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Campaigners challenge DPP over assisted-suicide inaction

20 November 2015


TWO disability-rights campaigners have asked the High Court to overturn the revision made by the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) to the organisation’s prosecution policy in cases of assisted suicide.

The policy was brought in after a case in 2009 brought by the euthanasia campaigner Debbie Purdy. The House of Lords — in its last judgment before the Supreme Court took over its judicial function — ordered the DPP to prepare guidelines so that people could know when certain actions might lead to a prosecution. It said that the lack of clarity was a violation of the right to a private and family life.

The former DPP, Sir Keir Starmer, now a Labour MP, issued preliminary guidance that was finalised after a consultation exercise.

It said that a prosecution was likely to follow if medical personnel helped a person to commit suicide.

In October last year, the new DPP, Alison Saunders, amended the guidance to say that doctors and nurses would be prosecuted only if they had been directly involved in the patient’s care before the suicide.

The disability-rights campaigners Nikki and Merv Kenward, from Clun, in Shropshire, argue that the decision to amend the guidance without further consultation was flawed and whimsical.

Their barrister, Paul Diamond, told Sir Brian Leveson, Mr Justice Wilkie, and Mr Justice Cranston on Monday morning that the liberalisation of the policy was a “substantive change” that had been taken without a proper consultation.

He argued that this was unlawful, and asked the court to overturn the change.

But the DPP and the Attorney General argued that the amendment was merely a “clarification” of the policy.

“We recognise that naturally many will have strong views which are entirely understandable,” Sir Brian Leveson, President of the Queen’s Bench Division, said. He described the issues raised by the case as “sensitive and difficult.”

Judgment was reserved.

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