Article 2: Right to life
There has been very little public education about the rights and freedoms in the Human Rights Act and how it works. As a result, many myths and misunderstandings have sprung up about the HRA – including who it does and doesn’t protect and what values it contains.
As part of Liberty’s Common Values campaign, a new series on the Liberty blog will tackle the HRA, Article by Article, explaining what each right means and how it provides vital protection for each and every one of us. This week, we start with the most fundamental of all human rights, the right to life.
Article 2 of the HRA, or the ‘right to life’ to give it a more accessible definition, protects something which we all take for granted. At first glance, it might seem confusing – why does my life need to be protected by the HRA? Of course we all have a right to live and breathe and in any event the criminal law deals with offences like murder.
But what isn’t immediately obvious about the right to life is that in addition to protecting your life, it also requires the state to investigate suspicious deaths and deaths in custody. In fact, since the HRA came into force over 10 years ago, Article 2’s most significant impact has been in enabling bereaved families to obtain a full investigation into the death of a loved one. This incredibly important development for victims and their families is something that critics of the Act too often neglect to mention.
The right to life is not absolute but it imposes strong obligations on the state to refrain from taking life, except where this is absolutely necessary in very limited circumstances - such as to prevent violence to others, or to effect a lawful arrest. It also obliges the state to protect life by having effective criminal legislation (i.e. making murder and manslaughter an offence) and to properly enforce it - and to investigate when someone dies as a result of a criminal act or where the state may bear some responsibility.
So how does Article 2 work in practice? In 2006, Liberty represented a mother called Verna Bryant. Tragically, in 2005, Verna’s 40 year old daughter Naomi was murdered by serial sex offender Anthony Rice. Rice had been released from prison on parole after serving 16 years of a life sentence for a violent attempted rape. The authorities failed to appreciate the risk posed by Rice and he was released to a low security hostel where he was not properly supervised. After befriending Naomi in a local pub, he brutally murdered her in her own home.
Because Rice confessed to the killing almost immediately, the Coroner initially decided that there was no need for an inquest. Using Article 2 of the HRA, Liberty successfully argued that there had to be a full inquest in order to properly examine the circumstances around Rice’s release which led to Naomi’s death. In March 2011, the jury found that a shocking catalogue of failings, by every agency involved, had directly contributed to Naomi’s death. Six years on, Verna Bryant has finally been given answers as to how her daughter came to her death. She feels vindicated that key failings came to light, and relieved that lessons would be learned to prevent such a terrible tragedy happening again. This, she said, was the whole point – something only made possible by the Human Rights Act.
WATCH OUR COMMON VALUES VIDEO: Richard and Gillian Rabone share their experience of using Article 2 of the Human Rights Act after their daughter, Melanie, who suffered from depression, took her own life after being negligently granted home leave from hospital
- For more information on the 'right to life', visit our Article 2 page on the Liberty website