Last updated 1 December 2020
Section 16 of the Human Rights Act 2019 (Qld) (Human Rights Act) states that every person has the right to life and the right not to be arbitrarily deprived of life.
Under s 16, public entities have both a negative obligation to avoid arbitrarily depriving a person of life as well as certain positive obligations, such as protecting the life of people in their care. The right to life also overlaps with the right to access health services, which includes the right not to be refused emergency medical treatment immediately necessary to save a person’s life.
Section 16 does not affect any law that permits the termination of pregnancy, which has been decriminalised in Queensland.
Section 16 of the Human Rights Act has an internal limitation—it only prohibits arbitrary deprivation of life. It is likely that deaths caused by public entities and excused by defences such as provocation or self-defence under the Criminal Act 1899 (Qld) will not be considered arbitrary. See ‘Defences against Criminal Charges’ in the Offenders and Victims chapter for more information.
The right to life will also be subject to the general limitation provision in s 13 of the Human Rights Act. This provides human rights may be subject under law to reasonable limits, which are justified in a free and democratic society. See ‘Human Rights may be Limited’ for further explanation.
The right to life in s 16 of the Human Rights Act may be engaged in the following circumstances:
- coronial court proceedings under the Coroners Act 2003 (Qld), including where it is alleged the death has been caused by a public entity such as police
- applications brought by a hospital seeking a declaration to allow the withdrawal or withholding of life-sustaining medical treatment.
This right is also likely to be raised whenever someone dies in the care of a public entity (e.g. in a death-in-custody complaint against police, where the use of force results in death, and where the delivery of medical treatment, or failure to provide it, by a public health service results in a death).
These examples have been adapted from Australian cases. They are provided by way of example only, and are not a substitute for legal advice.