Article 3 No torture, inhuman or degrading treatment

The prohibition on torture and inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment is one of the most important provisions in the Human Rights Act.

It is an absolute right – in no circumstances will it ever be justifiable to torture someone.

  • Inhuman acts will amount to torture when used to deliberately cause serious and cruel suffering.
  • Treatment will be considered inhuman when it causes intense physical or mental suffering.
  • Treatment or punishment will be degrading if it humiliates and debases a person beyond that which is usual from punishment.

There are a number of obligations on the UK in respect of this prohibition, both negative (prohibiting public authorities from doing things) and positive (requiring the State to take certain action).

Prohibition on torture and inhuman and degrading treatment or punishment

The most obvious obligation prevents State officials from torturing a person or subjecting them to inhuman or degrading treatment.  This applies anywhere the UK exercises jurisdiction, which can include places outside the UK, as well as in UK prisons, hospitals, schools etc.  Government policies that put a person in a situation where they face inhuman or degrading treatment may also breach Article 3.

Torture evidence

UK courts and tribunals must not admit evidence obtained through torture, even when the torture was not committed by UK authorities.

Deportation to torture

The absolute prohibition on torture and ill-treatment also applies to prohibit the UK from deporting a person to another country when substantial grounds have been shown that he or she would face a real risk of being tortured or subjected to ill-treatment in that country. 

Investigations and prevention

Like the right to life, the prohibition in Article 3 requires an official and effective investigation to take place where there are credible allegations of serious ill-treatment by public officials.

Article 3 also requires that public authorities take steps to prevent torture and ill-treatment.  This requires laws in place to adequately protect vulnerable groups from ill-treatment and for public officials to act to protect vulnerable people from harm inflicted on them by others.

Case study - Gary McKinnon

Janis’ son Gary McKinnon, who has Asperger’s Syndrome, faced extradition to the US and decades in a supermax prison - despite having never set foot in America.  His removal was only halted thanks to Article 3 of our Human Rights Act.

Find out more about this case.