Reassessment of the Ireland v. the United Kingdom ECtHR case: A lost opportunity to clarify the distinction between torture and ill-treatment


  • Vesna Stefanovska Legal Researcher, Institute for Human Rights, Republic of North Macedonia



torture, inhuman treatment, five techniques, psychological torture, interrogation


Introduction: In the 1978 Ireland v. the United Kingdom case, the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) did not consider that the so called "five techniques" caused enough severity to be considered torture. The intentionality criterion, outlined in the Convention against Torture’s definition of torture, was also not fully considered. The Istanbul Protocol, which is critical for evidencing torture, did not exist at that time. Although a re-opening of the case was requested in 2014 by Ireland, forensic documentation using the Istanbul Protocol was not used; in 2018, the ECtHR decided against re-opening the case. Objective: By using the Ireland v. The United Kingdom case, this paper aims to map the origins of the five techniques, review whether applying them constitutes torture, analyze the information about the claimants available 30 years later, and explore the ramifications of the ECtHR decision not to revise its judgment. Methodology: Relevant texts were gathered from the HUDOC database, Cambridge University Press, Wiley Online Library, SCOPUS and MEDLINE /PubMed, and the Library of the ECtHR in Strasbourg. Discussion/conclusions: The five techniques, elaborated upon in the case of Ireland v. the United Kingdom, were used well before the incidents in Northern Ireland in 1971 and there is evidence that United Kingdom officials have, subsequently, used the techniques. Furthermore, there is clear evidence that the “Hooded Men” had cognitive, psychological and neurovegetative symptoms as a result of the five techniques, which had long-term effects. The ECtHR did not take this into consideration when it decided not to re-open the case and the full implications of this decision for future cases and victims remain to be seen.


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How to Cite

Stefanovska, V. (2019). Reassessment of the Ireland v. the United Kingdom ECtHR case: A lost opportunity to clarify the distinction between torture and ill-treatment: Array. Torture Journal, 29(1), 56–69.