[2008] UKHL 74

In this landmark case, the House of Lords ruled the Claimant was entitled to pursue a claim for damages against her mother’s health trust under Article 2 of the Human Rights Act 1998, there being no other remedy for her.

The Claimant’s mother, a paranoid schizophrenic, escaped from the Defendant’s Hospital and committed suicide by throwing herself under a train in July 2004. The Deceased’s husband failed to bring an action against the Trust and the Claimant had no standing to bring an action in negligence or for bereavement damages in the circumstances. However, the Claimant argued she should have remedy under Article 2 of the European Convention on Human Rights. She alleged the Defendant should be held liable for violating her mother’s “right to life” in allowing her to escape and kill herself.

The House of Lords rejected the Defendant’s argument that in the absence of gross negligence they could not be held liable under Article 2. An inquest had found that the precautions taken by the Defendant to prevent the mother from absconding were inadequate. Lord Walker stated that the Defendant was under a “general obligation to take precautions to prevent suicides by employing competent properly-trained staff and running a safe system at the hospital.”

The House of Lords concluded Article 2 put health authorities under an overarching obligation to protect the lives of patients in their hospitals. In addition to employing competent staff, Article 2 obliges the institution to do all that can reasonably be expected to prevent a patient from committing suicide if staff know or ought to know that the patient presents a real and immediate risk of suicide.