Bouyid v Belgium: The “minimum level of severity” and Human Dignity's Role in Article 3 ECHR

Natasa Mavronicola

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The Grand Chamber of the European Court of Human Rights recently delivered an important judgment on Article 3 ECHR in the case of Bouyid v Belgium. In Bouyid, the Grand Chamber was called upon to consider whether slaps inflicted on a minor and an adult in police custody were in breach of Article 3 ECHR, which provides that ‘No one shall be subjected to torture or to inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment’. Overruling the Chamber judgment in the case, the Grand Chamber ruled by 14 votes to 3 that there had been a substantive violation of Article 3 in that the applicants had been subjected to degrading treatment by members of the Belgian police; it found that there had been a breach of the investigative duty under Article 3 also. In this comment, I focus on the fundamental basis of disagreement between the majority of the Grand Chamber and those who found themselves in dissent, on the question of whether there had been a substantive breach of Article 3. The crux of the disagreement lay in the understanding and application of the test of ‘minimum level of severity’, which the ECtHR has established as decisive of whether a particular form of ill-treatment crosses the Article 3 threshold, seen also in light of Article 3’s absolute character, which makes it non-displaceable – that is, immune to trade-offs of the type applicable in relation to qualified rights such as privacy and freedom of expression. I consider the way the majority of the Grand Chamber unpacked and applied the concept of dignity – or ‘human dignity’ – towards finding a substantive breach of Article 3, and briefly distil some of the principles underpinning the understanding of human dignity emerging in the Court’s analysis.
Original languageEnglish
Number of pages16
JournalCyprus Human Rights Law Review
Publication statusPublished - 21 Apr 2016


  • human rights
  • European Convention on Human Rights
  • violence
  • Article 3 ECHR
  • torture and inhuman and degrading treatment and punishment
  • human dignity

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Law

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