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

How might this right be relevant to my life? 

Some examples 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 suicideto a public official and they dont take steps to protect you. 
  • If you go to hospital with serious injuriesor 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 official(or more accurately, their organisation)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 and 
  • Did the public official fail to do all that was reasonably expected of them to protect life? 


Bryn’s Story 


Joanna Michael’s Story  

On 5 August 2009, Joanna Michael dialled 999 and told the call handler that her ex-partner had threatened to kill her. The handler mis-heard her, thinking she had said ‘hit’ and did not grade the call as requiring an immediate response. The police station was a five minute drive from Joanna’s house, but the police were instructed to respond within an hour; 25 minutes later, Joanna called 999 again and the operator heard her scream before the line went dead. This time the police were at her house in less than 10 minutes, sadly they found Joanna had been stabbed to death. 

Joanna’s family wanted to seek justice for Joanna. The family started a legal case against the police arguing they were negligent in mis-handling Joanna’s 999 call. They also argued that the police had failed to take reasonable steps to protect Joanna’s right to life. Despite common assumptions, negligence rarely applies to police forces. So, when the court rejected the negligence argument, the Human Rights Act provided the only chance for Joanna’s family to hold the police to account. 

The Supreme Court was asked to decide whether Joanna’s family could go ahead with their Human Rights Act claim. They decided that, yes, there were circumstances where police inaction could breach the right to life. They decided there should be a trial to decide whether the police did in fact breach Joanna’s right to life by their failings. This trial is yet to take place. 

The is the summary of a legal case:Michael and others v The Chief Constable of South Wales Police and another