Z And Others v The United Kingdom: ECHR 10 May 2001

Four children complained that, for years before they were taken into care by the local authority, its social services department was well aware that they were living in filthy conditions and suffering ‘appalling’ neglect in the home of their parents. Suspicions of abuse had arisen in 1987, but they were given effective support only in 1992.
Held: The claim succeeded. The state had been in breach of its duty under Article 3 to protect them against inhuman or degrading treatment. The court upheld the commission’s conclusion that the social services department had been aware that the children had been suffering such neglect as amounted to inhuman and degrading treatment and had failed to take reasonable steps to prevent its continuance: ‘The Court acknowledges the difficult and sensitive decisions facing social services and the important countervailing principle of respecting and preserving family life. The present case however leaves no doubt as to the failure of the system to protect these child applicants from serious, long-term neglect and abuse.’

Effective measures were particularly needed in the case of children and other vulnerable people. Because there was a serious doubt about the availability of a remedy through the courts, there was equally a failure to provide a remedy and accordingly a breach of Article 13. There was no breach or articles 6 or 8. Article 6(1) does not itself guarantee any particular content for civil rights and obligations in the substantive law of the Contracting States. ‘Article 6(1) extends only to contestations (disputes) over (civil) ‘rights and obligations’ which can be said, at least on arguable grounds, to be recognised under domestic law; it does not itself guarantee any particular content for (civil) ‘rights and obligations’ in the substantive law of the contracting states. It will however apply to disputes of a ‘genuine and serious nature’ concerning the actual existence of the right as well as to the scope and manner in which it is exercised.’
‘The applicants alleged that the local authority had failed to protect them from inhuman and degrading treatment contrary to Article 3 of the Convention which provides:
‘No one shall be subjected to torture or to inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment.’
The Commission in its report found unanimously that there had been a violation of Article 3 of the Convention. It considered that there was a positive obligation on the Government to protect children from treatment contrary to this provision. The authorities had been aware of the serious ill-treatment and neglect suffered by the four children over a period of years at the hands of their parents and failed, despite the means reasonably available to them, to take any effective steps to bring it to an end.
The applicants requested the Court to confirm this finding of a violation.
The Government did not contest the Commission’s finding that the treatment suffered by the four applicants reached the level of severity prohibited by Article 3 and that the State failed in its positive obligation under Article 3 of the Convention to provide the applicants with adequate protection against inhuman and degrading treatment.
The Court re-iterates that Article 3 enshrines one of the most fundamental values of democratic society. It prohibits in absolute terms torture or inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment. The obligation on High Contracting Parties under Article 1 of the Convention to secure to everyone within their jurisdiction the rights and freedoms defined in the Convention, taken together with Article 3, requires States to take measures designed to ensure that individuals within their jurisdiction are not subjected to torture or inhuman or degrading treatment, including such ill-treatment administered by private individuals (see A v the United Kingdom judgment of 23 September 1998, Reports of Judgments and Decisions 1998-VI, para 22). These measures should provide effective protection, in particular, of children and other vulnerable persons and include reasonable steps to prevent ill-treatment of which the authorities had or ought to have had knowledge.’


Times 31-May-2001, 29392/95, [2001] 34 EHRR 97, [2001] 2 FLR 612, [2001] ECHR 329, [2001] ECHR 333, 10 BHRC 384, (2002) 34 EHRR 3, [2001] 2 FCR 246


Worldlii, Bailii, Bailii


European Convention on Human Rights 3 6 13


Human Rights


Appeal fromX (Minors) v Bedfordshire County Council; M (A Minor) and Another v Newham London Borough Council; Etc HL 29-Jun-1995
Liability in Damages on Statute Breach to be Clear
Damages were to be awarded against a Local Authority for breach of statutory duty in a care case only if the statute was clear that damages were capable of being awarded. in the ordinary case a breach of statutory duty does not, by itself, give rise . .

Cited by:

CitedRegina v G and R CACD 17-Jul-2002
The defendants were children accused of arson being reckless as to the danger of damage. They were not entitled to require the jury to consider as a separate question whether the risk of damage was obvious other than to an ordinary adult.
CitedMatthews v Ministry of Defence HL 13-Feb-2003
The claimant sought damages against the Crown, having suffered asbestosis whilst in the armed forces. He challenged the denial to him of a right of action by the 1947 Act.
Held: Human rights law did not create civil rights, but rather voided . .
CitedMcGlinchey and Others v The United Kingdom ECHR 29-Apr-2003
Hudoc Judgment (Merits and just satisfaction) Violation of Art. 3 ; Violation of Art. 13 ; Non-pecuniary damage – financial award
A prisoner was admitted but with a heroin addiction. Through various mistakes . .
CitedHollins v Russell etc CA 22-May-2003
Six appeals concerned a number of aspects of the new Conditional Fee Agreement.
Held: It should be normal for a CFA, redacted as necessary, to be disclosed for costs proceedings where a success fee is claimed. If a party seeks to rely on the . .
CitedWilson v Secretary of State for Trade and Industry; Wilson v First County Trust Ltd (No 2) HL 10-Jul-2003
The respondent appealed against a finding that the provision which made a loan agreement completely invalid for lack of compliance with the 1974 Act was itself invalid under the Human Rights Act since it deprived the respondent lender of its . .
CitedMunjaz v Mersey Care National Health Service Trust And the Secretary of State for Health, the National Association for Mental Health (Mind) Respondent interested; CA 16-Jul-2003
The claimant was a mental patient under compulsory detention, and complained that he had been subjected to periods of seclusion.
Held: The appeal succeeded. The hospital had failed to follow the appropriate Code of Practice. The Code was not . .
CitedSecretary of State for Work and Pensions v Kehoe CA 5-Mar-2004
The claimant had applied to the Child Support Agncy for maintenance. They failed utterly to obtain payment, and she complained now that she was denied the opportunity by the 1991 Act to take court proceedings herself.
Held: The denial of . .
CitedRegina v Secretary of State for Education and Employment and others ex parte Williamson and others HL 24-Feb-2005
The appellants were teachers in Christian schools who said that the blanket ban on corporal punishment interfered with their religious freedom. They saw moderate physical discipline as an essential part of educating children in a Christian manner. . .
CitedJD v East Berkshire Community Health NHS Trust and others HL 21-Apr-2005
Parents of children had falsely and negligently been accused of abusing their children. The children sought damages for negligence against the doctors or social workers who had made the statements supporting the actions taken. The House was asked if . .
CitedBrooks v Commissioner of Police for the Metropolis and others HL 21-Apr-2005
The claimant was with Stephen Lawrence when they were both attacked and Mr Lawrence killed. He claimed damages for the negligent way the police had dealt with his case, and particularly said that they had failed to assess him as a victim of crime, . .
CitedKehoe, Regina (on the Application of) v Secretary of State for Work and Pensions HL 14-Jul-2005
The applicant contended that the 1991 Act infringed her human rights in denying her access to court to obtain maintenance for her children.
Held: The applicant had no substantive right to take part in the enforcement process in domestic law . .
CitedRegina v Ashworth Hospital Authority (Now Mersey Care National Health Service Trust) ex parte Munjaz HL 13-Oct-2005
The claimant was detained in a secure Mental Hospital. He complained at the seclusions policy applied by the hospital, saying that it departed from the Guidance issued for such policies by the Secretary of State under the Act.
Held: The House . .
CitedPlymouth City Council v HM Coroner for the County of Devon and Another Admn 27-May-2005
The local authority in whose care the deceased child had been held challenged a decision by the coroner not to limit his inquiry to the last few days of the child’s life. The coroner had decided that he had an obligation to conduct a wider enquiry . .
CitedRhondda Cynon Taff Borough Council v Watkins CA 12-Feb-2003
Land had been purchased compulsorily, but the respondent unlawfully returned to possession in 1966, and now claimed title by adverse possession. The Council executed a vesting deed poll in 1988. The Council asserted that he could not be in adverse . .
CitedC Plc and W v P and Secretary of State for the Home Office and the Attorney General ChD 26-May-2006
The claimant sought damages from the first defendant for breach of copyright. An ex parte search order had been executed, with the defendant asserting his privilege against self-incrimination. As computer disks were examined, potentially unlawful . .
CitedPierce v Doncaster Metropolitan Borough Council QBD 13-Dec-2007
The claimant sought damages, saying that the local authority had failed to protect him when he was a child against abuse by his parents.
Held: The claimant had been known to the authority since he was a young child, and they owed him a duty of . .
CitedRegina v G (Secretary of State for the Home Department intervening) HL 18-Jun-2008
The defendant was fifteen. He was convicted of statutory rape of a 13 year old girl, believing her to be 15. He appealed saying that as an offence of strict liability he had been denied a right to a fair trial, and also that the offence charged was . .
CitedGldani Congregation of Jehovah’s Witnesses Others v Georgia ECHR 3-May-2007
The applicant claimed that the police had known in advance of an attack upon the applicants by religious opponents, which he said would constitute inhuman or degrading treatment, but that they had failed to take any preventive action.
Held: . .
CitedRe E (A Child); E v Chief Constable of the Royal Ulster Constabulary and Another (Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission and others intervening) HL 12-Nov-2008
(Northern Ireland) Children had been taken to school in the face of vehement protests from Loyalists. The parents complained that the police had failed to protect them properly, since the behaviour was so bad as to amount to inhuman or degrading . .
CitedRabone and Another v Pennine Care NHS Foundation SC 8-Feb-2012
The claimant’s daughter had committed suicide whilst on home leave from a hospital where she had stayed as a voluntary patient with depression. Her admission had followed a suicide attempt. The hospital admitted negligence but denied that it owed . .
Lists of cited by and citing cases may be incomplete.

Children, Human Rights

Updated: 03 November 2022; Ref: scu.166101