Assisted Suicide: when should we prosecute?
The new prosecution policy, published this week by Keir Starmer QC, Director of Public Prosecutions, applies directly to the jurisdiction of England and Wales. Similar guidelines were simultaneously published by the Public Prosecution Service in Northern Ireland. We'll explore the new guidelines on tomorrow's Sunday Sequence with the legal expert Joshua Rosenburg.
Keir Starmer said: "The policy is now more focused on the motivation of the suspect rather than the characteristics of the victim. The policy does not change the law on assisted suicide. It does not open the door for euthanasia. It does not override the will of Parliament. What it does is to provide a clear framework for prosecutors to decide which cases should proceed to court and which should not. Assessing whether a case should go to court is not simply a question of adding up the public interest factors for and against prosecution and seeing which has the greater number. It is not a tick-box exercise. Each case has to be considered on its own facts and merits."
More than 5000 people contributed to the public consultation process which produced this new policy. In assessing the motivation of the suspect, the policy will consider 16 public interest factors in favour of prosecution, and 6 public interest factors against prosecution. I've listed these below the fold.
Public interest factors in favour of prosecution
1. The victim was under 18 years of age.
2. The victim did not have the capacity (as defined by the Mental Capacity Act 2005) to reach an informed decision to commit suicide.
3. The victim had not reached a voluntary, clear, settled and informed decision to commit suicide.
4. The victim had not clearly and unequivocally communicated his or her decision to commit suicide to the suspect.
5. The victim did not seek the encouragement or assistance of the suspect personally or on his or her own initiative.
6. The suspect was not wholly motivated by compassion; for example, the suspect was motivated by the prospect that he or she or a person closely connected to him or her stood to gain in some way from the death of the victim.
7. The suspect pressured the victim to commit suicide.
8. The suspect did not take reasonable steps to ensure that any other person had not pressured the victim to commit suicide.
9. The suspect had a history of violence or abuse against the victim.
10. The victim was physically able to undertake the act that constituted the assistance himself or herself.
11. The suspect was unknown to the victim and encouraged or assisted the victim to commit or attempt to commit suicide by providing specific information via, for example, a website or publication.
12. The suspect gave encouragement or assistance to more than one victim who were not known to each other.
13. The suspect was paid by the victim or those close to the victim for his or her encouragement or assistance.
14. The suspect was acting in his or her capacity as a medical doctor, nurse, other healthcare professional, a professional carer (whether for payment or not), or as a person in authority, such as a prison officer, and the victim was in his or her care.
15. The suspect was aware that the victim intended to commit suicide in a public place where it was reasonable to think that members of the public may be present.
16. The suspect was acting in his or her capacity as a person involved in the management or as an employee (whether for payment or not) of an organisation or group, a purpose of which is to provide a physical environment (whether for payment or not) in which to allow another to commit suicide.
Public interest factors against prosecution
1. The victim had reached a voluntary, clear, settled and informed decision to commit suicide.
2. The suspect was wholly motivated by compassion.
3. The actions of the suspect, although sufficient to come within the definition of the crime, were of only minor encouragement or assistance.
4. The suspect had sought to dissuade the victim from taking the course of action which resulted in his or her suicide.
5. The actions of the suspect may be characterised as reluctant encouragement or assistance in the face of a determined wish on the part of the victim to commit suicide.
6. The suspect reported the victim's suicide to the police and fully assisted them in their enquiries into the circumstances of the suicide or the attempt and his or her part in providing encouragement or assistance.