Prisoners’ safety and human rights: protecting prisoners from physical attacks and victimisation

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The European Convention on Human Rights 1950, together with the Human Rights Act 1998 and domestic common law, allow prisoners to bring legal actions in respect of inhuman and degrading prison conditions and their negligent treatment whilst in prison. In particular, these actions can result from mistreatment of prisoners by fellow prisoners, for which the state can be liable under its positive obligations in human rights law. Both domestic and European courts accept that prisons are inherently dangerous places, and have adjusted the duty of care accordingly, imposing liability only in clear cases of negligence. Despite this, there are a number of successful cases where prisoners have gained private law and human rights remedies against prison authorities for attacks by fellow prisoners.
These attacks largely cause physical harm to the prisoner, although a recent decision of the European Court of Human Rights highlights that prison authorities can be liable for emotional abuse suffered by prisoners at the hands of other prisoners in addition to any physical harm suffered by attacks or other treatment they have suffered.
This article firstly outlines the relevant legal and administrative rules surrounding prisoner safety before examining leading case law in this area, from both the Strasbourg Court and the domestic courts. It will then study this recent decision and attempt to assess its potential impact on the law and prison authorities when prisoners are subjected not only to physical harm, but also to emotional or mental ill treatment by fellow prisoners.
Original languageEnglish
Article number1
Pages (from-to)(In-Press)
Number of pages10
JournalPrison Service Journal
Publication statusPublished - 1 Mar 2024




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