The answer to the question of what it means to say that a right is absolute is often taken for granted, yet still sparks doubt and scepticism. This article investigates absoluteness further, bringing rights theory and the judicial approach on an absolute right together. A theoretical framework is set up that addresses two distinct but potentially related parameters of investigation: the first is what I have labelled the ‘applicability’ criterion, which looks at whether and when the applicability of the standard referred to as absolute can be displaced, in other words whether other considerations can justify its infringement; the second parameter, which I have labelled the ‘specification’ criterion, explores the degree to which and bases on which the content of the standard characterised as absolute is specified. This theoretical framework is then used to assess key principles and issues that arise in the Strasbourg Court’s approach to Article 3. It is suggested that this analysis allows us to explore both the distinction and the interplay between the two parameters in the judicial interpretation of the right and that appreciating the significance of this is fundamental to the understanding of and discourse on the concept of an absolute right.