Article 3: Freedom from torture and inhuman or degrading treatment

Published: 4 May 2016

Last updated: 3 June 2021

What countries does this apply to?

  • England
  • Scotland
  • Wales

Article 3 protects you from

  • torture (mental or physical) and
  • inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment

As you would expect, public authorities must not inflict this sort of treatment on you. They must also protect you if someone else is treating you in this way. If they know this right is being breached, they must intervene to stop it. The state must also investigate credible allegations of such treatment (including by third parties).


Torture occurs when someone deliberately causes very serious and cruel pain or suffering (physical or mental) to another person. This might be to punish someone, or to intimidate or obtain information from them.

Inhuman and degrading treatment

Inhuman treatment or punishment is treatment which causes intense physical or mental suffering.

Degrading treatment means treatment that is extremely humiliating and undignified. This concept is based on the principle of dignity - the innate value of all human beings.

Inhuman or degrading treatment could include:

  • serious physical assault
  • very severe detention conditions or restraints
  • serious physical or psychological abuse in a health or care setting
  • threatening to torture someone, if the threat is real and immediate

Whether ill treatment reaches a level that breaches Article 3 depends on several factors. These include the duration of the treatment, its physical or mental effects and the sex, age, vulnerability and health of the victim. 

Restrictions to the right to freedom from torture and inhuman or degrading treatment

Your right not to be tortured or treated in an inhuman or degrading way is absolute. This means it must never be limited or restricted in any way. For example, a public authority can never use lack of resources as a defence against an accusation that it has treated someone in an inhuman or degrading way.

What the law says

This text is taken directly from the Human Rights Act.

Article 3: Prohibition of torture

No one shall be subjected to torture or to inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment.

Example case - Chahal v United Kingdom [1996]

An Indian Sikh living in the UK claimed he would be tortured if deported to India because he was a high-profile supporter of Sikh separatism. The UK still sought to deport him on suspicion of being a terrorist. In a very important case, the European Court of Human Rights held that Article 3 prohibited his removal as he faced a real risk of torture or inhuman or degrading treatment if removed. The Court stressed that Article 3 prohibits, in absolute terms, torture, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment, irrespective of the victim's conduct (including suspected involvement in terrorism).

Read ‘Human rights, human lives: a guide to the Human Rights Act for public authorities’ for more examples and legal case studies that show how human rights work in practice.

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