Ms Purdy is terminally ill with multiple sclerosis and wanted the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) to clarify whether or not an individual could assist someone to travel to another country where assisted suicide is legal and not be prosecuted on return to the UK.
As part of her case, Ms Purdy contended that the assisted suicide prohibition in the 1961 Suicide Act constituted an interference with her rights, within the context of her private life, under article 8(1) of the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR) .
Thus, on the these grounds Purdy argued that she had a right to decide to kill herself and that this right was infringed upon by the prohibitions set out in the 1961 Suicide Act.
On the 30th July 2009, the Law Lords issued their ruling.
The five Law Lords took the European Court’s analysis of a previous case, Pretty v. DPP, as the foundation upon which to establish their verdict on the issues raised by Ms. Purdy.
In delivering his verdict, Lord Hope noted that the way Ms Purdy chooses to pass the closing moments of her life is part of the act of living and she has the right to ask that this is respected. This is something that she chooses to do herself and with that understanding necessities her private life being engaged in the process of choosing death over life .
On this basis all five Law Lords agreed that the right to respect for private life in Article 8(1) was engaged in the case brought by Ms Purdy.
Furthermore, they concluded that the assisted suicide prohibition in the 1961 Suicide Act did constitute an interference with that right, because the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) for England and Wales had failed to provide an offence-specific prosecution policy for assisted suicide.
Owing to the absence of an appropriate policy, such interference violated Article 8(2) of the Convention and in so doing was not in “accordance with the law”.
Thus, people such as Ms Purdy lacked the necessary information to inform their decision about their private lives and counter any challenge mounted by the DPP and Crown Prosecutors “in deciding under section 2(4) of the 1961 Act whether or not it is in the public interest to bring a prosecution under that section”.
Consequently the Law Lords ordered the DPP to immediately draw up a policy that would clarify when prosecutions would and would not be pursued. However, the law lords also ruled that changes in the law on assisted suicide could only be decided upon by Parliament.
An interim policy was subsequently published by the CPS in September 2009 and took effect immediately.
Whilst the interim policy was praised for not helping to change the law on assisted suicide, it was nevertheless deemed to be rather misleading and ambiguous providing plenty of room for misinterpretation.
Following a public consultation period, a finalised policy was published on 25th February 2010. Whilst certain problems still remain, the final policy is a significant improvement upon the interim guidelines.
Previously where those who are disabled or ill were seemingly singled out and given less legal protection than other people, this has been removed .
No, the law has not changed. What has changed is the guidance issued to CPS lawyers to decide whether charging someone who assists a suicide is in the public interest.
Image source (Royal Courts of Justice): FreeFoto.com
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