DPP circumvents Parliament with the ‘guidance’ on assisted suicide
Undaunted by this, Ms Debbie Purdy decided to take her case to the UK Supreme Court. The court instructed the Director of Public Prosecutions to issue a policy statement, setting out his approach to the law. This was done and we have until December 16th to respond with our views.
The DPP has set out a number of 'less likely to prosecute' categories and the organisation Care Not Killing has responded, outlining some serious concerns.
CNK considers that this interim policy statement is not fit for purpose in its present form. There are serious defects both in its underlying principles and in several of the specific prosecution criteria proposed.
Though the statement disclaims any intention either to change the law or to offer immunity from prosecution for assisters of suicides, the approach it adopts to clarifying prosecution policy for this offence risks producing these outcomes.
In particular, it does not take as its starting point the guideline laid down in the current Code for Crown Prosecutors that ‘a prosecution will usually take place unless there are public interest factors tending against prosecution’ and it gives the appearance of a shift in the role of the CPS from one of enforcing the law other than in exceptional circumstances to one of arbitrating, in an even-handed manner, between the merits and demerits of prosecuting those who assist suicides. In particular, there are specific categories set out which are both discriminatory and dangerously unrealistic and as such pose serious dangers to public safety:
1) the victim is disabled or seriously/terminally ill - despite the fact that Parliament has repeatedly rejected legalising assisted suicide for terminally ill people and that it is a fundamental principle of the criminal law that its protection should be afforded equally to all, irrespective of their age, sex, race, religion – and state of health.
2) the victim has attempted suicide before - even though this often indicates mental illness and in prisons or hospitals such a history is grounds for extra vigilance.
3) the ‘assister’ is a spouse, partner, or close family member - even though elder abuse (physical, emotional and financial) often occurs within apparently ‘loving families’.
There is at least one case where a disturbed young woman (Kerrie Wooltorton), who had attempted suicide nine times before, drank antifreeze in September 2007. She phoned an ambulance and handed the doctors a note to say she did not want them to save her life. The doctors and nurses took this instruction to the letter and let her die. The Mental Capacity act 2005 gives legal force to suicide notes. Her bereaved father said he was ashamed to be British.
George Pitcher wrote in the Telegraph: 'Imagine that the police visit your home and tell you that your child has committed suicide. Now imagine they tell you that ambulance and hospital staff could and would have saved her life but that she handed them a letter asking them not to.'
It also implies that if a mother suffering from post natal depression took an overdose and left a note to the effect that she could not go on and she was unworthy, would that be grounds for the doctors at the hospital to forgo the use of the stomach pump or any emetic to make the poor woman sick? Or would there be a need to have a lawyer on hand to give a judgement? Lawyers, being cautious sort of coves would probably advise to let her die.
What can be done?
The DPP has issues a questionnaire for the public to give their views. Readers and Communicants can download the consultation document HERE.
This will download a Word document which can be completed and emailed to the Crown Prosecution Service. CNK points out that the questionnaire is quite long and complex and this sadly will probably deter many people from completing it in full – or even at all. But it is vital that as many concerned people as possible should complete the questionnaire and thereby make their views known.
If you feel you cannot complete the whole document, please at least try to complete the all-important Question 5 – which appears on pages 12 and 13 and lists various circumstances in which people might not be prosecuted for assisting a suicide. If you disagree with the proposition, it is essential that a number of these circumstances – in particular, those numbered 1, 4, 6, 8 and 11 – should be firmly answered with ‘No’.
The wider issue
We are told that Parliament is supreme and the judges only serve to interpret the law as set out by Parliament.
Here we have a situation where Parliament has given a view and the ‘Supreme Court’ (as we now have) has decided to instruct the DPP to ‘give guidance’. Apart from the sheer brass neck of the Judiciary outflanking Parliament, if such guidance is necessary with a tick-box of rules, why do we need judges at all?