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McCann v. United Kingdom

European Court of Human Rights
21 E.H.R.R. 97 (1996)


United Kingdom authorities suspected that Daniel McCann, Sean Savage, and Mairead Farrell, members of the Provisional Irish Republican Army (IRA), were plotting to detonate a car bomb at the changing of the guard in Gibraltar. As part of the briefing for their mission to thwart the bombing, Special Air Service (SAS) soldiers were told, based on intelligence received by authorities, that there would be a large car bomb that could be detonated by radio devices by the push of a button. The soldiers were also trained to shoot to kill because of the decreased time for action resulting from these push-button devices. Two days before the alleged plan was to be carried out, the three suspects arrived in Gibraltar and were secretly followed by undercover soldiers, who were carrying concealed weapons. The suspects exited their car, and McCann appeared to notice one of the soldiers. When the suspects made sudden movements, the soldiers shot and killed them out of fear that they were moving to detonate a bomb. It was later determined that McCann, Savage, and Farrell were unarmed and did not have detonating devices on them. Authorities found keys to the suspects’ car, and a later search uncovered keys to a second car, which was found to contain various explosives and ammunition. Relatives of McCann, Savage, and Farrell (plaintiffs) sued the United Kingdom’s Ministry of Defence (defendant), arguing that the killings were unlawful and unjustified. The suits were dismissed on sovereign immunity grounds. The relatives then brought complaints to the European Commission on Human Rights (the Commission), based on violations of Article 2 of the European Convention on Human Rights (the Convention). The Commission concluded that no violation had occurred, and that decision came before the European Court of Human Rights for review.

Rule of Law


Holding and Reasoning

Dissent (Ryssdal, J.)

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