of investigation would increase individuals being released before fully investigated. That was a risk that the United Kingdom Government was not prepared to take. The prescribed period was 48 hours, and an additional 14 days maximum, if more time was needed to investigate.
Regarding police arrest powers related to terrorism, it was explained that the power for arrest was not limited to persons suspected for terrorism, but for a list of acts. If a suspect carried out other criminal acts, then the police arrest powers related to terrorism were not used.
A delegate said that the use of restraint in facilities was only used for young people as a very last resort. All establishments had a restraint mechanism strategy representing a commitment to minimize restraint. Where pain inducing techniques were used, those were done in order to protect security of the child.
Patients had to feel able to complain about the pain they had suffered, the delegation emphasized. Responding to the Report of Robert Francis, the Government had enacted a number of reforms. Health care quality commission inspections looked at how well providers handled complaints, and how trust boards listened to and learned from complaints. The Royal College of Nursing had published a relevant Guidance.
Regarding modern slavery and trafficking, a delegate said that the Modern Slavery Bill had been enacted, while the dates when it would be brought into force were not finalized.
The delegation stated that the Northern Ireland Law Commission had carried out a consultation on defamation in Northern Ireland. Unfortunately, the Commission had closed due to financial constraints. The possibility was being considered to retain a lawyer to complete the work of the Commission and produce a final report with recommendations.
The Scottish Parliament was currently considering a Law on Defamation, a delegate informed.
The Official Secrets Act of 1989 complied fully with Article 19 on freedom of expression and the right to receive it, but only within the boundaries of the public interest. Under special circumstances, official authorization to investigate could be given to those who were not Crown servants.
The delegation explained that the period for notification for marches had been extended from seven to 28 days to allow for effective planning of police resources. The delegation believed that the current notification period permitted for a constructive dialogue to take place.
Responding to the questions on legal aid, a delegate said that it continued to be provided where serious matters were at stake. Where a matter was outside the scope of the legal aid, it could be made available, based on certain criteria. The delegation felt that the residence test for the provision of legal aid was a fair and appropriate way to demonstrate the connection of individuals with the United Kingdom.
The age of criminal prosecution in Scotland was 12, meaning that no child under that age could be prosecuted in Court. The Government had no plans to raise the age of criminal responsibility in England and Wales. Young persons of 10 or 11 was able to commit a serious crime, and the Government believed that they should be held responsible.
On the issue of the interception of communications data, the delegation said that those regimes had been tested in domestic courts and the European Court of Human Rights, and had been deemed to be within the scope of the international privacy law.
An Expert convened the concern of the Committee regarding children’s rights, and said that its comments had been in line of inducing parents with a line of caution, and not criminalizing them for a smack.
Regarding phone tapping on an Amnesty International employee, it was disappointing if the delegation could not provide details. Was it the organization or the contacts of that organization that were being listened to?
With respect to removal of individuals and diplomatic assurances, and the Memorandum of Understanding with Jordan, what equivalent did Algeria, Morocco, Ethiopia, and Lebanon have to ensure independent post monitoring? Regarding citizen depravation orders in counter-terroris cases, what measures were taken to ensure that individuals were not rendered stateless?
An Expert said that, amongst domestic workers in the United Kingdom, there were serious cases of abuse, long hours, passport confiscation, physical and psychological abuse, and being paid little or not at all. That had led to forced labor. The Committee asked the United Kingdom Government to take measures for help migrant domestic workers.
A reply on hate speech was requested in writing.
Regarding the period of notification for association from seven to 28 days, how long did it currently take to issue a license and what problems did authorities face in this respect?
SCOTT MCPHERSON, Director of the Law, Rights and International Directorate at the Ministry of Justice, said that the United Kingdom had a long standing history in protecting human rights at home and abroad. The Government was committed to the strong global role of the United Kingdom in promoting human rights. Where answers were not possible, those would be furnished in writing. Mr. McPherson thanked his delegation and the Committee for the positive spirit in which the discussion had been led, describing it as a challenging and rewarding experience.
FABIAN SALVIOLI, Committee Chairperson, thanked the delegation for the quantity of information provided and the way in which the questions had been answered. The United Kingdom’s readiness to reflect on the extraterritorial application of the Covenant was very welcome. It was very important that the implementation of the Covenant was aligned with the traditions mentioned by the delegation. The fact that the head of the delegation considered the Optional Protocol useful during the second day of the meeting was proof that the meeting had been fruitful. Serious violations of human rights in Iraq and Afghanistan, and the Danny Boy case would continue to be of concern and would be monitored closely, as would Northern Ireland and reparations and remedies there, as well as interceptions and surveillance. The delegation was asked to carefully reflect on those issues.
For use of the information media; not an official record
Follow UNIS Geneva on: Website | Facebook | Twitter | YouTube |Flickr