How might this right be relevant to my life?

Some examples include:

  • If you tell the police that you think your life is in danger from your partner or family member 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.
  • If a public official discloses your confidential information, for example a new address to a perpetrator which puts your life at risk.

Can my right be restricted by a public official?

No. A public official cannot deliberately take away your right to life (apart in some very limited circumstances).

Can my right be restricted by a public official?

  • Respect
    A duty not to deliberately take away your life.
  • Protect
    A duty to take reasonable steps to protect your life when public officials 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.
  • Fulfill
    A duty to investigate when 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?

DSD and NBV’s Story: Holding the Police to account

In 2018, the Supreme Court rule that the police owed human rights damages to two victims of John Worboys- the black cab driver responsible for a large number of sexual offences. DSD and NBV (they asked to remain anonymous) reported to the police that they had been sexually assaulted to in 2003 and 2007. DSD was attacked in 2003, this was one of the first attacks by Worboys. After her assault Worboys was not identified as the perpetrator. In NBV’s case, following an attack in 2007, Worboys was quickly arrested as a suspect but released without charge. Due to what the court said were significant errors, officers failed to charge the London black-cab driver at that stage. Worboys went on the assault as many as 100 more women.

Our Supreme Court (the top court in the UK) found the police, as a public body, accountable under the Human Rights Act. This means that even when crimes are committed by a private citizen, the state can still be held to account. In this cast, the police for failing to undertake a proper investigation which left the woman exposed to inhuman and degrading treatment.

This case should serve to help the police and the criminal justice system at large to understand that such victims cannot and should not be ignored or treated with indifference, that they will be held to account if they fail to do their job in relation to such crimes.

This is a summary of a legal case: Commissioner of Police of the Metropolis (Appellant) v DSD and another (Respondents).