What is the liberty and security of a person?

Article 5 of the European Convention on Human Rights states that "Everyone has the right to liberty and security of person." Personal liberty is a fundamental condition, which everyone should generally enjoy. The "right to liberty and security" is a unique right, as the expression has to be read as a whole. "Security of a person" must be understood in the context of physical liberty, and it cannot be interpreted as referring to different matters (such as a duty on the State to give someone personal protection from an attack by others, or right to social security).

Are there any restrictions to this right?

Paragraph 1 of Article 5 of the European Convention on Human Rights points to there being a presumption that everyone should enjoy liberty and that, therefore, a person can only be deprived of it in exceptional circumstances. Furthermore, the presumption in favour of liberty is underlined by the imperative requirement to ensure that liberty should both be lost for no longer than is absolutely necessary and be capable of being readily recovered where such loss is not justified.

It is required that any deprivation of liberty be "in accordance with a procedure prescribed by law". Further, each point providing for the cases where deprivation of liberty is permitted supposes that the measure be "lawful". Moreover, lawfulness is understood to mean that any detention must be in accordance with the national law and the European Convention on Human Rights and must not be arbitrary.

Cases where the liberty and security of person may be restricted:

  • when a person is convicted by a competent court;
  • the person fails to comply with the judgement of competent court, or it is necessary to guarantee an enforcement of any statutory obligations;
  • when a person is suspected of having committed a crime and it is necessary to prevent the commission of another crime or to prevent him / her from escaping;
  • minors may be detained by lawful order for the purpose of educational supervision or for the purpose of bringing him before the competent legal authority;
  • when there is a need to prevent the spreading of infectious diseases, of persons of unsound mind, alcoholics or drug addicts or vagrants;
  • when a person tries to enter the country without permission, or when the process of deportation or extradition is initiated.

Who protects this right?

It is a positive obligation on the State not only to refrain from active infringement of the rights in question, but also to take appropriate steps to provide protection against an unlawful interference with those rights to everyone within its jurisdiction. The State is therefore obliged to take measures providing effective protection of vulnerable persons, including reasonable steps to prevent a deprivation of liberty of which the authorities have or ought to have knowledge. The responsibility of a State is engaged if it acquiesces in a person’s loss of liberty by private individuals or fails to put an end to the situation.

International recognition of this right

The Universal Declaration of Human Rights, a milestone human rights document that was adopted after the end of the Second World War, contains two articles that mention this right.

Article 3 reads:

Everyone has the right to life, liberty and security of person

while Article 9 adds further that:

No one shall be subjected to arbitrary arrest, detention or exile.

The right to liberty and security is universally recognised – it is found in all general international and regional human rights conventions.

One of the forms of deprivation of liberty, where the fate or whereabouts of the disappeared person are concealed, has been regulated since 2010 by a separate convention ­­– the International Convention for the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearance.

In context

  • Arrest & Detention
  • Immigration & Asylum
  • Involuntary placement & Mental health care


Human Rights Guide

A European platform for human rights education