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ECHR Art. 2: Right to Life

  • Supreme Court rules that hospital had duty to protect patient from committing suicide

Rabone and Anor. v Penine Care NHS Trust [2012] UKSC 2

The Supreme Court has ruled that a hospital had an ‘operational’ duty under ECHR Art. 2 to protect a voluntary patient from committing suicide.  Previously this duty only covered those who were detained under the Mental Health Act.

The case concerned a young woman who was assessed by the hospital as being a moderate to high suicide risk.  She was admitted on a voluntary basis but on the proviso that, should she attempt to leave the hospital, she should be assessed for detention under the Mental Health Act.  In what the hospital has since admitted to have been a negligent decision, the woman was granted home leave.  She proceeded to take her own life. The court ruled that the hospital had failed in its duty under Art. 2

Liberty, which intervened alongside MIND, JUSTICE and INQUEST, issued a statement describing the judgment as an important step; It means that hospitals must take reasonable steps – no more, no less – to safeguard the right to life of mental health patients in their care, regardless of whether or not they are detained, in circumstances where the hospital knows, or ought to know, of a real and immediate risk to life”.

A post on the UKHRB highlights the potential impact of the decision of the Supreme Court, claiming that it endorses an “each case on its own facts” approach, and will affect human rights damages claims and arguably Article 2 inquests.  A second post on the case on the same blog examines in further detail the effect this judgment has on the scope of Art.2.

The UK Supreme Court blog also provides an overview of the case here, and discusses the interesting issue of standing that arose when the parents of the woman were granted ‘victim status’ for the purposes of the Human Rights Act. This was not affected by the settlement of the negligence claim.  A third post on the case on the UKHRB looks at this issue in more detail as well.

Read the full judgment here.

ECHR Art. 2, Right to Life