House of Lords challenged on assisted suicide case

Breaking news from the Christian Legal Centre:

Alison Davis is seeking to challenge the House of Lords’ ruling on Debbie Purdy’s assisted suicide case today in the Supreme Court. The decision was made at the end of July and required the Director of Public Prosecutions, Keir Starmer, to publicise his policy on prosecuting cases of assisted suicide. It came in response to the legal challenge by Debbie Purdy, multiple sclerosis sufferer, who wished to ensure that her husband would not face prosecution for helping her to travel to Zurich to commit suicide there. The House of Lords’ decision overturned the judgments of the High Court and the Court of Appeal and required Mr Starmer “to prepare an offence-specific policy identifying the facts and circumstances which he will take into account in deciding whether or not to consent to a prosecution”.

The deadline for Alison Davis to challenge the House of Lords’ decision is today. Alison Davis’s challenge claims that Lord Phillips, senior Law Lord at the time and now President of the Supreme Court was biased in favour of assisted suicide when he and the other four Law Lords made the decision that the law on assisted suicide was “unclear” and required offence-specific guidance for prosecutors concerned with deciding whether to prosecute a suspect for assisting the suicide of another person. Miss Davis’s evidence centres on Lord Phillips’ comments in The Daily Telegraph on 10th September 2009, in which he expressed “enormous sympathy” for terminally-ill patients who want to commit suicide, but need assistance to do so.

Lord Phillips said in his interview with The Daily Telegraph: “I have enormous sympathy with anyone who finds themselves facing a quite hideous termination of their life as a result of one of these horrible diseases, in deciding they would prefer to end their life more swiftly and avoid that death as well as avoiding the pain and distress that might cause their relatives.”

Alison Davis of No Less Human will present a petition arguing that Lord Phillips’ personal sympathy invalidates the House of Lords’ last decision, in the same way that Lord Hoffman’s links to Amnesty International did when he gave a judgment in the case regarding the immunity from prosecution of General Augusto Pinochet of Chile. The legal challenge states that the Purdy ruling is “vitiated by the principle of apparent bias”, and that “the decision of the former House of Lords is ‘unconstitutional’ and usurps the powers of Parliament”. It calls for the Supreme Court to be convened “to reconsider and hear fresh argument on the case of Purdy”. The argument continues: “the expression of the private ‘political’ view of Lord Phillips in The Daily Telegraph after the judgement clearly raises a question in the minds of reasonable and informed people of apparent bias”.

Miss Davis, a wheelchair user with spina bifida, hydrocephalus, emphysema, osteoporosis and arthritis, wrote a letter to accompany her case papers. She said: “The DPP’s guidelines are unfair, unjust, and fatally discriminatory against suffering people, who deserve the same presumption in favour of life as any able bodied person would automatically receive. They have no place in a civilised society.”

Campaigners, argue that Lord Phillips’ personal sympathy for those who wanted to commit suicide means that the proposed interim prosecution policy should not be finalised. The changes made by the interim policy could make it easier for people to coerce their family members, friends or the people for whom they care into killing themselves.

The Lord Advocate, Elish Angiolini QC, has already indicated that no similar guidance will be issued in Scotland, stating that “The Crown recognises the importance of this issue, but any change in the current law related to homicide is properly a matter for the Scottish Parliament.”

Posted on Absolvitor: Scots Law Online.

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2 Responses to House of Lords challenged on assisted suicide case

  1. R.A.C.E. says:

    Interesting article, i’m doing a report on the topic and this has really helped, i’ll post a link on here once it is complete. Thanks for the info.

  2. R.A.C.E. says:

    Interesting article, i’m doing a report on the topic and this has really helped, i’ll post a link on here once it is complete. Thanks for the information.

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