The Care Not Killing Alliance has welcomed the changes made by the DPP in finalised guidelines published today.
Lord Carlile QC, Chairman of CNK, said:
"The DPP was given an impossible task by the law lords following their decision in the Purdy case last summer. His interim guidelines carried very significant risks and we are very glad that he has clearly listened carefully to the many concerns expressed. These revised guidelines greatly reduce the risk of undermining existing law. Our main concern was that the interim guidelines singled out as a group those who were disabled or ill, thereby affording them less protection than other people under the law. We are very glad this has been removed. In other respects as well, these guidelines are a real improvement. They stress that the law has not changed, that no-one has immunity from prosecution, and that a prosecution will normally follow unless there are clear and compelling public interest factors to the contrary. There are still some flaws and problems which will need attention, such as how a compassionate suspects motives are to be determined in practice.
The test of these guidelines will be their application in practice. We will of course be following the handling of such cases with interest."
Care Not Killing Alliance
CNK Press Briefing
The Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) has today issued his revised guidelines on how the Crown Prosecution Service will handle cases of assisted suicide. These revised guidelines amend and update interim guidelines issued in September 2009 as a basis for a public consultation. By the 16 December deadline the DPP had received nearly 5,000 responses.
The revised guidelines are significantly different from what went before. The number of 'factors' which might incline the DPP not to prosecute someone who has assisted a suicide has fallen from 13 to 6. No longer is it being suggested that the CPS might take a more lenient view of assistance given to sick or disabled people than to others or that spouses and close family members should be regarded more leniently as assisters because of their relationship with the deceased. These are welcome changes. The sick and disabled must have the same protection under the law as the rest of us: there must be no second-class citizens. And it is important to recognise that family dynamics are often complex and that spouses and other family members are not invariably 'loved ones'
The suggestion in the earlier version of the guidelines that a history of suicide attempts might be a reason not to prosecute has also gone. And, among the 16 factors that might inclined the CPS to bring charges, a new one has appeared - where "the suspect was acting in his or her capacity as a medical doctor, nurse or other health care professional…and the victim was in his or her care". In other words, these guidelines will not pave the way for physician-assisted suicide, a particularly dangerous variant of the offence given the relationship of trust that obtains between patients and their doctors.
The guidelines also make clear that anyone who assists a suicide must expect to be prosecuted. It states that "a prosecution will usually take place unless the prosecutor is sure that there are public interest factors tending against prosecution that outweigh those tending in favour". In other words, unless there are clear and compelling reasons not to prosecute, you will end up before the courts.
The new guidelines are not without their weaknesses. For example, it is not at all clear how it is to be established in any case of assisted suicide that "the suspect was wholly motivated by compassion" (one of the six factors against prosecution). But their general tenor is one of good sense and they show greater concern for public safety than did the earlier 'interim' version.
Care Not Killing submitted its response to the interim guidelines last November, and it is clear that the DPP has taken on board most of the concerns expressed at that time.
Publishing final guidelines is not, however, the end of the matter. It remains to be seen how they will be implemented. The CPS has shown recently, in the case of Kay Gilderdale, that it will not hesitate to prosecute where necessary. What is needed now, to maintain public confidence in the protection of the law, is total transparency of CPS prosecution decisions in cases of assisted suicide.
Care Not Killing Alliance
Summary of the final DPP guidelines
The full DPP guidelines
Responses to the consultation