Key Liberty legal cases

The cases we take on are ones that we believe will be test cases – cases that will set a useful precedent that others can follow. We bring cases before the courts in this country, and also before the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg.


2012 - Asuquo v The United Kingdom

The Government apologises and settles the case of Patience Asuquo under Article 4 of the Human Rights Act - no slavery or forced labour. Patience had been brought into the UK on a domestic worker visa and was then forced to work long hours without any time off for almost three years. Her “employer” confiscated her passport, refused to pay her and subjected her to verbal and physical abuse.

When Patience escaped and reported her treatment to the police no effective investigation was carried out and the employer was not interviewed. After Liberty issued judicial review proceedings, the police reopened the investigation but the prosecution was ultimately unsuccessful. At the time there was no criminal offence in the UK of subjecting a person to slavery or forced labour.

Find out more


2012 - FGP v Serco plc

High Court judge rules that restraining Liberty client “FGP” had violated his Article 3 rights not to be subjected to inhuman and degrading treatment. FGP was detained in an immigration detention centre pending his removal from the UK. During his detention he developed severe abdominal pains and had to be rushed to hospital, where he was admitted for almost nine days. FGP was not a criminal. He was not a risk to the public.

Despite being treated in a separate room on the sixth floor Serco, the private security company responsible for detaining him, did not simply post guards outside his door.  Serco decided that it would be better to restrain him at all times, 24 hours a day. This was done by handcuffing him to a security guard, day and night, and through the use of a 2.5-metre "closeting chain".

Find out more


2011 - Bryant Inquest

An inquest found that murder victim Naomi Bryant was unlawfully killed due to an astounding series of public authority failings. Mother-of-one Naomi was killed by convicted sex offender Anthony Rice while he was on licence from prison in 2005.

The jury found that errors by the prison, parole board, probation services and other agencies directly contributed to Naomi’s death.

Find out more


2011 - Alder v UK

The Government issued a landmark apology for serious failings relating to the death of a black former British Army soldier in police custody. Father-of-two Christopher Alder, 37, choked to death on the floor in a pool of his own blood, urine and excrement while four officers stood, watched, chatted and joked at Hull Police Station in April 1998. None of the officers faced any criminal or disciplinary penalty in relation to the incident.

Liberty acted for Mr Alder’s sister, Janet Alder, who took a case to the European Court of Human Rights, arguing that her brother suffered inhuman and degrading treatment and that his death was never properly investigated. The Government fought the case until the final stages when it lodged its official apology with the Strasbourg court. It is believed to have been the first time the UK admitted violating Articles 2 and 3 of the European Convention on Human Rights – the right to life and no torture, inhuman or degrading treatment – in relation to a death in custody in the UK. The declaration also acknowledges that racism played a part, in breach of Article 14 – no discrimination.

Find out more


2011 - Project Champion

In April 2010, it was discovered that West Midlands Police had installed hundreds of CCTV and automatic number plate recognition (ANPR) cameras in two predominantly Muslim residential areas of Birmingham. The anti-terror funding and purpose of the project were kept secret from the residents. 

In 2011 all cameras associated with the scheme, codenamed “Project Champion”, were dismantled after Liberty threatened to bring Judicial Review proceedings on behalf of a group of affected residents, arguing that it breached principles of personal privacy and equal treatment protected by the Human Rights Act.


2010 - JM v the United Kingdom

JM v UK (2011) 53 EHRR 6

In a victory for gay and lesbian equality, JM v the United Kingdom reinforced the unlawfulness of discriminating against a person on the grounds of their sexual orientation.

Liberty’s client, ‘JM’, had been required to pay more in child support because her lesbian relationship was not recognised under rules that resulted in people in heterosexual relationships paying less. 

JM’s payments were calculated in September 2001. Under the rules in force at the time the housing costs of a heterosexual couple were treated as a shared expense. Because they were a same-sex couple, JM and her partner’s joint housing costs were apportioned between them. This meant that JM paid more in child support than she would have done had she been in a heterosexual relationship

Overturning a ruling of the House of Lords (Secretary of State for Work and Pensions v M) the Court of Human Rights found that treating JM differently on the grounds of her sexuality breached Article 14 of the Convention on Human Rights (prohibition of discrimination) taken together with Article 1 of the First Protocol (protection of property).

Find out more


2010 - Paton v Poole Borough Council (unreported)

Jenny Paton and her family were subjected to surveillance by Poole Council for three weeks in order to check whether they were living in the catchment area for the school that they wanted to get their youngest child into. 

The Council used powers under the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act 2000 (RIPA).  We helped the family appeal to the Investigatory Powers Tribunal, a body that normally sits and considers cases in secret.  

Following an open public hearing the Tribunal ruled that the Council acted outside its powers under RIPA and violated the family’s rights under Article 8.


2010 - Gillan and Quinton v UK (2005)

Gillan and Quinton v UK (2005) 50 EHRR 45

Liberty represented a journalist and a peace protestor, both of whom had been stopped and searched under section 44 of the Terrorism Act 2000 at a demonstration outside an arms fair in September 2003. 

The European Court of Human Rights decided unanimously that the lack of safeguards surrounding the police’s use of the power to stop and search without reasonable suspicion led to a breach of Article 8

Contrary to the decision of the domestic courts, the Court found that a compulsory search by the police in public was a clear interference with privacy rights. 

The Court was also influenced by the massive increase in the use of the power since it was introduced and the fact that it was disproportionately used against ethnic minorities.


2009 - R (Edwards) v Greater Manchester Police (unreported)

Lyndon Edwards was a Stoke City Football Club supporter who was prevented from attending a football match in Manchester, issued with a removal direction notice (under Section 27 of the Violent Crime Reduction Act 2006) and removed from the county.

There were no grounds for the police to act as they did, as Mr Edwards had been behaving perfectly properly. Liberty issued judicial review proceedings on his behalf against Greater Manchester Police.  The police conceded the claim and admitted that they had acted unlawfully.


2009 - Asuquo v Metropolitan Police Commissioner (unreported)

The police conceded that they failed in their obligations under Article 4 in failing to fully investigate the claimant’s allegations that she was held in servitude. 

The claimant had been brought into the UK on a domestic worker visa and was then forced to work long hours without any time off for almost three years. Her “employer” confiscated her passport, refused to pay her and subjected her to verbal and physical abuse. When the claimant escaped and reported her treatment to the police no effective investigation was carried out and the employer was not interviewed.

After the investigation was reopened pursuant to the judicial review proceedings the employer was convicted of assault. The case highlighted the need for a criminal offence outlawing modern day slavery, which was introduced by s.71 of the Coroners and Justice Act 2009.


2009 - R (AM) v Home Department (2009)

R (AM) v Home Department (2009) EWCA Civ 747

In November 2006 a major disturbance took place at Harmondsworth Immigration Removal Centre, during which some detainees were locked into their cells for long periods without food, water or toilet facilities, while others were made to stay outside in the cold overnight. There were also allegations that staff at the centre had assaulted detainees.

The Court of Appeal found that the Government breached Article 3 by refusing Liberty’s request for an independent inquiry into the allegations of inhuman and degrading treatment.


2009 - R (Wood) v Metropolitan Police Commissioner (2009) 

R (Wood) v Metropolitan Police Commissioner (2009) EWCA Civ 414

The police breached the Article 8 rights of the claimant, a campaigner against the arms trade, by taking and retaining pictures of him as he left the AGM of a company with links to the arms trade. 

The Court of Appeal ruled that it was disproportionate to retain the photographs after it had become clear, very soon after the meeting, that the claimant had not been involved in any criminal activity. 

Following the judgment the police announced that they would review all photographs held of individuals and remove any where retention was not justified according to the principles set out by the Court. 


2009 - Liberty v UK  (2009)

Liberty v UK (2009) 48 EHRR 1

Liberty and two Irish civil liberties organisations challenged the very broad powers to intercept electronic communications to and from the UK under the Interception of Communications Act 1985.  

The European Court of Human Rights held that the lack of clarity and openness about the circumstances in which someone’s communications could be intercepted and read led to a breach of Article 8.


2008 - R (Watkins-Singh) v Aberdare Girls’ High School (2008)   

R (Watkins-Singh) v Aberdare Girls' High School (2008) EWHC 1865 (Admin)

Sarika Watkins-Singh was suspended from school because she wore the kara , a silver bangle which is a symbol of the Sikh faith.

Liberty acted for her arguing that the school had discriminated against her on both racial and religious grounds.  

The High Court upheld her claim finding that the school’s headteacher had shown a “worrying lack of understanding of the need for equality of respect for those with different ethnic or religious beliefs”.


2007 - Copland v UK (2007)

Copland v UK (2007) 45 EHRR 37

Lynette Copland was a college secretary whose telephone, e-mail and internet usage was monitored by the college deputy principle.  She was never warned that this might be done.  

We acted for her on an application to the European Court of Human Rights.  The Court found that her rights under Article 8 had been violated. 


2006 - Roche v UK (2006)

Roche v UK (2006) 42 EHRR 30

Whilst a serviceman in the early 1960s Mick Roche took part in tests at the chemical weapons research centre.  He was unaware of the nature of the tests.  When he started to develop health problems later in life he started to ask questions about the substances that were tested on him.  His requests for information were stonewalled.  

We took a case to the European Court of Human Rights which led to a finding that the lengthy failure to provide him with such significant information breached his rights under Article 8.  We also represented him successfully on his appeal against the refusal of a disablement pension. 


2005 - R (W) v Commissioner of Police for the Metropolis (2006) 

R (W) v Commissioner of Police for the Metropolis (2006) EWCA Civ 458

Section 30 of the Anti-social Behaviour Act 2003 gives the police the power to designate areas where they consider anti-social behaviour to be a problem.  Once a designation is in place they have the power to take home that they believe to be under 16 and who is out after 9pm. 

Our client, a 14 year old boy, challenged this “ children’s curfew ”. After he won in the High Court the decision was overturned on appeal but only after the Home Secretary conceded that the power could only be used where a young person was engaging in anti-social behaviour.


2004 - R v the Immigration Officer at Prague Airport (2004)

R (European Roma Rights Centre) v Immigration Officer at Prague Airport (2004) UKHL 55

In 2001 the British immigration authorities stationed an immigration officer at Prague Airport to vet those travelling to the UK before they departed.  It was clear that the practice was targeted at Roma who might travel to the UK to claim asylum here.  

We successfully challenged the practice on the grounds that it was directly discriminatory on grounds of race and therefore unlawful under the Race Relations Act 1976.


2004 - R v Gun (unreported)

In the lead-up to the Iraq war Katharine Gun, an employee of GCHQ, was accused of disclosing to the media that the US had requested assistance from British intelligence to tap the telephones of members of the UN Security Council. 

Gun argued that the disclosures exposed serious wrongdoing and that she acted out of necessity to prevent the deaths of Iraqis and British forces in an "illegal war". 

Following a request for disclosure of the Attorney General’s advice on the legality of the war the prosecution was dropped.


2003 - Peck v UK (2003)

Peck v UK (2003) 36 EHRR 41

In a landmark decision, the European Court of Human Rights ruled that a British man's right to respect for his private life was violated when CCTV footage of him attempting suicide was released to the media and broadcast on national television.  

The council whose CCTV system filmed him should have taken steps to identify him and get his permission before passing the footage to the media or should have ensured that his identity was properly masked.  

The case was particularly significant in establishing that the publication of pictures taken in a public space may infringe a person’s right to privacy.


2002 - Edwards

Christopher Edwards was killed by a prison cellmate; both suffered from schizophrenia. No inquest was held but the Prison Service and other agencies involved set up an inquiry into the death.  

The inquiry had no power to compel witnesses, was held in private and Christopher’s parents were unable to participate.  

On an application brought by his parents the European Court of Human Rights ruled that the state had failed in its duty to protect Christopher from his cellmate and that the investigation into his death had been inadequate.

Article 2: The Right to Life


2002 - Pretty v UK (2002)

Pretty v UK (2002) 35 EHRR 1

Diane Pretty suffered from motor neurone disease.  She was able to do very little for herself and wanted to be certain that if her husband assisted her in ending her life he would not be prosecuted. 

Having been unsuccessful in the courts in this country arguing that this raised issues under the Human Rights Act we took her case on to the European Court of Human Rights.  

The Court held that this interference with her personal autonomy was sufficient to engage Article 8.  While it held that the interference was justified (and Diane lost her case) this is a principle that has been built on in subsequent cases. 


2001 - R (Wright) v the Secretary of State for the Home Department [2001]

R (Wright) c the Secretary of State for the Home Department (2001) EWHC Admin 520

Paul Wright died in Armley prison after he suffered an asthma attack.  Liberty acted for his mother and aunt to seek an independent inquiry into his death. 

In the first case under the Human Rights Act concerning the duty to investigate deaths in prison the High Court ordered that there be an independent inquiry.  We represented the family at the inquiry.  The report was very critical of the medical care given to Paul in prison.


2001 - Condron v UK (2001)

Condron v UK (2001) 31 EHRR 1

In 1994 the law was changed to permit juries, subject to certain conditions, to take a suspect’s silence in police interview into account when deciding on the suspect’s guilt.  

The Condrons were arrested on suspicion of supplying heroin.  Their solicitor advised them to give a ‘no comment' police interview because he considered them unfit to be questioned, as they were suffering heroin withdrawal symptoms. At trial the judge directed the jury that they were entitled to draw adverse inferences from the couple’s silence.  They were convicted.

The ECtHR ruled that while the “right to silence” was not absolute juries should be told that they can only take a suspect’s failure to reply to police questions into account if they were satisfied it was only attributable to the suspect having no answer or none that would stand up to cross examination.


2000 - Smith and Grady v UK (2000)

Smith and Grady v UK (2000) 29 EHRR 493

Standard MoD policy was that "homosexuality, whether male or female, is considered incompatible with service in the armed forces". 

Graeme Grady and Jeanette Smith were dismissed from the British armed forces, but won a declaration from the European Court of Human Rights that both their dismissal and the intrusive investigations that preceded them infringed their right to respect for their private lives protected by Article 8.


1999 - DPP v Jones and Another (1999)  UKHL 5

Ahead of a demonstration at Stonehenge in 1995 the police obtained an order from the local council to ban 'trespassory assemblies'. On the day, the police warned a group of demonstrators protesting on the verge of the A344 that they were taking part in a trespassory assembly and had to leave. Margaret Jones and Richard Lloyd refused and were arrested. 

They argued before the courts that there was a right to conduct peaceful protest on the public highway and that therefore, in conducting a demonstration on the roadside, they were not trespassing.  

In a judgment that stressed the importance of the right to protest in a democracy the House of Lords accepted their argument and quashed their convictions.


1996 - Benham v UK (1996)

Benham v UK (1996) 22 EHRR 293

Stephen Benham was imprisoned by magistrates for not paying the poll tax.  

The European Court of Human Rights held that his rights under Article 6 had been violated because he had not been able to get representation by a solicitor under the legal aid scheme.


1990 - Thynne, Wilson and Gunnell v UK (1991)

Thynne, Wilson and Gunnell v UK (1991) 13 EHRR 666

Three discretionary life prisoners challenged the fact that there was no judicial scrutiny of their detention.  The European Court of Human Rights agreed that, once the punitive period of a discretionary life sentence (the tariff) had expired, the question of whether the prisoner’s continued detention was necessary in the interests of public safety should be decided by a judicial body.  

This was a significant early case in a line of cases that have led to decisions as to how long life sentence prisoners should serve being made by courts not politicians.


1989 - Hewitt and Harman v UK (1992)

Hewitt and Harman v UK (1992) 14 EHRR 657

In 1985 it emerged that former NCCL staff Harriet Harman (Legal Officer) and Patricia Hewitt (General Secretary) had been under MI5 surveillance while working at the NCCL.

In 1989 the European Court of Human Rights ruled that there was a lack of clarity about when someone might be subjected to surveillance and inadequate safeguards.

There had been a breach of the right to respect for the women’s private lives protected by Article 8.


1982 - Kathleen Stewart

Kathleen Stewart applied to the European Commission of Human Rights after she failed to gain redress in Belfast High Court for the death of her 13 year old son, hit by a plastic bullet in 1976. The case was the first to challenge the use of plastic bullets under international human rights law.


1975 - Veronica Pickles

The NCCL established the right of a lesbian midwife to become a health visitor, by appealing to the local health authority on the behalf of Veronica Pickles.


1966 - John Mayhew

John Mayhew had enlisted in the Royal Navy at the age of 16, and applied to leave when he was 18, with still nine years left to serve but having saved the sum necessary to buy a discharge. He had offers for places at two universities, supported by his Commanding Officer, but his application to leave the Navy was repeatedly refused. 

The NCCL coordinated a campaign on his behalf, and the publicity led to a report on the situation of other ‘reluctant servicemen’ and a reduction in the age limit at which men could leave the armed forces.


1963 - The Challenor cases

Four young people taking part in a demonstration were accused of carrying weapons. All stated that the weapons (half bricks) had been planted on them by Sergeant Harold Challenor. 

NCCL supported the defendants and all the charges were dismissed or withdrawn. Challenor was investigated by the Director of Public Prosecutions, and the case led to the release of several people who had been wrongly imprisoned.


1954 - Emery, Powers and Thompson

Three men were convicted in 1954 for attacking a police officer. One prosecution witness had identified Thompson, but without an identification parade. 

NCCL found a witness that confirmed the men had been elsewhere at the time of the attack, which prompted another man to confess to the crime. The three were released in 1956 and given a Royal Pardon.


1949 - The Carrington House case

Carrington House was a hostel in Deptford which housed around 50 West African immigrants who were directed there by the Colonial Office. 

The men faced increasing antagonism from the local community and had difficulty finding jobs or being served. In 1949 14 of the men were arrested for ‘affray’. 

The NCCL arranged their defence and the majority were acquitted, exposing severe race discrimination.


1947 - 'Jane'

‘Jane’ had been wrongly detained in a senile ward of a mental health institution after giving birth to an illegitimate child, and being refused shelter by her father.


1937 - Harworth Colliery Strike

A strike was called at Harworth Colliery following the owners’ decision to make membership of the company union a condition of employment, with those who refused locked out and replaced. Striking miners were harassed by police, and the leaders were arrested and given disproportionately heavy sentences. 

The NCCL led a public campaign to help the strike leaders, collecting 25,000 petition signatures.


1934 - Duncan v Jones

Duncan v Jones was the first case taken up by the NCCL, and a landmark in the law on public order . Kath Duncan was arrested while peacefully speaking to a small crowd. 

As disturbances had occurred at a similar meeting over a year earlier, the officer claimed he was duty bound to prevent it happening again. 

As Liberty founder Ronald Kidd observed, it created a precedent that the police could ban any political meeting in public places at will.