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Your right to life

This advice applies to Northern Ireland

In the UK, human rights are protected by the Human Rights Act 1998. The Act gives effect to the human rights set out in the European Convention on Human Rights.

Article 2 - the right to life is one of the rights protected by the Human Rights Act.

Read this page to find out more about what the right to life means under the Human Rights Act.

What are your rights under article 2?

Article 2 protects your right to life. The right to life means public authorities have a duty not to end your life except in very limited situations.

Duty to take positive steps

It also means public authorities must sometimes take positive steps to protect you if your life is in danger.

For example, the police have a positive duty to protect you if they know your life is in danger from someone. If they don’t act to protect you they may breach article 2.

Example

Your daughter's detained in a hospital under mental health legislation. She suffers from severe depression and has attempted suicide in the past. She's at high risk of attempting suicide again and has tried to escape several times. You're worried the hospital staff are not doing enough to protect her.

In a situation like this, the hospital may have a positive obligation to protect your daughter's life under article 2. If they fail to take steps to protect her and this results in her death, it may be a breach of her right to life.

Duty to investigate

If someone is killed by a public authority or dies because a public authority has failed to protect their life, the state has a duty to investigate the death - for example, a death caused by negligence in a hospital or if someone’s killed by the police.

Examples of article 2 breaches

Examples of where there could be a breach of article 2 include:

  • if someone dies because of negligence or neglect - for example, in a hospital or care home
  • if you’re refused life-saving treatment
  • refusal to investigate a death caused by a public authority.

Example

Your father's been admitted to hospital after a bad fall. You've just found out that the doctors have placed a do not resuscitate order on your father's file. You've not been consulted and no one has spoken to your father about his wishes. You think they've done this simply because of his age. This could be a breach of your father's right to life and you could challenge this under the Human Rights Act.

This could also be direct age discrimination and you could take action under the Equality Act 2010.

Can a breach of article 2 - your right to life sometimes be justified?

Article 2 is often referred to as an absolute right. Absolute rights are rights which can never be interfered with by the state.

However, there are some very limited situations where it’s not a breach of article 2 if a public authority kills someone.

It’s not a breach of article 2 if someone is killed in the following situations:

  • if it’s in self-defence or in defence of someone else from unlawful violence
  • to lawfully arrest someone or prevent them from escaping lawful detention
  • to stop a riot or insurrection.

In all three cases, the force used by the public authority must have been absolutely necessary and proportionate to the threat.

Article 2 also allows for the death penalty but the UK has signed a protocol banning the practice, so it’s not lawful in the UK.

Next steps

Other useful information

Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission

You can find information about human rights on the website of the Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission at

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