Article 5: Right to liberty and security

Published: 4 May 2016

Last updated: 3 June 2021

What countries does this apply to?

  • England
  • Scotland
  • Wales

Article 5 protects your right to liberty and security

It focuses on protecting individuals’ freedom from unreasonable detention, as opposed to protecting personal safety.

You have a right to your personal freedom. This means you must not be imprisoned or detained without good reason. 

If you are arrested, the Human Rights Act provides that you have the right to:

  • be told promptly in a language you understand why you have been arrested and what charges you face
  • be taken to court promptly and
  • have a trial within a reasonable time or,
  • to bail (temporary release while the court process continues), which may be subject to conditions to guarantee you appear at trial).

If you are arrested or detained, the Human Rights Act provides that you have the right to:

  • ​​​ask a court to decide quickly if your detention is lawful, and order your release if it is not
  • compensation if you have been unlawfully detained.

Restrictions to the right to liberty and security

There are certain circumstances in which public authorities can detain you as long as they act within the law. This applies, for example, if:

  • you have been found guilty of a crime and sent to prison
  • you have not done something a court has ordered you to do or that you are legally required to do
  • there is reasonable suspicion that you have committed a crime, someone is trying to stop you committing a crime or they are trying to stop you running away from a crime
  • you have a mental health condition which makes it necessary to detain you
  • you are capable of spreading infectious disease or have a mental health impairment that is sufficiently serious to warrant detention
  • you are under 18 and a court has ordered that you are detained, for example in a care home, or you are detained before legal proceedings take place 
  • you are attempting to enter the country illegally, or
  • action is being taken against you that might result in you being deported or extradited (sent to a country where you have been accused of a crime).

Using the right to liberty and security – examples

Steven, a young man with autism, needed temporary care while his father was unwell. The father assumed his son would stay at his usual respite care home, but the local council placed Steven in a specialist unit because of concerns about his behaviour. His father expected this to be a temporary move and for Steven be home again within weeks. When the council insisted on keeping him in the unit for longer, his father challenged this decision. Steven had been detained in the unit for almost a year when the Court of Protection (a specialist court at the High Court which deals with issues concerning people who lack the mental capacity to make decisions for themselves) ruled that the council had breached his Article 5 rights and unlawfully deprived him of his liberty. The court order enabled Steven to return home.

(Re Steven Neary; LB Hillingdon v Steven Neary (2011) EWHC 1377 (COP))

What the law says

This text is taken directly from the Human Rights Act.

Article 5: Right to liberty

1. Everyone has the right to liberty and security of person. No one shall be deprived of his liberty save in the following cases and in accordance with a procedure prescribed by law:

a) the lawful detention of a person after conviction by a competent court

b) the lawful arrest or detention of a person for non-compliance with the lawful order of a court or in order to secure the fulfilment of any obligation prescribed by law

c) the lawful arrest or detention of a person effected for the purpose of bringing him before the competent legal authority on reasonable suspicion of having committed an offence or when it is reasonably considered necessary to prevent his committing an offence or fleeing after having done so

d) the detention of a minor by lawful order for the purpose of educational supervision or his lawful detention for the purpose of bringing him before the competent legal authority

e) the lawful detention of persons for the prevention of the spreading of infectious diseases, of persons of unsound mind, alcoholics or drug addicts or vagrants

f) the lawful arrest or detention of a person to prevent his effecting an unauthorised entry into the country or of a person against whom action is being taken with a view to deportation or extradition.

2. Everyone who is arrested shall be informed promptly, in a language which he understands, of the reasons for his arrest and of any charge against him.

3. Everyone arrested or detained in accordance with the provisions of paragraph c of this Article shall be brought promptly before a judge or other officer authorised by law to exercise judicial power and shall be entitled to trial within a reasonable time or to release pending trial. Release may be conditioned by guarantees to appear for trial.

4. Everyone who is deprived of his liberty by arrest or detention shall be entitled to take proceedings by which the lawfulness of his detention shall be decided speedily by a court and his release ordered if the detention is not lawful.

5. Everyone who has been the victim of arrest or detention in contravention of the provisions of this Article shall have an enforceable right to compensation.

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