New supercourt to rule in 'right-to-die' cases

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The Independent Online

The Government is to create a new "super court" to rule in controversial "right-to-die" cases and all health treatments affecting the mentally ill.

The Government is to create a new "super court" to rule in controversial "right-to-die" cases and all health treatments affecting the mentally ill.

The court will decide cases like that of Tony Bland, whose parents asked doctors to switch off his life-support machine following injuries he suffered in the Hillsborough football stadium tragedy. Judges, specialising in mental incapacity issues, will also act as a final court of dispute in all cases where a request has been made to withdraw food and drink from a patient in a persistent vegetative state (PVS).

The Lord Chancellor, Lord Irvine of Lairg, is also considering allowing the court to hear applications for the sterilisation of mentally ill patients.

The new Court of Protection will have a London and regional jurisdiction over the health care, personal welfare and financial affairs of the mentally ill or incapacitated. Previously, right-to-die, PVS, and sterilisation cases were heard in the High Court.

The role of the "super court" and new legal powers for people who look after the mentally incapacitated will be set out in a mental health law Bill which is soon expected to be brought before Parliament.

But the Government said yesterday that it had not been persuaded by the Law Commission's argument that living wills - advance directives allowing people to set out instructions about how they wish to be medically treated if they become mentally incapacitated - should be given statutory authority.

Instead, it said that the legal status of living wills was as stated in the Tony Bland case, in which the Court of Appeal and the House of Lords ruled that an advance directive was as effective as the decision of a capable adult.

The Lord Chancellor also backed away from the commission's recommendation for a criminal charge for people who use their new powers to ill-treat those in their care, saying the results of its consultation showed that this may not be the best way to tackle such abuse. Lord Irvine also announced that the Government will introduce wider powers for people who want to nominate others to handle their affairs in the future in case they become mentally incapacitated.

The Government report Making Decisions was published yesterday following detailed consideration of the response to its 1997 consultation paper Who Decides?