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
Citing:
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:
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cplc_pChD2006
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CitedRegina v G (Secretary of State for the Home Department intervening) HL 18-Jun-2008
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CitedGldani Congregation of Jehovah’s Witnesses Others v Georgia ECHR 3-May-2007
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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
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CitedRabone and Another v Pennine Care NHS Foundation SC 8-Feb-2012
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These lists may be incomplete.
Updated: 15 April 2021; Ref: scu.166101