Article 2: Right to Life

1. Everyone's right to life shall be protected by law. No one shall be deprived of his life intentionally save in the execution of a sentence of a court following his conviction of a crime for which this penalty is provided for by law.

2. Deprivation of life shall not be regarded as inflicted in contravention of this Article when it results from the use of force which is no more than absolutely necessary:
(a) in defence of any person from unlawful violence;
(b) in order to effect a lawful arrest or to prevent the escape of a person lawfully detained;
(c) in action lawfully taken for the purpose of quelling a riot or insurrection.

Article 2 clearly provides that the state should not deprive you of your life, except in very limited circumstances.

As well as prohibiting the state from taking your life, Article 2 also requires the state to protect your right to life by having in place proper and adequate criminal sanctions to punish those who take your life intentionally. Failure by the state to properly investigate a suspected murder, or to prosecute the suspected murderer, may amount to a breach of the right to life of the victim.

In certain limited cases, Article 2 may impose a duty on the state to take positive steps to protect your life where it is being threatened. So where there is an environmental hazard that poses a very high risk to the life of the people living nearby, the state may have a duty to provide information about that hazard to enable the people to take steps to protect themselves and their families. In the case of Osman v UK, the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) found that the police were under an obligation to take reasonable steps to protect the life of the claimant as there was a real and immediate risk to his life, and the police were aware of this risk.

Where someone is killed by a state official (such as the police, the army or prison officers), this will always engage their right to life. In these circumstances Article 2 will impose a clear duty to investigate the death, and failure to investigate a death at the hands of a state official is likely to be a breach of Article 2. There have been several cases where the British courts have had to consider what type of investigation is necessary to meet this requirement (R (on the application of Amin) v Secretary of State for Home Department 2003 where an independent public investigation was held to be required to satisfy Article 2 when a prisoner was murdered by his racist cellmate who was known to be a danger to other prisoners).

Article 2 is a limited right and the circumstances where a breach of Article 2 is allowed is set out in the second part of the article (Article 2(2)). However, where a death occurs in each of these three circumstances the police (or other state official responsible for the death) will have to show that they did not use any more force than was absolutely necessary. So, if someone is killed when the police are trying to arrest them, there will be a breach of Article 2 if it is shown that the police used more than the minimum amount of force necessary to detain the person.

The death penalty

Article 2 has been supplemented by the Sixth Protocol. The Sixth Protocol abolishes the death penalty, although it allows for exceptions in wartime. The United Kingdom has signed up to this Protocol and the Human Rights Act completely abolished the death penalty. As such, the second part of the first paragraph of Article 2, that intentional killing is allowed “in the execution of a sentence of a court following his conviction of a crime for which this penalty is provided for by law” does not apply in the law of the United Kingdom.

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