On appeal from: [2010] EWCA Civ 698

The respondent hospital had, despite various medical reports assessing her as a moderate to high suicide risk and concerns from her parents, negligently agreed to a period of home leave for the appellants’ daughter, during which she committed suicide. The issues for the Supreme Court to decide included whether ECHR, art 2 imposed an obligation on the State to take preventative measures to protect a voluntary mental patient against a risk of suicide, whether the appellants were “victims” under ECHR, art 34 and the Human Rights Act 1998, s 7(7), and, if so, had they lost that status on settlement of a negligence claim brought on the same facts, and whether the s 7(5) time limit for raising a Human Rights Act claim should be extended.

The appeal was allowed unanimously; the Supreme Court held that the operational obligation under art 2 was owed to a voluntary mentally ill hospital patient, the appellant parents were victims for the purpose of art 34 and that they had not lost this status by virtue of the settlement of their negligence claim, and additionally that the claim was not time barred as the appellants had acted reasonably in not bringing proceedings sooner.

The admitted negligence of the respondent in its treatment should not be assimilated to the line of case law pertaining to negligent hospital treatment (in which case there would be no duty under article 2). While there were differences between detained and voluntary psychiatric patients, these should not be exaggerated. The appellant’s daughter was admitted to hospital because she was a real suicide risk. The Trust assumed responsibility for her; she was under its control. The difference between her position and that of a hypothetical detained psychiatric patient would have been one of form not substance.

For judgment, please download: [2012] UKSC 2
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