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DPP publishes interim policy on prosecuting assisted suicide
Launching his interim policy on prosecuting cases of assisted suicide today, the Director of Public Prosecutions, Keir Starmer QC, called for public participation in a 12-week consultation on the factors he has identified which will be taken into account when considering whether prosecutions will be brought for this offence.
Mr Starmer said: "Following the instructions of the Law Lords in the case of Debbie Purdy, I am today clarifying those factors of public interest which I believe weigh for or against prosecuting someone for assisting another to take their own life. Assisting suicide has been a criminal offence for nearly fifty years and my interim policy does nothing to change that.
"There are also no guarantees against prosecution and it is my job to ensure that the most vulnerable people are protected while at the same time giving enough information to those people, like Ms Purdy, who want to be able to make informed decisions about what actions they may choose to take."
The public interest factors in favour of prosecution identified in the interim policy include that:
- The victim was under 18 years of age;
- The victim's capacity to reach an informed decision was adversely affected by a recognised mental illness or learning difficulty;
- The victim did not have a clear, settled and informed wish to commit suicide; for example, the victim's history suggests that his or her wish to commit suicide was temporary or subject to change;
- The victim did not indicate unequivocally to the suspect that he or she wished to commit suicide;
- The victim did not ask personally on his or her own initiative for the assistance of the suspect;
- The victim did not have a terminal illness; or a severe and incurable physical disability; or a severe degenerative physical condition from which there was no possibility of recovery;
- The suspect was not wholly motivated by compassion; for example, the suspect was motivated by the prospect that they or a person closely connected to them stood to gain in some way from the death of the victim;
- The suspect persuaded, pressured or maliciously encouraged the victim to commit suicide, or exercised improper influence in the victim's decision to do so; and did not take reasonable steps to ensure that any other person did not do so.
The public interest factors against a prosecution include that:
- The victim had a clear, settled and informed wish to commit suicide;
- The victim indicated unequivocally to the suspect that he or she wished to commit suicide;
- The victim asked personally on his or her own initiative for the assistance of the suspect;
- The victim had a terminal illness or a severe and incurable physical disability or a severe degenerative physical condition from which there was no possibility of recovery;
- The suspect was wholly motivated by compassion;
- The suspect was the spouse, partner or a close relative or a close personal friend of the victim, within the context of a long-term and supportive relationship;
- The actions of the suspect, although sufficient to come within the definition of the offence, were of only minor assistance or influence, or the assistance which the suspect provided was as a consequence of their usual lawful employment.
Mr Starmer continued: "As this policy states, assessing the public interest is not simply a matter of adding up the number of factors on each side and seeing which side of the scales has the greater number. Each case must be considered on its own facts and its own merits. Prosecutors must decide the importance of each public interest factor in the circumstances of each case and go on to make an overall assessment.
"I also want to make it perfectly clear that this policy does not, in any way, permit euthanasia. The taking of life by another person is murder or manslaughter - which are among the most serious criminal offences.
"I recognise how sensitive this area of law is and I respect the fact that there are many people who hold strong views on assisted suicide. I want to hear those views and that is why I have also launched a public consultation today. By considering as many views as possible, I can produce a final policy which is faithful to both the law and public feeling."
The interim policy can be seen at www.cps.gov.uk and from today the public can feedback their comments directly. The public consultation will be open until 16 December, after which a summary of the consultation responses will be published. The finalised policy will be issued in Spring 2010.
Notes to Editors
- Section 2(1) Suicide Act 1961 provides: "A person who aids, abets, counsels or procures the suicide of another, or an attempt by another to commit suicide, shall be liable on conviction on indictment to imprisonment for a term not exceeding fourteen years."
- The Suicide Act 1961 is applicable when a substantial part of the aiding, abetting, procuring or counselling of the suicide occurs in England or Wales. The suicide itself can be committed in any country.
- As with every other case, the test set out in the Code for Crown Prosecutors (the Code) will be applied: there must be enough evidence to provide a realistic prospect of conviction. If the case does not pass that evidential stage, it must not go ahead no matter how important or serious it may be. If the case does pass the evidential stage, consideration must be given to whether a prosecution is needed in the public interest.
- The Code sets out a substantial number of factors both for and against prosecution in all types of cases. The interim policy sets out further factors which are more directly related to cases of assisted suicide which also need to be considered.
- Video footage of the Director of Public Prosecutions, Keir Starmer QC, making a statement on his guidelines will be available for download from the CPS website at www.cps.gov.uk later today.
- Media enquiries to CPS Press Office on 020 7796 8127 or 020 7710 6088.
- The Crown Prosecution Service is the independent authority responsible for prosecuting criminal cases investigated by the police in England and Wales. It is responsible for:
- Advising the police and reviewing the evidence on cases for possible prosecution
- Deciding the charge where the decision is to prosecute
- Preparing cases for court
- Presenting cases at court
- The CPS consists of 42 Areas in total, each headed by a Chief Crown Prosecutor (CCP). These are organised into 14 Groups, plus CPS London, each overseen by Group Chair, a senior CCP. In addition there are four specialised national divisions: Organised Crime, Special Crime, Counter-Terrorism and the Fraud Prosecution Service. A telephone service, CPS Direct, provides out-of-hours advice and decisions to police officers across England and Wales. The CPS employs around 8,250 people and prosecuted 1,032,598 cases with an overall conviction rate of 86.6% in 2008-2009. Further information can be found on our website.
- The CPS, together with ACPO and media representatives, has developed a Protocol for the release of prosecution material to the media. This sets out the type of prosecution material that will normally be released, or considered for release, together with the factors we will take into account when considering requests.
Key Facts - Assisted Suicide Interim Policy
Decision to Charge
Once the Police have completed their investigations, they will refer the case to the Crown Prosecution Service for advice on how to proceed. We will then make a decision on whether a suspect should be charged, and what that charge should be.