Supreme Court ruling welcomed by rights organisations

Press Release by: INQUEST
8th February 2012

Hospitals must ensure that they take appropriate steps to prevent voluntary psychiatric patients from taking their own lives, according to a landmark judgment handed down today by the Supreme Court.

The unanimous ruling, which has been welcomed by leading mental health and human rights organisations, held that Pennine Care NHS Trust had a duty under article 2 of the European Convention on Human Rights to protect the right to life of Melanie Rabone, and failed in this duty when she took her own life in April 2005.

Paul Farmer, Chief Executive of Mind said:

Today’s judgment recognises that a positive duty is owed towards patients with mental health problems at times when they are most at risk of harm. The law now applies whether or not a patient has been formally detained.

Now it is clear that in times of crisis everyone will have the strongest protection that the law can offer.

Emma Norton, Liberty’s Legal Officer said:

This landmark human rights judgment means that voluntary patients in psychiatric care will finally get the same legal protection as sectioned patients. Hospitals rightly acknowledge their serious duties to detained people – why should those who have asked for help be any different?

Jodie Blackstock, Director of Criminal and EU Justice Policy at JUSTICE added:

With all the scepticism currently surrounding the European Convention on Human Rights, this case demonstrates what a vital role it has in protecting the rights of the most vulnerable in society. In this case the Supreme Court has not only acknowledged that through the Convention the state holds a responsibility for those in its care to which there is a real and immediate risk of death, but when it fails in that duty, parents should be entitled to vindicate their loss also.

INQUEST Co-Director, Deborah Coles said:

INQUEST welcomes the Supreme Court’s landmark ruling that psychiatric patients are owed a positive duty of protection under human rights law. This must go hand in hand with an investigation and inquest process that ensures deaths in psychiatric care are independently and robustly scrutinised. This would not only enable families to find out what happened to their relatives but also ensure lessons are learned to help prevent deaths in the future.