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

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:

Lawful:

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

Legitimate:

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

Proportionate:

They have thought about other things they could do, but there is no other way to protect you or other people. It must be 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.

Steven and Mark's story

Steven was a young man with a severe learning disability. He lived at home with his father, Mark, but went into a local authority support unit for a couple of weeks when Mark was ill. The local authority then kept Steven there for over a year against his and his father’s wishes. When Steven tried to leave the unit after several months, the local authority signed a Deprivation of Liberty (DoLS) Authorisation and later said they were looking for a long-term placement miles away from his father. Steven and Mark took a human rights case to court. The court decided Steven’s right to liberty had been breached because of the delay in the DoLS assessment and it had not taken into account Steven and Mark’s wishes.

The court also decided Steven’s right to family life (Article 8) had been breached because the local authority had stopped him from living with his father. Read more about Article 8 Right to private and family life, home and correspondence here - insert link to Article 8 page.

(Hillingdon v London Borough Council v Neary, 2011 – click here for a more information about this case.)

Megan's story