Section 9 of the Human Rights Act 2004 says that:
(1) Everyone has the right to life. In particular, no-one may be arbitrarily deprived of life.
(2) This section applies to a person from birth.
Note: Under the Act, all rights may be subject to reasonable limits (section 28). The nature of the right is relevant when considering what is reasonable.
This factsheet is not intended to be a substitute for legal advice.
The right to life is primarily concerned with preventing the arbitrary deprivation of life. It is relevant to:
The negative duties imposed by the right to life mean that public authorities must refrain from arbitrarily or intentionally depriving someone of life. The use of force by government officials that has resulted in a deprivation of life must have been ‘absolutely necessary’ and ‘strictly proportionate’ to the achievement of the permitted purpose. For example, this might occur when the police have to use lethal force to protect the lives of other people in imminent danger.
The European Court of Human Rights has found violations of the right to life because of deficient operational planning and control. For example, in Gulec v Turkey the Court found that the right to life had been violated when police fired guns to disperse demonstrators and that the unavailability of less lethal means of crowd control was ‘unacceptable’.
The right to life also requires public authorities to take positive steps to protect the right to life. This includes imposing a duty on government:
In this case, the Victorian Coroners Court considered its ability to ‘address systemic and prevention issues’ in the investigation of 29 deaths that occurred on level crossings in Victoria. The Coroner held that the interpretive mandate in section 32(1) of the Victorian equivalent of the Human Rights Act obliges the Coroners Court to interpret all legislation compatibly with human rights. The Court found that the right to life ‘requires the Coroner to conduct an inquest that investigates not only the immediate circumstances of the death but also the possibility of systemic failure on the part of the authorities to protect life’.
The actions of public authorities can both promote and limit rights. Section 9 could be engaged by activities that: