Article 3: No torture

Nobody should ever be tortured or treated in an inhuman or degrading way – no matter what the situation.

The prohibition on torture and inhuman and degrading treatment or punishment is one of the most fundamental rights protected by the Human Rights Act.

This right is absolute. It is never justifiable to torture someone, whatever the circumstances.

On a basic level, the reason why this ban is absolute is very simple: torture and inhuman or degrading treatment is wrong because it violates our human dignity.

Torture means any act by which severe pain and suffering, whether physical or mental, is intentionally inflicted on someone for the purposes of obtaining information, for punishment or intimidation.

Inhuman or degrading treatment is also prohibited:

  • Treatment is considered inhuman when it causes intense physical or mental suffering.
  • Treatment or punishment is degrading if it humiliates and debases a person beyond that which is usual from punishment.

The State’s obligations

State officials

Article 3 prevents state officials from torturing people or subjecting them to inhuman or degrading treatment.

There is no exception to this ban. It applies wherever across all UK jurisdictions – including places outside the UK (such as when our soldiers have someone in their custody or under their physical control abroad), as well as in UK prisons, immigration detention centres, state hospitals, state schools and elsewhere.

Article 3 protects everyone. There are no exceptions for non-citizens, undocumented people, terrorist suspects, convicted criminals, protesters or members of political opposition.

Torture evidence

UK courts and tribunals may not rely upon evidence obtained through torture.

This applies regardless of which state carried out the torture or where it took place.

Deportation or extradition

Article 3 prevents the UK from deporting or extraditing people to another country where they would face a real risk of being tortured or subjected to inhuman or degrading treatment.

This also applies when there is a real risk of torture evidence being admitted in court proceedings against the person who is being threatened with deportation or extradition.

Investigations

Like the right to life under Article 2, Article 3 requires official, effective investigations into credible allegations of serious ill-treatment by public officials.

Prevention

Article 3 also requires authorities to take positive steps to prevent torture and inhuman or degrading treatment.

This means laws must be put in place to protect people from torture or other ill treatment. It also means public officials must act to protect people from harm inflicted by others.

Justice for John Worboys’ victims

A devastating catalogue of police failures meant black cab taxi driver John Worboys was left free to attack women in London for years before he was convicted in 2009.

Two of his victims fought a four-year legal battle to show police had a legal duty to properly investigate serious crimes under Article 3 – and to stop them failing victims in this way again.

The two women were raped by Worboys in 2003 and 2007. When they reported the attacks, police didn’t believe them and didn’t investigate properly.

In 2018, the Supreme Court ruled that the Metropolitan Police had breached the women’s rights by failing to properly investigate their reports of rape. This was a crucial victory in the battle to end violence against women and girls in the UK.

Preventing Lauri Love’s extradition

Lauri Love, a dual British-Finnish citizen, was accused of hacking into United States government computer systems in 2012 and 2013. The US sought to extradite him there to face charges.

Lauri has Asperger syndrome and had been diagnosed with other significant mental health issues. Being extradited to the US would have had devastating consequences for him.

He challenged his extradition, arguing that his mental and physical health would deteriorate significantly to the point of suicide if he was tried and held in US custody.

Liberty intervened in his case, arguing that Lauri should be tried on UK soil, where the alleged hacking took place.

The High Court agreed, ruling that extradition would be “oppressive by reason of his physical and mental condition”.