THE Bishop of St Albans, Dr Alan Smith, has launched a move to change the inquest laws to highlight the part played by gambling if someone affected by it takes his or her own life.
Dr Smith has already supported the successful campaign for a ban on gambling with credit cards, which comes into effect in April, and for the reduction of the maximum stake on fixed-odds betting terminals (News, 17 January).
His Private Member’s Bill, introduced into the House of Lords on Thursday of last week, would compel coroners to include gambling addiction among the circumstances in which a person took his or her own life. Campaigners estimate that two suicides every working day are linked to gambling. Dr Smith said: “I have introduced this common sense piece of legislation so the Government can begin to get a handle on the consequences of gambling-related harm.
“I have met far too many families whose lives have been destroyed by the loss of a loved one — often young adults who have their entire lives ahead of them. As there is no accurate, up-to-date data linking gambling with suicide, their desire to get the Government to take action has often been stymied.
“This Bill would change that. For the first time, we would have annually available accurate records showing gambling as a cause in every [relevant] suicide in the country. I expect the first data-set will shock policymakers from their complacency and help to stop our society from continuing to sleepwalk through this crisis.”
Dr Smith said that he expected both the Goverment and the gambling industry to support his Bill, as it would provide data that was currently unrecorded. “This Bill will support health-care professionals who see an underfunded NHS spending an estimated £1 billion every year on treatment, and will help them understand the scale of the problem and strengthen their case for more action,” he said.
Last May, the Court of Appeal for England and Wales handed down a ruling that is likely to increase the number of deaths recorded as suicide. Rather than the previous criminal standard (beyond reasonable doubt), the ruling has reduced the standard of proof for a suicide conclusion to the civil standard (the balance of probabilities).
Suicide-prevention charities have campaigned for the civil standard for some time, as they believe that it will give a more accurate picture of the extent of the problem. Also, besides removing the perceived stigma of a criminal standard, they believe that the resulting higher figures should give the problem an increased political priority.