Human Rights Group Calls For Better Protection Of Terrorism Suspects And Illegal Immigrants

The human rights of suspected terrorists, illegal immigrants and gypsies should all be given better protection in the UK, a report said today.

The Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) review was largely positive of the UK's "proud tradition" of human rights, and said "most people living in Britain can largely live their lives as they wish, confident that they can create relationships and families without arbitrary interference from government".

However it did identify 10 areas in the UK where public authorities "can improve human rights protections".

"Some groups which are socially marginalised or particularly vulnerable do not enjoy full protection of their rights," the report said.

The review criticised the government's counter-terrorism powers, in particular the authority to hold suspected terrorists for up to 14 days without charge and the use of Terrorism Prevention and Investigation Measures (Tpims) which replaced the controversial system of control orders.

The 14-day pre-charge detention was "considerably longer than the four days permitted for individuals charged with a criminal offence", the commission said.

This risks "breaching the right to security and liberty, as people who have not been charged with an offence should not be deprived of their liberty for an excessive length of time".

It went on: "The commission believes the Tpim approach lacks important safeguards to protect human rights and may still fail to comply with the rights to liberty and security and the right to a fair trial."

The review also cited criticism by the United Nations of "Britain's use of fast-track detention for asylum applicants for administrative convenience rather than last resort, and the lack of adequate safeguards to guarantee fairness of procedure and quality decision-making".

"Immigrants may be detained for long periods without any realistic prospect of removal, breaching their right to liberty," it said.

The commission also criticised the "inadequate" approach to holding illegal immigrants in detention.

"Measures in immigration removal centres (IRCs) are based on those in prisons but IRCs do not have access to similar mental health services, and healthcare staff lack expertise in trauma associated with torture," the review added.

It also found that victims of trafficking "may be criminalised or sent to immigration detention centres".

"The number of prosecutions and convictions for slavery, trafficking and forced labour are low," it added.

The report also found that the rights of gypsies and travellers "were sometimes overlooked", with a shortage of suitable caravan sites as local authorities have failed to invest in site development.

"The lack of sufficient sites means it is difficult for gypsies and travellers to practice their traditional way of life," the report said.

The commission added: "These conclusions are all the more pertinent given the changes the government wishes to introduce to the Human Rights Act and its views about the need for changes to the European Court of Human Rights."

It found that the justice system sometimes fails children by not fully explaining the gravity of charges against them. It also said that juvenile detention centres breached human rights when they "authorised control and restraint procedures … sometimes for disciplinary purposes and [as] a means to intentionally cause pain."

Legal aid is also a "significant" part of the UK's human rights obligations, the report said, and warned planned reforms could weaken the right to a free trial.

It said: "Proposed changes to legal aid could limit many people’s access to legal advice and services in areas of civil law and for criminal cases."

The law allowing civil partnerships for same-sex couples instead of marriage also presents a human rights issue for transgender couples, the report said, who are force to choose between staying married and having their new gender recognised by law.

Accusations of torture and other abuses by UK personnel in Iraq "have not been investigated thoroughly enough", the report added.