Victim and Witness Rights

Section 9: Right to Life

The right to life is one of the most fundamental human rights, and has two main aspects.

Public authorities must:

  • not take away anyone’s life, except in a very few limited circumstances and only when absolutely necessary;
  • take reasonable steps to protect life, including taking steps to protect someone whose life is at risk from another person, where the authorities know or should know of this risk.

Investigation stage
Some relevant considerations for victims when considering the concept of the right to life during the investigation stage would include:

  • ACT Policing taking appropriate steps to protect a person when they know there is a real and immediate risk to the life of that individual, including through domestic violence. Police may have a duty to do all that can be reasonably expected of them to prevent a real and immediate risk to life, which they knew or ought to have known [Osman v United Kingdom (1998) 29 EHRR 245.];
  • ACT Policing taking steps to protect witnesses, including a duty to warn persons who may be at risk of a life-threatening situation [Van Colle v Chief Constable of Hertfordshire [2008] UKHL 50].

Case example (right to life)
The applicants employed the defendant in their optical shop in England. When the police found optical equipment at the defendant’s house they charged him with theft. The defendant then threatened the applicant’s son on a number of occasions, including that he would kill him if he did not withdraw charges.
This was reported to police. The applicant’s car and business premises were set alight, however this was not linked to the defendant. The defendant shot dead the applicant’s son as he was leaving work.

While the court found there was no violation of the right to life (article 2) in this case, it found that there is a positive obligation on authorities to take preventative measures to protect an individual whose life is at risk from the criminal acts of another.

Source: Van Colle v United Kingdom [2012] ECHR, Application No 7678/09 (13 November 2012)

Post court
Some relevant considerations for victims when considering this right post-court would include:

  • a positive obligation to protect life and a right to the basic necessities of life. This may involve police taking appropriate steps to protect a person they know is at risk of violence, including a risk of violence once an offender is released from custody.