Risk To Life

No. 17 of #50cases.

“Melanie Rabone hanged herself from a tree in Lyme Park, Cheshire. She was 24 years of age and was the loved daughter of Mr and Mrs Rabone.”

This powerful statement by a judge still doesn’t capture the extent of the tragedy. Melanie was admitted to hospital after a suicide attempt. She was assessed as being at ‘high risk’ of another attempt. But she was allowed to go home, instead of being kept in hospital to receive care. The next day she went to Lyme Park, carrying her own noose in her hands.

Melanie’s parents believed the hospital had been negligent: the hospital knew how vulnerable she was, but still let her leave because she was a ‘voluntary’ patient, that is, she wasn’t detained at the hospital. The existing UK law could not help them. Melanie was 24. In the eyes of domestic law, a parent’s loss is only recognised if their child is younger than 18. In the eyes of the existing law, her parents suffered no loss. But in the real, breathing, feeling world Melanie’s parents had suffered the greatest loss they could.

The Human Rights Act overcame this gaping hole in domestic law. The Act enshrines a right to life. This means public authorities, including the National Health Service, a duty to take active steps to protect individuals under threat – including from themselves. Breaching this duty is unjustifiable when there is a real and immediate risk to life, and reasonable actions could protect that person. The Supreme Court accepted the hospital had an important duty of care to Melanie. The judges said it was simple and feasible to stop her from leaving this care. Melanie’s right to life had therefore been violated, and her parents were indeed victims.

After the judgment, Mr. Rabone said it achieved something worthwhile. Because of it, fewer parents would suffer the horrors contained in the statement at the beginning.

This story is a short summary of a legal decision. You can read the full text here

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