Court of Appeal ruling on holding children in solitary confinement

R (on the application of AB (a child by his mother & litigation friend CD)) (appellant) v secretary of state for justice (Respondent) & youth justice board (interested party) & equality & human rights commission (intervener) (2019)

The Court of Appeal held that keeping a 15 year old in solitary confinement for 8 weeks was not a breach of his Article 3 ECHR right not to be subjected to inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment.


The appellant had been sentenced to a Detention and Training Order and sent to a Young Offenders’ Institution. Following conflict with staff and other children, he was prevented from leaving his cell when other children were out of theirs, which amounted to being held in solitary confinement.

The court held that the appellant’s treatment did not amount to a breach of Article 3.  Breaches of the Young Offender Institution Rules 2009 and the compulsory education requirement did not amount to a breach of Article 3. There was no bright line rule that that the solitary confinement of any child constituted inhuman or degrading treatment. The appellant’s confinement was for his own protection and that of others. It was reasonable to take account of the institution’s lack of resources, although this alone would not excuse a breach of Article 3. Preventing the appellant associating with others was not a breach of his right to respect for private life under Article 8 ECHR as it was necessary and proportionate and therefore not unlawful.


The damaging impact of solitary confinement on the mental health of children is significant and long lasting. It is difficult to imagine circumstances in which locking a child in a cell for 22 hours a day could be considered ‘humane’ within its ordinary meaning and in that respect the judgment is disappointing.