Upholding the rights of a child placed in solitary confinement

R (AB) v Secretary of State for Justice [2021] UKSC 28

AB, a child aged 15, was confined to his cell in a Young Offenders Institution (YOI) for 23 hours per day for 55 days. He was required to eat in his cell and allowed 30 minutes to shower, exercise and call his parents. He could hear the other boys socialising while he was locked in his cell.

Legal issue

The Supreme Court was asked to decide whether such prolonged solitary confinement of a child automatically breached Article 3 of the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR), which prohibits inhuman and degrading treatment. 


A child was placed in solitary confinement for prolonged periods of time in a Youth Offenders Institute.

Why we were involved

We are concerned about the use of solitary confinement in respect of children, especially in youth detention settings.

What we did

We intervened in the case, which is when we provide expert advice or evidence to help the court with the issues they are considering.

We said that, in some circumstances, such as AB’s, there should be a strong presumption of a breach of Article 3, but whether or not there was a breach depended on an analysis of all the relevant facts and circumstances in any given case.

What happened

The Supreme Court dismissed the appeal. It held that every case must be considered on its facts and there is no rule that means that solitary confinement of a child will automatically breach Article 3 ECHR.  

Who will benefit and how

Although there is no automatic rule that solitary confinement will breach Article 3, the Supreme Court made clear that it should only be ordered exceptionally.

It remains essential that a human rights based approach is taken whenever the solitary confinement of a child is being considered to ensure their rights are respected.

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