Constitution - United Kingdom
Chapter 1 Human Rights
Part 1 Legal Framework
Section 1 Overview
There is no written constitution or
comprehensive Bill of Rights; Britain's constitution is to be found partly in
conventions and customs and partly in statute. The Act known as the Bill
of Rights 1689 deals with the exercise of the royal prerogative and succession
to the Crown.
The British legal system provides some remedies to deal with human rights
abuses. For instance, the remedy of 'habeas corpus' secures the
individual's right to freedom from any unlawful or arbitrary detention.
Parliament, however, has power to enact any law and change any previous law.
There is no fundamental distinction between 'public law' and 'private
law'. Any person can take proceedings against the Government or a local
government authority to protect his or her legal rights and to obtain a remedy
for any injury suffered.
Britain has not generally codified its law and courts adopt a relatively strict
and literal approach to the interpretation of statutes.
The ratification of a treaty or international convention does not make it
automatically part of the domestic law. Where necessary, the Government
amends domestic law to bring it in line with the convention. Because of
Britain's membership of the European Community, Community law is part of British
law and takes precedence in the event of conflict between the two.
Part 2 International Human Rights
Section 2 International Arrangements
Since the Universal Declaration of Human
Rights is not a legally binding document, the UN General Assembly adopted, in
1966, the 'International Covenant on Economic, Social and Political Rights' and
the 'International Covenant on Civil and political Rights'. Britain
ratified both covenants in 1976.
Britain is bound by the Council of Europe's 1953 'European Convention for the
Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms'. The Convention
allows individual petitions against governments to the European Commission on
Human Rights, if all possible domestic remedies have been exhausted.
Since 1966 Britain has accepted the right of individual petition under the
Convention and the compulsory jurisdiction of the European Court of Human
Rights. The outcome of some cases has led to changes in British law to
improve human rights, for example the abolition of corporal punishment in state
schools and improved rights for prisoners.Britain is not a party to the
Convention's Fourth Protocol (Freedom of Movement) because of inconsistency
with some aspects of the United Kingdom immigration control system nor the
Sixth Protocol (abolition of the death penalty).
Part 3 General Provisions
Section 3 Human Dignity
All human beings are born free and equal in
dignity and rights, endowed with reason and conscience,
and should act towards one another in a spirit of brotherhood.
Section 4 Equality
Everyone is equally
entitled to all rights and freedoms without distinction of any kind, such as
race, color, sex, language, religion, political or other opinion, national or
social origin, property, birth, or other status.
(1) Sex Discrimination: It is unlawful
to treat one person less favorably than another on grounds of sex when offering
employment. This also applies to education courses and the provision to
the public of housing, goods, facilities and services such as insurance.
Advertisements indicating an intention to discriminate in this way are also
(2) Equal Pay: Women employed by the
same employer can claim the same pay as men for work of equal value. This
right also applies to work which is the same or broadly similar or work which
is judged equal by a job evaluation scheme. The same rights apply to men.
(3) European Community Legislation:
States are obliged to eliminate discrimination in state social security schemes
providing protection against sickness, unemployment, invalidity, old age,
accidents at work or occupational diseases.
(4) Racial Equality: It is unlawful to
treat one person less favorably than another on grounds of race, color,
nationality or ethnic or national origins. This applies to employment
(including training), education, and the provision to the public of housing,
goods, facilities and services, and premises. Discriminatory
advertisements are also unlawful.
Part 4 Integrity
Section 5 Personal Integrity
Everyone has the right to life, Liberty, and
the security of person.
(1) Taking of Life: The mandatory penalty
for murder is imprisonment for life. Anyone sent to prison for murder is
liable to be detained for the rest of his or her life but may be released on
(2) Control of Firearms: There is strict
licensing and control over the sale of firearms and their possession.
Private ownership of highly dangerous weapons is banned.
(3) Victims of violent crime, including
foreign nationals, may apply for compensation under the Criminal Injuries
Compensation Scheme. In 1990 the Government published its Victims'
Charter setting out for the first time the rights and expectations of victims
of violent and other crime. There are more than 350 victim support
schemes with over 6,000 trained volunteers which help well over 500,000 people
(4) In Northern Ireland the security forces
have special powers to search, question and arrest suspected terrorists.
Throughout Britain the maximum period for which the police can hold a suspected
terrorist is 48 hours. This period can be extended for up to five days with
the consent of the appropriate Secretary of State. The Government has
powers to ban terrorist organizations in Northern Ireland and in the rest of
(5) Incitement to racial hatred is a criminal
offence. It is against the law to use threatening, abusive, or insulting
words or to display, publish or distribute such material. It is also an
offence to possess racially inflammatory material, the police having powers of
search, seizure and forfeiture.
Section 6 Abolishment of Slavery
No one may be held in slavery or servitude;
slavery and the slave trade are prohibited.
Section 7 Punishment
No one shall be subjected to torture or to
cruel, inhuman, ordegrading treatment or punishment.
(1) If a police officer fails to comply with
this provision, he or she can be disciplined and the courts may reject any
evidence so obtained.
(2) Custody: Under the Criminal Justice Act
1991, the offence must be so serious that it merits custody. Longer
custodial sentences - within the statutory maxima - will be given to persistent
violent and sexual offenders in order to protect the public from serious harm.
(3) Most prisoners are eligible for remission
of one third of their sentence. Release is unconditional and does not
involve any official supervision in the community. It may be forfeited
for serious misconduct in prison.
(4) Parole: Prisoners serving more than
12 months can be released conditionally on parole when they have served one
third of the sentence, or six months, whichever expires the later. Three
quarters of prisoners serving sentences of less than two years receive
parole. The parole license remains in force until the date on which the
prisoner would otherwise have been released from prison.
(5) Life Sentence Prisoners: People
serving life sentences for the murder of police and prison officers, terrorist
murders, murder by firearms in the course of crime or the sexual or sadistic
murder of children are normally detained for at least 20 years. Life
sentence prisoners are released on life license and are subject to recall
should their behavior suggest that they might again be a danger to the public.
Section 8 Marriage and Family
(1) Men and women of full age, without any
limitation due to race, nationality or religion, have the right to marry and to
found a family. They are entitled to equal rights as to marriage, during
marriage and at its dissolution.
(2) Marriage shall be entered into only with
the free and full consent of the intending spouses.
(3) The family is the natural and fundamental
group unit of society and is entitled to protection by society and the State.
(4) All marriages are registered by the
State. It is unlawful to force anyone to marry against his or her will or
to bring about a marriage by fraudulent means.
(5) Members of the family are in an
advantageous position in matters of succession. If death occurs without a
valid will, the spouse and children of the deceased have priority.
Children have equal rights of inheritance from parents whether the parents are
married or unmarried.
Section 9 Property
(1) Everyone has the right to own property
alone as well as in association with others.
(2) No one shall be arbitrarily deprived of
(3) Compensation is paid for any losses
suffered through compulsory purchase or the deterioration of property as a
result of activities by public authorities.
Part 5 Legal Protection
Section 10 Dignity before courts
Everyone has the right to recognition
everywhere as a person before the law.
Section 11 Equality before the law
All are equal before the law and are entitled
without any discrimination to equal protection of the law.
Section 12 Redress and Remedies
Everyone has the right to an effective remedy
by the competent national tribunals for acts violating the fundamental rights
granted him by the constitution or by law.
(1) Redress and Remedies: Everyone has the
right of access to the courts and to the legal remedies available there.
(2) Legal aid schemes help people with limited
resources to meet the cost of work done by a lawyer. Solicitors give
legal advice and assistance to suspects at police stations.
(3) All state authorities are subject to
judicial control. Government departments and public authorities can be
sued for compensation for wrongful acts or breach of contract in the same way
Seciton 13 Fair Trial
Everyone is entitled in full equality to a fair and public hearing by an
independent and impartial tribunal in the determination of his rights and
obligations and of any criminal charge against him.
(1) Civil and criminal cases are heard by an
(2) In criminal cases the prosecution must
prove guilt beyond reasonable doubt. Following a series of miscarriages
of justice which took place in the mid 1970s, the Government has set up a Royal
Commission to examine the effectiveness of the criminal justice system.
(3) In jury trials the judge decides questions
of law, sums up the evidence for the jury, and discharges the accused or passes
sentence. A jury is independent of the judiciary. Any attempt to
interfere with the jury once it is sworn in is a criminal offence.
(4) Publicity: Court proceedings are
normally held in public and reporters from the media are admitted. In
rape cases, the identity of the complainant cannot be reported.
Section 14 Presumption of Innocence
(1) Everyone charged with a penal offence has
the right to be presumed innocent until proved guilty according to law in a
public trial at which he has had all the guarantees necessary for his defence.
(2) No one shall be held guilty of any penal
offence on account of any act or omission which did not constitute a penal
offence, under national or international law, at the time when it was
committed. Nor shall a heavier penalty be imposed than the one that was
applicable at the time the penal offence was committed.
Part 6 Liberties
Section 15 Personal Liberty
No one shall be subjected to arbitrary arrest,
detention, or exile. Everyone has a legal right to personal
liberty. No one can be arrested with the exception of those suspected of
committing a crime, those failing to comply with certain civil court orders, or
individuals in contempt of a superior court or of Parliament. An arrest
to enforce a court order in civil proceedings can only be made under a warrant
issued by a court or by a power of arrest granted by the court in cases of
(1) Arrests in Criminal Proceedings: The
police have power to arrest a suspect without a warrant if he or she is
reasonably suspected of involvement in an arrestable offence, that is, one
where the maximum penalty is five years imprisonment or more. They must
normally obtain a warrant before arresting someone for other offenses; an
immediate arrest without a warrant may, however, take place if the police
believe it is not possible or appropriate to issue a summons to appear in
court, for instance where a suspect refuses to give a name and address.
(2) An arrested person has the right to:
- consult a solicitor;
- ask the police to notify a relative or other named person likely to take an
interest in his or her welfare; and
- consult the code of practice regarding treatment in police custody.
The police may delay the exercise of the first two of theserights for up to 36
(3) Consultation: Solicitors are available on
a 2 hour basis to offer free legal advice for people being questioned at police
stations. The police must caution a suspect before any questions are put
for the purpose of obtaining evidence. The caution informs the suspect
that he or she is entitled to refuse to answer questions - the so-called 'right
(4) The suspect may not normally be detained
for more than 24 hours without charge. In the case of a suspect arrested
in connection with a serious arrestable offence, however, he or she may be
detained for up to 36 hours without charge on the authority of a senior police
officer; if the police wish to detain the suspect for longer than 36 hours,
they must obtain authority from a court, which may not grant authority for a
period beyond 96 hours from first detention. Reviews must be made of a
person's detention at regular intervals to check whether the criteria for
detention are still satisfied. If they are not, the person must be released
(5) Tape recording of interviews with
suspected offenders at police stations are universal practice.
(6) Habeas Corpus: Anyone who thinks
that his or her detention is illegal may apply to the High Court for a writ of
habeas corpus against the person detaining him or her. If no lawful cause
can be shown, the prisoner must be released immediately. A habeas corpus
case has priority over other cases in the order of court business.
(7) Bail: Most accused people are
released on bail pending trial. They are not remanded in custody except
where strictly necessary.
Section 16 Right to Privacy
No one shall be subjected to arbitrary
interference with his privacy, family, home or correspondence, nor to attacks
upon his honor and reputation. Every one has the right to the protection
of the law against such interference or attacks.
(1) The common law allows people to speak and
act in their own homes as they please and to carry on their daily business,
provided that they do not infringe the rights of others or commit an offence.
(2) Parents are free to bring up their
children as they so wish, provided that they do not infringe laws against
cruelty and exposure to moral and physical danger. Parents also have to
observe the law regarding compulsory education of their children.
(3) Is a criminal offence for a man to commit
a homosexual act with a person under the age of 18. The age was changed
from 21 to 18 with a vote of 336 to 129. A
1999 bill to
further reduce that age to 16 has failed.
(4) Privacy and the Press: Action is being taken by the Government to
deal with media intrusion into the privacy of individuals. The law
against libel gives protection against attacks on a person's honor and
(5) Some other forms of intrusion are criminal
offenses, for example, the use of unlicensed radio transmitters for bugging,
the harassment of tenants to make them quit, or the sending of unsolicited
obscene material through the post. Other attempts to obtain private
information may involve offenses of criminal trespass.
(6) Interception of Communications:
Legislation authorizes governmental interception of postal and telephone
services but only on certain limited grounds. Any interception outside
these procedures is a criminal offence.
(7) Computers: Under the Data Protection Act
1984, which gives effect to a Council of Europe Convention, data users are
required to register a description of the personal data they hold, the purposes
for which they use it, the sources from which they obtain it and the categories
of person to whom they may disclose it. They must also provide an address
to which data subjects may write for access to the data. Individuals have
the legal right to know about the data held on them and the right toask a court
to have factually wrong or misleading data corrected or deleted. In
addition they have the right to claim compensation for damages if the data are
lost, inaccurate, or disclosed without authority.
Section 17 Freedom of Movement
(1) Everyone has the right to freedom of
movement and residence within the borders of each State.
(2) Everyone has the right to leave any
country, including his own, and to return to his country.
Section 18 Freedom of Religion
Everyone has the right to freedom of thought,
conscience and religion; this right includes freedom to change his religion or
, and freedom, either alone or in community with
others and in public or private, to manifest his religion or belief in
teaching, practice, worship and observance.
(1) Worship and religious teaching take place
without any interference from the State. There is complete freedom of
thought, conscience or form of worship and no restriction on the right of any
citizen to change his or her religion. Atheists and agnostics are also
free to propagate their views.
(2) A person may, however, be held guilty of
blasphemous libel if he or she publishes scurrilous and offensive references to
Christianity that go beyond the limits of proper controversy. This does
not apply to debate and discussion about the truth of Christian doctrines.
(3) Churches and religious societies of all
kinds own property, run schools and propagate their beliefs in speech and
writing. Inquiries are not made about religion in population censuses or
other official returns.
(4) There is no religious bar to the holding
of public office except in the case of the Sovereign who must by law be a
Protestant. The Church of England and the Church of Scotland are the
established 'official' churches for state ceremonies of a religious
nature. Their members, however, do not obtain any advantages from being
members of an established church rather than of any other church.
(5) Religious education has to be provided in
all schools financed from public funds and is part of the national
curriculum. Parents have the right to ask for their children to be
withdrawn from such classes. Some publicly maintained schools are
provided by religious denominations and receive varying amounts of public
finance, according to type.
(6) Television and radio programs are
broadcast on religious topics; these include religious services as well as
programs in which adherents of the main religions and non-believers discuss
their views. Advertising aiming to promote religious ends is not
permitted on television or radio.
Section 19 Freedom of Expression
Everyone has the right to freedom of opinion
; this right includes freedom to hold
opinions without interference and to seek, receive, and impart information and
ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers.
(1) Restrictions include the official secrets,
civil defamation, criminal libel, obscenity, sedition, incitement to racial
hatred, and contempt of court.
(2) There are legal remedies against
defamation. Fair comment on matters of public interest may be a
defence. Proof that the alleged defamatory matter is true is also a
defence. In the same way, frank discussion of sexual problems is not
considered to be an infringement of the law on obscenity.
(3) There is no state control or censorship of
the press. Foreign language papers are freely imported.
(4) British broadcasting is based on the
tradition that it is a public service accountable to the people through
Parliament. Television and radio services are provided by the British
Broadcasting Corporation (BBC). Other operators are licensed individually
by the Independent Television Commission (ITC)and the Radio Authority.
The responsibilities of these public bodies are set out in legislation.
The Government itself is not responsible for program content or broadcasters'
day-to-day conduct of business.
(5) The independence of the broadcasters
requires them to maintain certain standards regarding programs and program
content. Under the relevant legislation and the codes of practice applied
by the broadcasting authorities, programs must display, as far as possible, a
proper balance and wide range of subject matter, and impartiality in matters of
controversy. There are also rules relating to violence and standards of
taste and decency in television programs, particularly during hours when large
numbers of children are likely to be watching. Broadcasters must also
comply with the general law relating to obscenity and incitement to racial
(6) According to 1991 European agreements on
cross-border broadcasting, programs may not be indecent, contain pornography,
give undue emphasis to violence, or be likely to incite racial hatred.
Nor should programs unsuitable for children be broadcast when they can be
expected to be watching.
(7) Theater: There is no censorship of
plays. It is, however, a criminal offence to present or direct an obscene
performance of a play in public or private. Such a performance is defined
as one which, taken as a whole, tends to 'deprave and corrupt persons who are
likely to attend it'. There is a defence against an obscenity charge on
the grounds that the performance is for the public good in the interest of
drama, opera or literature.
(8) Films and Video: Government has no
power to censor films. Cinemas are licensed by local government
authorities, which have a legal duty to prohibit the admission of children
under 16 to unsuitable films, and may prevent the showing of any film, although
this particular power is hardly ever exercised. In assessing the
suitability of films, authorities rely on the British Board for Film Classification,
an independent non-statutory body to which films offered to the public must be
Part 7 Political Rights
Section 20 General Political Rights
(1) Everyone has the right to take part in the
government of his country, directly or through freely chosen representatives.
(2) Everyone has the right of equal access to
public service in his country.
(3) The will of the people shall be the basis
of the authority of government; this will shall be expressed in periodic and
genuine elections which shall be by universal and equal suffrage and shall be
held by secret vote or by equivalent free voting procedures.
(4) Britain is a parliamentary democracy, the
Government being responsible to the people through the elected House of
Commons, which has the power to force a government to resign on a vote of
no-confidence. The other House in the British Parliament is the
non-elected House of Lords, which is normally a chamber of discussion and
revision of proposals and not a rival to the Commons. Its powers to delay
legislation are limited by law.
(5) Candidature for parliamentary elections is
open to anyone aged 21 and over who is eligible to vote.
(6) The secret ballot is used in all British
elections. The electoral system is the 'simple majority' system.
The candidate with the largest number of votes is elected.
(7) Officials working in central and local
government have a long tradition of political neutrality. A change of
minister therefore does not involve a change of departmental staff, whose functions
remain the same whichever political party is in office.
Public offices are open to men and women, without distinction on grounds of
sex, religion, race or color. Staff are recruitedto the Civil Service and
its executive agencies through fair and open competition solely on the basis of
Section 21 Political Asylum
(1) Everyone has the right to seek and to
enjoy in other countries asylum from persecution.
(2) This right may not be invoked in the case
of prosecutions genuinely arising from non-political crimes or from acts
contrary to the purposes and principles of the United Nations.
(3) Britain is a signatory of the 1951 United
Nations Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees and its 1967 Protocol and
continues to meet its obligations to refugees under these instruments.
The Convention defines a refugee as a person who has a well-founded fear of
being persecuted for reasons of race, religion, nationality, membership of a
particular social group or political opinion'.
(4) Britain and the other European Community
members have signed the Dublin Convention, which defines when a member state is
responsible for dealing with an asylum application. Applicants may no
longer lodge successive claims in different countries.
(5) Under recent legislation people are not
extradited to face trial or imprisonment if they face persecution on grounds of
race, religion, nationality or political opinion. British extradition law
prevents extradition for political offenses.
Section 22 Nationality
(1) Everyone has the right to a nationality.
(2) No one shall be arbitrarily deprived of
his nationality nor denied the right to change his nationality.
(3) British citizenship is acquired
automatically at birth by a child born in Britain if the father (in cases of
legitimate birth) or mother is a British citizen or is settled in Britain.
(4) British Dependent Territories citizens,
British Nationals (Overseas), British overseas citizens, British subjects under
the Citizenship Act and British protected persons are entitled to be registered
as British citizens after five years' residence in Britain. British
Dependent Territories citizens from Gibraltar have an absolute right to be
registered as British citizens without needing to reside in Britain.
(5) Commonwealth citizens, citizens of the
Irish Republic and foreign nationals can acquire British citizenship by
(6) British citizenship can be renounced by a
person if he or she possesses, or is about to acquire, the nationality or
citizenship of another country.
(7) Under the Hong Kong Act 1985 citizens are
entitled to acquire a new form of nationality, that of British National
(Overseas), together with a passport showing that an entry clearance is not
required to visit Britain. In April 1990 legislation was passed to give
British citizenship to 50,000 key people in Hong Kong and their dependents
without their having to leave the territory to qualify. Its purpose is to
persuade these people - selected under a points system - to remain in Hong
Kong so that the territory can remain stable and prosperous up to the change to
Chinese sovereignty in 1997 and beyond.
Section 23 Assemblies and Associations
(1) Everyone has the right to freedom of
peaceful assembly and association.
(2) No one may be compelled to belong to an
Part 8 Social Rights
Section 24 General Social Rights
Everyone, as a member of society, has the
right to social security and is entitled to the realization, through national
effort and international co-operation and in accordance with the organization
and resources of each State, of the economic, social and cultural rights
indispensable for his dignity and thefree development of his personality.
Section 25 Work
(1) Everyone has the right to work, to free
choice of employment, to just and favorable conditions of work and to
protection against unemployment.
(2) Everyone, without any discrimination, has
the right to equal pay for equal work.
(3) Everyone who works has the right to just
and favorable remuneration ensuring for himself and his family an existence
worthy of human dignity, and supplemented, if necessary, by other means of
(4) Everyone has the right to form and to join
trade unions for the protection of his interests.
(5) The Employment Service, an executive agency
of the Department of Employment, helps unemployed people to find work through
its job placement and other services and pays benefits and allowances to those
entitled to them.
(6) A fundamental reform of the vocational
qualifications system is being undertaken by the National Council for
Vocational Qualifications. It aims to develop a system of nationally
recognized vocational qualifications based on standards of workplace competence
set by employers. Equal esteem for academic and vocational qualifications
is being promoted with clearer and more accessible paths between them.
(7) In most industries the pay and conditions
of workers are settled by national and/or plant bargaining between employers
and trade unions.
(8) Laws impose duties on employers and others
to ensure the health, safety and welfare of their employees in factories
offices, mines, building sites and ali other work activities.
(9) People may join trade unions, which have
members in virtually every occupation and some 10 million members in all.
Dismissals for union membership or non-membership are automatically
unfair. It is also unlawful for an employer to refuse to employ an
individual on the grounds of that individual's membership or non-membership of
a trade union.
Section 26 Working hours
Everyone has the right to rest and leisure,
including reasonable limitation of working hours and periodic holidays with
The basic working week in Great Britain is about 37,5 to 40 hours for manual
work and 35 to 38 for non-manual work. A five-day week is usually
worked. Overtime is paid at higher rates.
Section 27 Home
(1) Everyone has the right to a standard of
living adequate for the health and well-being of himself and of his family,
including food, clothing, housing and medical care and necessary social
services, and the right to security in the event of unemployment, sickness,
disability, widowhood, old age or other lack of livelihood in circumstances
beyond his control.
(2) Motherhood and childhood are entitled to
special care and assistance. Aa children, whether born in or out of
wedlock, shall enjoy the same social protection.
(3) The National Health Service (NHS) provides
comprehensive health care to all residents. Treatment is based on medical
priority regardless of patients' income and is financed mainly out of general
taxation. Patients pay charges for prescriptions although in practice
some 75 per cent are supplied free, since charges do not apply to people on low
incomes, children, expectant mothers, pensioners and other groups.
(4) Patients are free to seek private medical
treatment and doctors, dentists, opticians and pharmacists are able to practice
privately. NHS hospital doctors, too, can practice privately, subject to
certain rules. There is limited provision for them to treat their private
patients in NHS hospitals. NHS patients are sometimes treated at public
expense in private hospitals. Some 7,5 million people are covered by
private medical insurance.
(5) A local authority may apply to the court
for a child care order. This can only be made by the court if it is
satisfied that the child is suffering, or is likely to suffer, significant
(6) Children who break the criminal law are
brought before youth courts.
(7) The social security system aims to provide
financial help to people who are elderly, sick, disabled, unemployed, widowed
or bringing up children. The system includes contributory national
insurance benefits covering sickness, invalidity, unemployment, widowhood, and
retirement. There is also statutory sick pay and maternity pay paid for
their employees by employers. Another part of the system consists of
non-contributory benefits such as child benefit paid for every child in a
family and a range of benefits for severely disabled people and those looking after
(8) Preventive services are designed to
safeguard the health of pregnant women and mothers with young children.
Pregnant working women have the right to visit clinics during working
hours. Nearly all women have their babies in hospital, returning home
shortly after to be attended by a midwife or health visitor and, where
necessary, the family doctor. Child health centers check the physical and
mental health of pre-school children. There are voluntary programs of
immunization against diphtheria, measles, rubella (women of child-bearing age
and girls only), poliomyelitis, tetanus, tuberculosis, and whooping
cough. There is a combined vaccination against measles, mumps and rubella
for children in the second year of life.
(9) Statutory maternity pay is available for
up to 18 weeks when a women is away from work because of her pregnancy.
The pay is 90 per cent of earnings for six weeks followed by a flat rate
payment for a further 12 weeks. To qualify, a woman must have worked for
the same employer for at least two years; where a woman has been employed for
between six months and two years, she is entitled to payments for the full 18
weeks at the flat rate only. If a woman does not qualify for maternity
pay, she may receive a maternity allowance if she has worked for an employer or
as a self-employed person and paid a specified number of national insurance
contributions. The allowance is paid for 18 weeks.
(10) Britain is a party to the Council of
Europe's convention on the legal status of children born to unmarried
parents. This provides for common rules under which the legal status of
such children is the same as for those born to a married couple.
Legislation has been passed to remove former legal disadvantages suffered by
children of unmarried parents.
(11) Under the Abortion Act 1967, as amended
in 1990, a pregnancy may only be terminated if two registered doctors consider
that this step is justified in terms of one or more of the grounds specified in
the Act. The Act does not apply in Northern Ireland.
(12) The birth of the world's first 'test tube
baby' took place in Britain in 1978, using the technique of in-vitro
fertilization. The social, ethical, and legal implications were examined
by a committee of enquiry under Baroness Warnock, which concluded that certain
specialized forms of infertility treatment, including artificial insemination
by donor and in-vitro fertilization, were ethically acceptable. The
committee also considered that research on human embryos could take place under
(13) About two thirds of the housing stock in
Britain is owner-occupied. With a few exceptions, secure public sector
tenants have the right to buy their house or flat at a discount if they have
been public sector tenants for at least two years. Under legislation
passed in 1988 a Housing Action Trust can be proposed for an area of public
sector housing in England and Wales. If the majority of tenants vote in
support of a proposal to set up a Trust in their area, the Trust, which is a
public body, takes over the ownership of the housing in order to undertake
major physical, social, and economic regeneration. Once the work is completed,
the tenants decide on the future of their homes, such as a transfer to a housing
association, formation of a tenants' co-operative, or a return to the local
government authority. Additional low-cost housing is provided by
non-profit-making housing associations.
(14) Local government authorities have a
statutory duty to ensure that accommodation is provided for people who are or
are about to become unintentionally homeless.
(15) It is a criminal offence for a landlord
to harass tenants. If tenants are driven out by harassment or illegally
evicted, they must he compensated. If a landlord harasses or evicts a
tenant in order to re-let at market rent, the courts may award damages to the
tenant based on the profit made by the landlord. As a general principle,
tenants and most other residential occupiers cannot be evicted without a court
Section 28 Education, Science, and the
(1) Everyone has the right to education.
Education shall be free, at least in the elementary and fundamental
stages. Elementary education shall be compulsory. Technical and
professional education shall be made generally available and higher education
shall be equally accessible to all on the basis of merit.
(2) Education shall be directed to the full
development of the human personality and to the strengthening of respect for
human rights and fundamental freedoms. It shall promote understanding,
tolerance and friendship among all nations, racial or religious groups, and
shall further the activities of the United Nations for the maintenance of
(3) Parents have a prior right to choose the
kind of education that shall be given to their children.
(4) The state education system is free, but a
small proportion of children attend private fee-paying schools. Local
education authorities have to meet the parents' wishes unless the school is
full or, if selective, the child does not meet required academic
standards. Secondary schools - those catering for 11- to 16-year-olds -
in England and Wales are required to admit pupils up to the limit of their
available physical capacity if there is sufficient demand on behalf of eligible
children by parents.
(5) Children whose learning difficulties are
severe or complex, wherever possible, are educated in ordinary schools.
Section 29 Culture
(1) Everyone has the right freely to
participate in the cultural life of the community, to enjoy the arts, and to
share in scientific advancement and its benefits.
(2) Everyone has the right to the protection
of the moral and material interests resulting from any scientific, literary, or
artistic production of which he is the author.
(3) The Government and local government
authorities give financial support to the arts. The preservation of the
artistic heritage is encouraged by tax relief and other measures including
certain controls on the export of works of art. The Arts Council
allocates funds to the major opera, dance, and drama companies, symphony
orchestras, small touring theaters, experimental groups, and creative artists.
(4) Original literary, dramatic, musical, or
artistic works, films, and sound recordings are automatically protected.
The copyright owner has rights against unauthorized reproduction, public
performance, and broadcasting of his or her work. In most cases the
author is the first owner of the copyright, its term being the life of the
author and a period of 50 years after his or her death (50 years from the date
of release for films and sound recordings). Under legislation passed in
1988 authors have the right to be identified on their works and to object to
any unjustified modifications of them. The law also protects performers
against the trading in unauthorized recordings of live performance, the term of
protection being 50 years from the year in which the performance is
given. A copyright work first published in Britain has automatic
copyright in all othercountries which are members of the Berne Copyright
Convention and the Universal Copyright Convention. The law secures the
rights of the originators of inventions, new industrial designs, and trade
marks. Protection is also available under the European Patent Convention
and the Patent Co-operation Treaty; benefits may be claimed in other countries
under the International Convention for the Protection of Industrial Property.
(5) The Government has taken steps to protect
the ownership of ideas by means of patents, registered designs, trade marks,
and copyright. Measures include the extension of copyright protection to
computer software owners, the extension of trade marks to cover services, and
powers to enable customs authorities to prevent the entry of counterfeit
goods. Legislation passed in 1988 made provision for a new form of
protection for designs and made litigation regarding patents simpler and
Part 9 Restrictions
Section 30 Restrictions
(1) Everyone has duties to the community in
which alone the free and full development of his personality is possible.
(2) In the exercise of his rights and
freedoms, everyone shall be subject only to such limitations as are determined
by law solely for the purpose of securing due recognition and respect for the
rights and freedoms of others and of meeting the just requirements of morality,
public order, and the general welfare in a democratic society.
(3) These rights and freedoms may in no case
be exercised contrary to the purposes and principles of the United Nations.
Chapter 2 State Organization
Part 1 Overview
Section 31 Basic Structure
(1) The British constitution is made up of
statute law, common law, and conventions. Conventions are rules and practices
which are not legally enforceable but which are regarded as indispensable to
the working of government; many are derived from the historical events through
which the British system of government has evolved.
(2) The Queen is head of
State and an important symbol of national unity. She is:
- head of the executive;
- an integral part of the legislature;
- head of the judiciary;
- commander-in-chief of all the Armed Forces of the
- the 'supreme governor' of the established Church of England.
The Queen acts on the advice of her ministers. Britain is governed by Her
Majesty's Government in the name of the Queen. In international affairs
the Queen, as head of State, has the power to declare war and make peace, to
recognize foreign states and governments, to conclude treaties and to annex or
(3) Three elements make up Parliament - the
Queen, the House of Lords and the elected House of Commons. The agreement of
all three is normally required for legislation. As there are no legal
restraints imposed by a written constitution, Parliament can make or change any
law. It can even prolong its own life beyond the normal period without
consulting the electorate. In practice, however, Parliament does not
assert its supremacy in this way.
(4) The validity of an Act of Parliament, once
passed, cannot be disputed in the law courts. The House of Commons is directly
responsible to the electorate, and in this century the House of Lords has
recognized the supremacy of the elected chamber. The system of party government
helps to ensure thatParliament legislates with its responsibility to the
electorate in mind.
(5) A Parliament has a maximum duration of
five years, but in practice general elections are usually held before the end
of this term. The maximum life has been prolonged by legislation in rare
circumstances such as the two world wars.
Part 2 Parliament
Section 32 House of Commons
(1) Officers: The officers of the House
are the Speaker, three Deputy Speakers and
other permanent officers and staff (Clerks, Serjeants, Library, Official
Report, Finance and Administration, and Refreshment).
(2) Electorate: British citizens, together
with citizens of other Commonwealth countries and citizens of the Irish
Republic resident in Britain, may vote provided they are aged 18 or over,
included in the annual register of electors for the constituency, and not
subject to any disqualification.
(3) Elections: For electoral purposes
Britain is divided into 651 constituencies, each of which returns one member to
the House of Commons. Each elector may cast one vote
normally in person at a polling station. Voting is not compulsory; 76.9
per cent of a total electorate of 43.3 million people voted in the general
election in April 1992. The simple majority system of voting is
used. Candidates are elected if they have more votes than any of the
other candidates, although not necessarily an absolute majority over all other
(4) Candidates: British citizens and
citizens of other Commonwealth countries, together with citizens of the Irish
Republic, may stand for election as MPs provided they are aged 21 or over and
are not disqualified. A candidate must also deposit 500 pounds, which is
returned if he or she receives 5 per cent or more of the votes cast. The
maximum sum a candidate may spend on a general election campaign is 4,330
pounds plus 3.7 pence for each elector in a borough constituency or 4.9 pence
for each elector in a county constituency. All election expenses, apart from
the candidate's personal expenses, are subject to the statutory limit.
Section 33 Parties
(1) Parties are not registered or formally
recognized in law, but in practice most candidates in elections, and almost all
winning candidates, belong to one of the main parties. In 1992 General
Elections, the Conservative Party reached 42%, Labour Party 35%, and the
Liberal Democrats 18% of votes.
(2) Since 1945 either the Conservative Party,
whose origins go back to the eighteenth century, or the Labour Party, which
emerged in the last decade of the nineteenth century, has held power. A new
party - the Liberal Democrats - was formed in 1988 when the Liberal
Party, which could trace its origins to the eighteenth century, merged with the
Social Democratic Party, which was formed in 1981.
(3) Leaders of the Government and Opposition
sit on the front benches on either side of the Commons chamber with their
supporters - the backbenchers - sitting behind them. Inside Parliament,
party control is exercised by the Chief Whips and their assistants, who are
chosen within the party.
(4) Annual assistance from public funds helps
opposition parties carry out their parliamentary work at Westminster. It
is limited to parties which had at least two members elected at the previous
general election or one member elected and a minimum of 150,000 votes
cast. The amount is 2,550 pounds for every seat won, plus 5.10 pounds for
every 200 votes.
Section 34 Procedure
(1) Each subject starts off as a proposal or
'motion' by a member. At the end of each debate the question may be decided
without voting, or by a simple majority vote. The Speaker has discretion
on whether to allow a motion to end discussion sothat a matter may be put to
the vote and has powers to put a stop to irrelevance and repetition in debate,
and to save time in other ways.
(2) In a tied vote the Speaker gives a casting
vote, without expressing an opinion on the merits of the question.
(3) Members with a financial interest in a
debate in the House must declare it when speaking. To act as a
disqualification from voting the interest must be direct, immediate and personal.
(4) Proceedings of both Houses are normally
public and visitors can watch the proceedings from the galleries of both
chambers. The minutes and speeches are published daily. The records
of the Lords from 1497 and of the Commons from 1547, together with the
parliamentary and political papers of a number of former members of both
Houses, are available to the public through the House of Lords Record
Office. The proceedings of both Houses of Parliament may be broadcast on
television and radio, either live or, more usually, in recorded or edited form.
Section 35 Legislation
(1) Bills: Draft laws take the form of
. Most are public Bills
involving measures relating to public policy. Private Bills deal with
matters of individual, corporate or local interest. Proposals for
legislative changes are sometimes set out in government ' White Papers'.
Consultation papers, sometimes called 'Green Papers', set out government
proposals which are still taking shape and seek comments from the public.
(2) A draft law is given a first reading in
the House of Commons without debate; this is followed by a thorough debate on
general principles at second reading. It is then given detailed consideration,
clause by clause, by a Commons committee before report stage in the whole
House, and a third and final reading.
(3) Bills must normally be passed by both
Houses. They must then receive the Royal Assent before becoming Acts. In
practice this is a formality.
Section 36 Committees
(1) Standing committees debate and consider
amendments to public Bills at the committee stage and, in certain cases,
discuss them at the second reading stage. Ordinary standing committees do
not have names but are referred to simply as Standing Committee A, B, C, and so
on; a new set of members are appointed to them to consider each Bill.
Each committee has between 16 and 50 members, with a party balance reflecting
as far as possible that in the House as a whole.
(2) Select committees are appointed, normally
for the duration of a Parliament, to examine subjects by taking written and
oral evidence. After private discussion they report their conclusions and
recommendations. Committees include those on European Legislation,
Science and Technology, Public Accounts, Members' Interests, and the
Parliamentary Commissioner for Administration.
(3) Party Committees: In addition to the
official committees of the two Houses there are several unofficial party
organizations or committees. The Conservative and Unionist Members'
Committee (the 1922 Committee) consists of the backbench membership of the
party in the House of Commons. When the Conservative Party is in office,
ministers attend its meetings by invitation and not by right. When the
party is in opposition, the whole membership of the party may attend
meetings. The leader appoints a consultative committee, which acts as the
party's 'shadow cabinet'.
Section 37 House of Lords
There are opportunities for criticism and
examination of government policy in the House of Lords at daily question time
and during debates on general motions. Other opportunities include
'unstarred' questions, which can be debated at the end of the day's business,
and debates on proposed legislation.
Section 38 Finances
The Finance Act
most important of the annual statutes, and authorizes the raising of
revenue. The legislation is based on the Chancellor of the Exchequer's
Budget statement, normally made in March or April each year. It includes
a review of the public finances of the previous year, and proposals for the
estimated expenditure of the coming year. Scrutiny of public expenditure
is carried out by House of Commons select committees.
Section 39 European Community Affairs
To keep the two Houses informed of European
Community developments, and to enable them to scrutinise and debate Community
policies and proposals, there is a select committee in each House and two
standing committees debate specific European legislative proposals in the House
of Commons. Ministers also make regular statements about Community
Section 40 Members of Parliament
(1) Members of Parliament represent all their
constituents, including those who voted for other parties.
(2) The privileges of the members of the
Commons include freedom of speech; freedom from arrest in civil actions;
exemption from serving on juries, or being compelled to attend court as
witnesses; and the right of access to the Crown, which is a collective
privilege of the House.
Section 41 Parliamentary Ombudsman
The Parliamentary Commissioner for
Administration investigates, independently, complaints of maladministration
when asked to do so by MPs on behalf of members of the public. The
Commissioner must report annually to Parliament. He or she also publishes
details of selected investigations at quarterly intervals and may submit other
reports where necessary.
Part 3 Government
Section 42 Composition
(1) The Prime Minister is appointed by the
Queen, and all other ministers are appointed by the Queen on the recommendation
of the Prime Minister. Most ministers are members of the Commons,
although the Government
is also fully represented by
ministers in the Lords. The Lord Chancellor is always a member of the
House of Lords.
(2) The composition of governments can vary
both in the number of ministers and in the titles of some offices.
(3) The Prime Minister is, by tradition, First
Lord of the Treasury and Minister for the Civil Service. The Prime
Minister's office is located at 10 Downing Street in central London.
(4) Ministers in charge of government
departments are usually in the Cabinet; they are known as 'Secretary of State'
or 'Minister', or may have a special title, as in the case of the Chancellor of
(5) To keep the workload of the Cabinet within
manageable limits, a great deal of work is carried on through the committee
system. The membership of all ministerial Cabinet committees is
(6) The doctrine of collective responsibility
means that the Cabinet acts unanimously even when Cabinet ministers do not all
agree on a subject.
Section 43 Lobby
As press adviser to the Prime Minister, the
Prime Minister's Press Secretary and other staff in the Prime Minister's Press
Office have direct contact with the parliamentary press through regular
meetings with the Lobby correspondents. The Lobby correspondents are a
group of political correspondents whohave the special privilege of access to
the Lobby of the House of Commons where they can talk privately to government
ministers and other members of the House. The Prime Minister's Press
Office is the accepted channel through which information about parliamentary
business is passed to the media.
Section 44 Privy Council
The main function of the Privy Council is to
advise the Queen to approve Orders in Council - those made under prerogative
powers and those made under statutory powers. Cabinet ministers must be
Privy Counsellors and are sworn in on first assuming office.
Part 4 Local Government
Section 45 Local authority councils
(1) Local authority councils
consist of elected councillors, elected on a similar basis to parliamentary
elections. They serve for four years.
(2) In the metropolitan counties, district
councils are responsible for all services apart from the police, the fire
service and public transport and, in some areas, waste regulation and
disposal. In Greater London the boroughs and the City Corporation have
similar functions but London's metropolitan police force is directly
responsible to the Home Secretary.
(3) Local authorities in Great Britain raise
revenue through a council tax. Each household receives a single bill
based on the market value of property and the number of adults living in
it. Couples on low incomes will be entitled to rebates of up to 100 per
cent on their council tax bills.
Part 5 Judiciary
Section 46 Legal System in General
(1) Although Britain is a unitary state,
England and Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland all have their own legal
systems, with considerable differences in law, organization and practice.
However, a large amount of modern legislation applies throughout Britain.
The law is divided into criminal law and civil law; the latter regulates the conduct
of people in ordinary relations with one another. The distinction between
the two is reflected in the procedures used, the courts in which cases may be
heard and the sanctions which may be applied.
(2) The legal system of England and Wales
comprises both an historic body of conventions known as common law and equity,
and parliamentary and European Community legislation. Common law, which
is based on custom and interpreted in court cases by judges, has never been
precisely defined or codified. It forms the basis of the law except when
superseded by legislation. Equity law consists of a body of historic
rules and principles which are applied by the courts. The English legal
system is therefore distinct from many of those of Western Europe, which have
codes derived from Roman law.
(3) European Community law, which applies
throughout Britain, is confined mainly to economic and social matters; in
certain circumstances it takes precedence over domestic law. It is
normally applied by the domestic courts, but the most authoritative rulings are
given by the Community's Court of Justice.
Section 47 Judiciary in General
(1) The judiciary is independent
of the executive; its judgments are not subject to
ministerial direction or control. The Prime Minister recommends the
highest judicial appointments to the Crown.
(2) The Lord Chancellor is head of the
judiciary, except in Scotland. His responsibilities include court
procedure and the administration of courts.
Section 48 Criminal Courts
(1) Summary or less serious offenses, which
make up the vast majority of criminal cases, are tried in England and Wales by
unpaid lay magistrates - justices of the peace (JPs), although in areas with a
heavy workload there are a number of full-time, stipendiary magistrates.
More serious offenses are tried by the Crown Court, presided over by a judge
sitting with a jury. The Crown Court sits at about 90 centers and is
presided over byHigh Court judges, full-time 'circuit judges' and part-time
(2) Appeals from the magistrates' courts go
before the Crown Court or the High Court. Appeals from the Crown Court are made
to the Court of Appeal (Criminal Division). The House of Lords is the final
appeal court in all cases.
Section 49 Civil Courts
(1) Magistrates' courts have limited civil
jurisdiction. The 286 county courts have a wider jurisdiction; cases are
normally tried by judges sitting alone. The 80 or so judges in the High
Court cover civil cases and some criminal cases, and also deal with the appeals.
The High Court sits at the Royal Courts of Justice in London or at 26 district
registries. Appeals from the High Court are heard in the Court of Appeal (Civil
Division), and may go on to the House of Lords, the final court of appeal.
Section 50 Tribunals
(1) Tribunals are a specialized group of
judicial bodies, akin to courts of law. They are normally set up under
statutory powers which also govern their constitution, functions and
procedure. Tribunals often consist of laypeople, but they are generally
chaired by someone who is legally qualified. They tend to be less
expensive, and less formal, than courts of law.
(2) Independently of the executive, tribunals
decide the rights and obligations of private citizens towards one another or
towards a government department or other public authority. Important
examples are industrial tribunals, rent tribunals and social security appeal
(3) In many cases there is a right of appeal
to a higher tribunal and, on points of law, to the courts. Tribunals do
not normally employ staff or spend money themselves, but their expenses are
paid by the government departments concerned. An independent Council on
Tribunals exercises general supervision over many tribunals.
Section 51 European Courts
(1) The Court of Justice consists of 13
judges. It interprets and adjudicates on the meaning of the treaties and
on measures taken by the Council of Ministers and the Commission. It also
hears complaints and appeals brought by or against Community institutions, member
states or individuals and gives preliminary rulings on cases referred by courts
in member states. It represents the final authority on all aspects of
(2) The Single European Act of 1986 provided
for a Court of First Instance to relieve the Court of Justice of a substantial
part of its workload. The new court began working in 1989.