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The right to liberty

The right to liberty is protected by Article 5 of the Human Rights Act.

Key information

Last updated:  09 November 2022

This right often comes up in:
Children and young people, disability rights including SEND, health, care and social work, housing and independent living, learning disability and/or autism, mental health and capacity, migration and refugee rights, privacy, data and surveillance


Non-absolute right

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How might this right be relevant to my life?

Some examples when your right to liberty might be at risk include:

  • Being restrained for long periods of time.

  • Being told you are not allowed to leave or being physically prevented from leaving a place (like a care home or hospital) when you are not formally detained under mental health law, or have not had your deprivation of liberty authorised under relevant mental capacity law (which law depends on where you live in the UK).

  • Being arrested without being given an explanation in a way that you understand.

  • Being told to self-isolate in a restrictive environment to prevent the spread of infectious disease, e.g. remaining in one room for long periods of time.

  • Significant delays or cancellations of hearings allowing you to challenge your detention.

Can my right to liberty be restricted by a public official?

Yes - our right to liberty is a non-absolute right. If a public official is deciding to restrict your right to liberty, they must go through a test. They must be able to show that their decision is:


There is a law which allows public officials to take that action or decision.


There is a good reason (for example public safety or protecting the rights of other people, including your family members or staff).


They have thought about other things they could do, but there is no other way to protect you or other people. It is the least restrictive option.


You can ask the public official about their decision or action and ask them to tell you how it was lawful, legitimate and proportionate.

If you can think of a way to deal with this situation or decision that is less restrictive to you then you can raise it with the public official as the decision may not be proportionate.

What duties do public officials have?

To respect your right:

This means public officials should not place extreme restrictions on your movement (for example, being locked in a room or being restrained physically or with equipment) unless it is necessary and justifiable.

To protect your right:

This means that people working in public bodies have to take action to ensure that your right to liberty is protected and they involve you in decisions that affect your life and rights. This could include reviewing decisions to restrict your freedom of movement or helping you challenge decisions you don't agree with.

To fulfil your right:

This means that when decisions are made about your right and life you must be treated fairly. When things go wrong they should be investigated and steps should be taken to try and stop the same thing happening again.