Why is police failure to investigate rape a human rights issue?

Human rights law exists to regulate the relationship between the state and individuals, by vesting certain rights in all individuals, which they can enforce against the government.

This means that a claim under the Human Rights Act must always involve the state in some way. Accordingly, violations of human rights are often associated with the state itself inflicting harm.

However, the state can also breach an individual’s human rights when it fails to take proactive steps to protect an individual from breaches to their human rights, even when the conduct is perpetrated by private individuals. One example of this is where a person reports that they have been raped by someone to the police.

Under Article 3 of the European Convention of Human Rights (“ECHR”), incorporated into domestic law by the Human Rights Act 1998, a person has the right not to be subjected to torture, inhuman or degrading treatment. Rape meets the threshold of severity to be classified as such treatment. Therefore, an individual’s human rights will be engaged when either the state perpetrates the rape, or the authorities fail to enact suitable criminal law provisions which effectively punish rape and/or fail to apply the criminal provisions in practice through effective investigation and prosecution. In these circumstances, there may be a violation of an individual’s human rights.

This means that when a person reports that they are a victim of rape, the police (a state body) have a duty under human rights law to effectively investigate the allegation. The obligation is one of process, rather than result. This means that a Court will primarily be concerned with whether the police took all reasonable steps and acted promptly, as opposed to looking solely at the result of the investigation (i.e. whether a person is successfully prosecuted) to determine whether there has been a breach.

In a landmark case concerning the failure to investigate multiple allegations of rape, perpetrated by now convicted sex offender John Worboys, (Commissioner of Police of the Metropolis v DSD & Anor [2018] UKSC 11), there was some debate between the judges in the Supreme Court as to what kind of failures would amount to a breach of Article 3. Specifically, whether only failures at a systemic level (whether there is a wider problem with the framework such as inadequate policy or training) would amount to a breach or whether operational deficiencies (such as individual failures and carelessness on the part of the police officers involved) were sufficient to amount to a breach. The majority view was that Article 3 can be breached by operational deficiencies in an investigation, which need not be connected to systemic and structural failings within the police force.

If you would like to take action against the police in respect of their failure to investigate your report of rape, contact Saunders Law who will be able to advise you on the appropriate course of action.

We have also written a blog on what you can do when the police has failed to investigate your case


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