“In general” there can be no deprivation of liberty under human rights law in cases where a person is receiving lifesaving medical treatment.
The landmark ruling was made in the case of a woman with Down’s syndrome and learning disabilities, Maria Ferreira (known as Maria in the judgment), who died in intensive care at Kings College Hospital in 2013.
A person is considered deprived of their liberty under Article 5 if three conditions are met:
- The person is confined to a particular place for a non-negligible period of time (the objective element)
- They have not consented to this (the subjective element)
- Their confinement was the responsibility of the state (the state element)
Lady Justice Arden dismissed the appeal and concluded that Maria was not deprived of her liberty because:
- The European Court of Human Rights had excepted “commonly occurring restrictions on movement” from being considered a deprivation of liberty under Article 5 and administering life-saving treatment generally fell within this category, so long as the person’s condition was not the result of state action and they were not receiving treatment that could not have been given to a person of “sound mind” in the same condition
- Maria would have been free to leave the hospital had she been physically able to do so, meaning the acid test was not satisfied
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