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Ireland v. The United Kingdom, No. 5310/71, ECtHR (Plenary), 18 January 1978


Extrajudicial deprivation of liberty of alleged terrorists. Lawful derogation from the European Convention on Human Rights in time of emergency. Illegitimate derogation from Art. 3 ECHR in time of emergency. Margin of appreciation of Contracting States in derogating from the Convention.

Normative references

Art. 15 ECHR
Art. 5 ECHR
Art. 3 ECHR


1. Extrajudicial measures of detention and internment of suspected terrorists taken in time of a public emergency threatening the life of the nation, that do not exceed the extent strictly required by the exigencies of the situation, do not breach Article 5, paras. 1, 2, 3 and 4 ECHR.

2. Contracting States have a wide margin of appreciation both as regards to the decision to call a state of emergency pursuant to Article 15 ECHR and as regards to the choice of the measures needed to face it. However, national authorities do not enjoy unlimited power in this respect. It is for the Court to rule whether the measures adopted have gone beyond the extent strictly required by the exigencies of the situation and if adequate safeguards have been provided against potential abuses.

3. The so called “five techniques” deployed to interrogate suspected terrorists by the British Government breach Article 3 ECHR, as they constitute inhuman or degrading treatment. The Court underlines that the acts at issue were not serious enough to amount to torture and it clarifies that the decisive criteria to differentiate between torture and inhuman or degrading treatment is the intensity and cruelty of the suffering inflicted. In any case, no derogation from Article 3 ECHR is permissible under Article 15 ECHR.
(In the present case, Ireland complained about the extrajudicial powers of arrest and detention exercised against suspected members of terrorist organizations by the British authorities from 1971 to 1975).


In the case of Ireland v. The United Kingdom, 10 September 2018, No. 5310/71 (request for revision of the judgment of 18 January 1978), the European Court of Human Rights refused to revise its 1978 judgment regarding whether British security forces’ use of the so-called “five techniques” of interrogation during the conflict in Northern Ireland amounted to torture under Article 3 ECHR.