Nick Cartwright: A verdict that forces the hand of prosecutors

Share
Related Topics

The House of Lords judgment fails to address the question of whether travelling abroad with a loved one is the criminal act of assisted suicide – but it does require the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) to publish guidelines on how he makes a decision to prosecute, or not.

So far, more than 100 Britons have travelled to the Swiss assisted suicide clinic Dignitas, but there has yet to be a single prosecution. The offence carries a maximum sentence of 14 years in prison.

The guidelines would most likely build on the DPP's decision not to prosecute the family of the rugby player Daniel James, who went to Dignitas for an assisted death even though he was not terminally ill. They will have to clearly set out the circumstances in which loved ones would not be prosecuted, giving reassurance to thousands who would otherwise have been deterred, and opening the way to decriminalised suicide tourism.

The guidelines are likely to be sympathetic in nature. Lord Brown has said they should reflect that many people who assist a loved one to die "may fairly hope to be, if not commended, at the very least forgiven".

The House of Lords ruled that the right to a private life under Article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights extended to a protection of personal autonomy and ultimately the right to have choices over the timing and manner of one's own death. This interpretation is in line with how the European Court of Justice has interpreted the right.

The public policy reasons the DPP was hoping would protect him from having to publish guidelines were rejected by their lordships and quite correctly their lordships are demanding precise guidelines guaranteeing legal certainty.

In its legislative capacity, the House of Lords had earlier rejected Lord Falconer's amendment to the Coroners and Justice Bill which would have legalised assisting someone to travel abroad to die, provided that adequate safeguards were met. Unless Parliament acts to bring about a change in the law, assisting someone to travel abroad could become decriminalised, without these safeguards.

Nick Cartwright is an expert in medico-legal decision-making at the University of Reading and is currently writing a commentary on the case of Debbie Purdy for the "Medical Law Review", the UK's authoritative source of reference on health care and the law, which will involve an analysis of judicial reasoning in the High Court, Court of Appeal and House of Lords

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Home Care / Support Workers

£7 - £10 per hour: Recruitment Genius: This care provider is looking for Home ...

Recruitment Genius: Web Team Leader

£30000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: One of the UK's leading web des...

Recruitment Genius: Client Manager

£27000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A growing, successful, friendly...

Recruitment Genius: Property Negotiator - OTE £20,000+

£16000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This family owned, independent ...

Day In a Page

Read Next
Separate lives: Boston’s streets illustrate the divide between the town’s communities  

Migrants have far more to offer than hard work and wealth creation, yet too many exist in isolation from the rest of society

Emily Dugan
Harper Lee's To Kill a Mockingbird has sold 40 million copies  

Go Set a Watchman: Harper Lee’s new novel is more than just a literary event

Joseph Charlton
Greece says 'No': A night of huge celebrations in Athens as voters decisively back Tsipras and his anti-austerity stance in historic referendum

Greece referendum

Greeks say 'No' to austerity and plunge Europe into crisis
Ten years after the 7/7 terror attacks, is Britain an altered state?

7/7 bombings anniversary

Ten years after the terror attacks, is Britain an altered state?
Beautiful evening dresses are some of the loveliest Donatella has created

Versace haute couture review

Beautiful evening dresses are some of the loveliest Donatella has ever created
No hope and no jobs, so Gaza's young risk their lives, climb the fence and run for it

No hope and no jobs in Gaza

So the young risk their lives and run for it
Fashion apps: Retailers roll together shopping and social networking for mobile customers

Fashion apps

Retailers roll together shopping and social networking for mobile customers
The Greek referendum exposes a gaping hole at the heart of the European Union – its distinct lack of any genuine popular legitimacy

Gaping hole at the heart of the European Union

Treatment of Greece has shown up a lack of genuine legitimacy
Number of young homeless in Britain 'more than three times the official figures'

'Everything changed when I went to the hostel'

Number of young homeless people in Britain is 'more than three times the official figures'
Compton Cricket Club

Compton Cricket Club

Portraits of LA cricketers from notorious suburb to be displayed in London
London now the global money-laundering centre for the drug trade, says crime expert

Wlecome to London, drug money-laundering centre for the world

'Mexico is its heart and London is its head'
The Buddhist temple minutes from Centre Court that helps a winner keep on winning

The Buddhist temple minutes from Centre Court

It helps a winner keep on winning
Is this the future of flying: battery-powered planes made of plastic, and without flight decks?

Is this the future of flying?

Battery-powered planes made of plastic, and without flight decks
Isis are barbarians – but the Caliphate is a dream at the heart of all Muslim traditions

Isis are barbarians

but the Caliphate is an ancient Muslim ideal
The Brink's-Mat curse strikes again: three tons of stolen gold that brought only grief

Curse of Brink's Mat strikes again

Death of John 'Goldfinger' Palmer the latest killing related to 1983 heist
Greece debt crisis: 'The ministers talk to us about miracles' – why Greeks are cynical ahead of the bailout referendum

'The ministers talk to us about miracles'

Why Greeks are cynical ahead of the bailout referendum
Call of the wild: How science is learning to decode the way animals communicate

Call of the wild

How science is learning to decode the way animals communicate