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The right to life

The right to life is protected by Article 2 of the Human Rights Act.

Key information

Last updated: 09th November 2022

This right often comes up in:
Death and end of life, disability rights including SEND, ending violence against women, health, care & social work, mental health & capacity, safeguarding people and welfare support

Absolute right

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How might this right be relevant to my life?

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

  • Abuse or neglect in detention or care which leads to death.

  • If healthcare staff refuse to give you life-saving treatment because of your mental health or mental capacity issue.

  • If you tell the police that you think your life is in danger, or that threats have been made against your life, and they fail to take action.

  • If you express thoughts of suicide to a public official and they don’t take steps to protect you.

  • If you go to hospital with serious injuries or signs that your life may be at risk and they do not act.

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

No, the right to life is an absolute right. A public official cannot deliberately take away your right to life (there are some very limited circumstances where the actions of police or armed forces will not be considered a breach of the right to life).

What duties do public officials have?

To respect your right:

This means that public officials must not deliberately take away your life. 

To protect your right:

Public officials must take reasonable steps to protect your life when they know (or should know) that your life is at real and immediate risk. This risk could be from another official or other people like your family, or from yourself.

To fulfil your right:

This means that there must be an investigation when public officials may have been involved in a death or failed to act, for example if a person was killed by a partner despite telling an official that they were in serious danger.

How does the protect duty work?

The courts have set out a test for determining whether a public official has a positive obligation to protect life, and whether this obligation has been met:

Does a public body know, or ought to have known (e.g. because they have formally taken responsibility for the welfare and safety of an individual or a real and immediate risk to their life has been reported to the official)...

...about a real and immediate risk to the individual’s life?

Did the public official do all that was reasonably expected of them to protect life?