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 - Naomi Bryant

After Verna Bryant’s daughter, Naomi, was killed by convicted sex offender Anthony Rice while he was on licence from prison, it was only our Human Rights Act which delivered an inquest into her death - and uncovered an astounding series of institutional failings.

Find out more about this case.