Article 2 Right to life

The right to life contained in Article 2:

  1. imposes an obligation on the State to protect the right to life;
  2. prohibits the State from intentionally killing; and
  3. requires an effective and proper investigation into all deaths caused by the State.


Protects the right to life

Article 2 requires that the Government take steps to safeguard the lives of everyone within the UK’s jurisdiction:

  • by having effective criminal legislation (i.e. making murder and manslaughter an offence) and properly enforcing it;
  • by requiring the police to take reasonable steps to protect an individual’s life if they know or ought to know that there is a real and immediate risk to a person’s life - although this should not impose an impossible or disproportionate burden on the authorities; and
  • by requiring the State to take appropriate steps to prevent accidental deaths by having a legal and administrative framework in place to provide effective deterrence against threats to the right to life. 


Prohibits intentional killing

The State is expressly forbidden from taking life.  However, there will be no breach of Article 2 if death results from the use of force that is no more than absolutely necessary:

  • in self-defence or the defence of any person from unlawful violence;
  • to lawfully arrest someone or prevent the escape of a person lawfully detained; or
  • to take action lawfully to quell a riot.


The key test here is that the use of force is no more than ‘absolutely necessary’.  This requires that consideration be given to all dangers and risks and whether a situation was planned and controlled. 

The Government must also ensure that police and security services that are faced with situations where the use of lethal force is possible must be appropriately trained, instructed and given strict guidance as to when officers can use arms.

Investigations and inquests

Article 2 also requires that there be an effective official investigation into deaths resulting from the State’s use of force and where the State has failed to protect life.  Such an investigation must:

  • be brought by the State on its own initiative (i.e. relatives of the victim should not have to push for an inquiry);
  • be independent and effective;
  • be reasonably prompt;
  • be open to public scrutiny and involve the victim’s next of kin.


Case study

In 2000 Zahid Murbarek a 19 year old Asian man, was beaten to death in a youth detention facility by his white cellmate who had a history of racist and violent behaviour. 

While the Director General of the Prison Service accepted responsibility for the death no public inquiry or inquest into the death was held – rather a number of internal investigations were carried out which did not allow for any public involvement, let alone the involvement of Zahid’s family.  The Secretary of State refused the family’s request for a public inquiry. 

Using Article 2 of the HRA the family was able to get the Home Secretary to order a public inquiry into Zahid’s death which fully investigated the failures that led to his death and the detention centre’s disregard of racism within the facility.





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