United Kingdom Democracy and Rights

Democracy and rights

Abbreviated as GBR by Abbreviationfinder, Britain is a democracy with centuries-old roots. The first Parliament was formed as early as the 13th century and today’s parliamentary system was founded in the 1600s. There is strong protection for political and civil rights, which in most cases are respected. However, human rights organizations have criticized the fact that the authorities have been increasingly empowered to monitor the residents. Freedom of the press and opinion prevails.

Political elections are conducted according to democratic rules of the game and citizens are free to form political parties. A majority of the British voted in 2016 to leave the EU, Brexit, which has put pressure on the political system and created uncertainty about which regulations should apply (see also Current policy). The situation in Northern Ireland is of particular concern, as the province has lacked a functioning government since the beginning of 2017 (see Towards Peace). The Brexit process, not least questions about what will happen to the Northern Ireland-Ireland border has made it more difficult to resolve the Northern Ireland government crisis (see Current Policy).

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In recent years, the number of hate crime reports targeting immigrants and Muslims has increased (see Population and Languages). Following the referendum, it has emerged that organizations that campaigned for British EU exit received more money than was allowed during the election campaign. There are also suspicions that Russia interfered in the electoral movement, including through posts in social media and through financial contributions to the organization Vote.Leave.

Women are under-represented in decision-making positions, both in business and in politics. After the 2019 election, 34 percent of the members of the British lower house were women, compared with 32 percent in the 2017 election, just under 23 percent in 2010 and 29 per cent in 2015. However, there are major differences between the parties, in 2019 just over 51 percent of the Labor members were women, for Scottish The Nationalist Party (SNP) was the figure 50 percent, while only just under 24 percent of Conservative Party members were women. There are also great differences between different parts of the country. In those parts of Northern England that voted conservatively, 80 percent of the members were men, followed by Northern Ireland with 78 percent. In London, the gender balance was largely uniform, as was the country’s north-east.

In the upper house, the proportion was lower, 26 per cent in March 2019. In parliaments in Scotland and Wales, the proportion of women is higher, 35 and 50 per cent respectively in 2016. The worst representation of women in the Northern Ireland parliament is: 28 per cent.

In elections in 2019, the number of members of ethnic minorities in the British House of Commons from 52 to 65. At least 50 members of the LGBT -Persons.

MPs must report on their income and other financial assets. This information is also available to the public.

A political affair that fueled the contempt for politicians in the country was the revelations in 2009 of how a large number of MPs from the three major parties have requested and been reimbursed for costs (including as compensation for double housing expenses). The information had leaked to the Daily Telegraph newspaper and although many of the members had not violated any rules, it seemed to them that they had tried to get as much as they could up to the maximum limit of just over £ 24,000. It was about everything from renovating homes, building swimming pools, buying incandescent lamps or trying to avoid paying all their municipal taxes.

In 2019, the United Kingdom, along with Australia, Canada and Austria, ranked 11 out of 180 countries on Transparency International’s list of world countries ranked by corruption levels (for list see here). In recent years, the United Kingdom has been criticized for not acting more vigorously against companies and individuals who have tried to escape tax through so-called tax havens. Money laundering through the purchase of luxury housing is another noteworthy problem.

Freedom of expression and media

The British press is characterized by great liberality. However, its freedom is limited by strict laws such as slander and breach of confidentiality. For example, the media may not publish information that may affect legal processes. There are laws that prohibit the publication of secret material that may threaten national interests.

In Reporters Without Borders rankings in 2020, Britain ranked 35 out of 180 countries, which was a decline compared to the previous year, but still better than 2017 and 2018 when the country placed 40th (for list, see here). In 2010, the country was ranked 19, but slipped after that down the list. This is largely due to a new law of 2016, the Investigatory Powers Act, which means that the police and the security service without any legal investigation, or that the person involved in the detention can monitor everyone, including journalists, communication via computers and telephones (see below).

The Press Freedom Organization Reporters Without Borders has criticized the authorities’ intervention against the Guardian in 2013. Among other things, the magazine was forced to destroy hard disks containing documents leaked to the media by American Snow Snow, which showed how the NSA signal authority in the US and its British counterpart GCHQ mass-monitored telecommunications and Internet communications in the outside world.

In August 2018, two journalists were arrested in Northern Ireland, Trevor Birney and Barry McCaffrey, and the police seized their investigative material. They were charged with disseminating secretly stamped information from the Northern Ireland Police Ombudsman on how the then RUC police department handled the investigation into the murders of six Catholics in Loughinisland in 1994. The criminal investigation against journalists drew sharp criticism from press freedom organizations, and in June 2019 it was shut down.

In 2019, a journalist Lyra McKee in Northern Ireland was killed in connection with her monitoring a riot in Derry / Londonderry. Reporters Without Borders has also pointed out that Wikileaks Julian Assange received a harsh sentence, 50 weeks, for violating the bail rules. He has also been held in jail awaiting notification whether he may be extradited to the United States or not. Nils Melzer, the UN’s special envoy for torture, has expressed concerns about Assange’s health.

In 2011, it was revealed that newspapers had hacked into and intercepted a large number of private individuals’ phones. The government appointed an inquiry that the following year recommended that new laws be enacted to deal with press ethical issues and that a new independent body should be created with the right to fine those who violated the rules. There was no new legislation, but a royal treaty that laid down the guidelines, and it would be voluntary to join the new press committee. However, most of the press chose to form their own press ethical organization IPSO. However, it has received criticism for being toothless, and a competing group, Impress, was founded in 2016.

The daily newspapers are largely owned by a number of large media companies, not least the American News Corporation owned by Rupert Murdoch. In order to prevent the emergence of monopoly, there is a rule that a media company must have the government’s permission to acquire a newspaper that is published in more than half a million copies. Laws also control how much of a radio and TV company a newspaper group can own.

None of the major newspaper groups have any direct connection to a political party. However, media magnates such as Rupert Murdoch, who owns, among other things, the country’s largest newspaper Sun, have a great political influence.

Legal certainty

British courts are independent, and the authorities adhere to their decisions, and the country ranks high in various indexes that rank the rule of law. However, legal reforms implemented in 2013 have restricted access to legal aid, which has led to the fact that people without their own assets do not always receive the legal support they need. These are usually cases of migration or family law.

In England, Wales and Northern Ireland, children can be brought to justice from the age of ten. In Scotland, the age of crime was increased in May 2019 from eight years to twelve years.

The death penalty was abolished completely in 1998. British law also prohibits torture, degrading punishment and unjustified detention of suspected criminals.

The United Kingdom ratified the European Convention on Human Rights in 1953 (European Convention). The country is thus a “member” of the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR, often referred to simply as the European Court of Justice), which is the body of the Council of Europe to investigate possible violations of the European Convention.

During her time as Minister of the Interior, Theresa May advocated that Britain should withdraw from the European Court of Justice. For several years, she was involved in a tug of war with the court that made it difficult for her to expel Abu Qatada, a terrorist-suspected Islamist preacher, to Jordan (see Calendar). Since May 2016 was appointed prime minister, it was unclear where she was on the issue. Some conservative politicians advocate that the United Kingdom replace the European Convention with its own Bill of Rights, but nothing will happen until the Brexit process is over.

The European Court of Justice criticized the UK in 2005 for prisoners not having the right to vote in political elections. At the end of 2017, the British government and the court concluded a settlement which means that a small number of prisoners have the right to leave the prison for a short period (people who have been covered with footcuffs have previously retained their voting rights). At the same time, parliaments in Scotland and Wales were given the right to decide for themselves what rules to apply in their regions (investigations have been started but not completed). This happened then even countries such as Turkey and Russia chose not to follow the court’s ruling with reference to the UK’s actions.

Another sensitive issue is that asylum seekers and migrants can be detained indefinitely. Criticism has been directed, among other things, that not enough is being done to protect particularly vulnerable people and that children are also kept in the custody, and against the unfortunate conditions prevailing there.

The operation of some prisons in England and Wales has been outsourced to private companies. In August 2018, 17 of 123 prisons were run, youth institutions with several privately owned companies. Following reports of maladministration, the authorities have, at least temporarily, resumed the operation of some institutions. In August 2018, the Ministry of Justice claimed that privately run prisons carried out their duties well.

Terror threats and anti-terrorism legislation

Over the years, the United Kingdom has been subjected to a series of terrorist attacks. For a long time, the main threat came from the Irish Republican Army (IRA), which carried out a series of attacks, especially in Northern Ireland, but also on the British mainland. In recent years, the threat has mainly come from Islamist groups that have also carried out several acts of terrorism. In 2005, around 50 people were killed in concerted assaults in London’s public transport. Several attacks were also carried out in 2017, including in Manchester in May 2017 where 22 people were killed, and a few weeks later in London, where seven casualties were claimed. British police and the intelligence service also say they have discovered and stopped a number of planned assaults.

Since 1998, anti-terrorism legislation has been progressively tightened, not least following the London 2005 terrorist attacks (see Modern History). In several cases, however, the laws in the upper house gave the government a backlash on the new laws, inter alia by saying no to British courts to use evidence obtained in torture of prisoners in other countries.

The Terrorism Act 2000 meant, among other things, that it became punishable to carry out threats of terrorism. Following the terrorist attacks against the United States in 2001, it became possible to detain terror suspected foreign nationals indefinitely without prosecution. The law applied to persons who could not be deported to their home countries for risking the death penalty or being subjected to torture. As the text of the law made a difference between British citizens and others, it was, according to the Law Lords, contrary to the European Convention. In 2005, a new law was passed that also included British citizens. This applies to cases where, according to the government, you cannot prosecute without disclosing secret intelligence material. The persons concerned can then be placed in a form of house arrest.

In 2006, it was forbidden to encourage and “glorify” terrorism, to participate in the training of terrorists and to manufacture or possess materials that could be used in a terrorist act. The United Kingdom has now concluded bilateral agreements with several countries, including Jordan, which allow terror suspects to be deported there when given guarantees that they will not be subjected to torture. This has been criticized by MPs from all parties, high ranking judges and human rights organizations.

A new law from 2016 gives the authorities the right to seize passports belonging to British and foreign nationals if they are suspected of traveling abroad to participate in terrorism-related activities. People may also be forced to settle in another part of the country and their freedom of movement may be restricted.

In 2013, it was revealed how the signaling authority GCHQ and the US NSA mass-monitored citizens via the internet and mobile phones. The disclosures triggered an intense debate about where the boundary goes between citizens’ right to privacy and the need for security services to obtain the information they need to effectively fight terrorism. According to the Investigatory Powers Act, which came into force in November 2016, telecommunications and telecom companies must store information on which websites the citizens have visited, the police, security services and other authorities for the first time have the right to hack into or otherwise intercept communications via computers and phones. However, the law has received a backlash from both the European Court of Justice and the British courts, partly because it allows mass interception of citizens without suspicion of crime and without the transparency of any independent body. The law has then been partially rewritten (read more about the lawhere)

In 2019, a new law came into force that makes it criminal to watch terror-related material online (which can give up to 15 years in prison), something that Index on censorship, an organization that protects freedom of expression, believes can damage the freedom of the press and the public. right to information.

In the spring of 2018, the intelligence service MI5 assessed that international terrorists, mainly Islamist groups, pose a “serious” threat to the country. On its website , MI5 stressed that the biggest terror threat came from people living in the UK, and that several thousand people in the country support extremist movements. A particular threat is considered to come from some people who have left Britain to fight with jihadist groups in Syria and Iraq and then returned to their homeland, both because they planned attacks or helped to radicalize others. An increased threat also comes from individuals planning attacks with simple methods and without direct links to terrorist organizations.

The terror threat also comes from Republican groups in Northern Ireland, although they are not considered strong enough to carry out a campaign of violence of the kind the Irish Republican Army (IRA) did in the 1970s and 1980s. Among today’s Republican dissident groups include, among other things Continuation-IRA (Continuity IRA), New IRA, Real IRA (Real IRA) and Óglaigh na hÉireann (ONH). In the spring of 2016, MI5 rated the threat to England as “significant” rather than “moderate.” In Northern Ireland, the Republican groups were considered a major threat (see also Conflicts: Northern Ireland). From March 2018, the risk of the Northern Ireland groups committing terrorist acts on the British mainland was down to “possible but unlikely”.

A number of organizations have been banned because of terrorist links, most of them Islamist groups, but also a number of Northern Ireland violence groups and the neo-Nazi organization National Action (read more about which groups have been banned here).

According to the Ministry of the Interior, 268 people were arrested for terror-related crimes from March 31, 2018 to the same time in 2019, compared with 443 the year before, a decrease of 40 percent. Of those arrested in 2018/2019, 70 were charged with terrorist offenses and 69 were released without any legal action. In March 2019, 223 people were detained for terror-related crimes. Most of them (80 percent) had extreme Islamist views, while 15 percent belonged to right-wing extremist groups such as National Action.

Citizenship issue

The issue of British citizens being deprived of their citizenship was raised in connection with the essentially defeating the Islamic State (IS) terrorist movement. Great attention was paid to the case of Shamima Begum, a British citizen who traveled to Syria in 2015 as a 15-year-old to join IS. A process was initiated in 2019 for her to lose her British citizenship (see Calendar).

According to the British Nationality Act 1981 For example, anyone who submits incorrect information may be deprived of their citizenship. British Home Ministers have long had the right to take away their British citizenship from people who are also citizens of one or more other countries. Since 2010, various home ministers have tried to revoke citizenship for people who are not born in the UK and who are not nationals of another country, but they have been hindered by the courts. In 2014, a legislative amendment was implemented that allows the Minister of the Interior to revoke citizenship, even when a person risks becoming stateless. The measure can only be taken when the person is considered to be harming British interests. However, this requires that the Interior Minister has reason to believe that the person can become a citizen of another country. According to the organization Freemovement, 104 persons were deprived of British citizenship in 2017.

United Kingdom Crime Rate & Statistics