WE ARE A MAGAZINE ABOUT LAW AND JUSTICE | AND THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN THE TWO
May 21 2024
WE ARE A MAGAZINE ABOUT LAW AND JUSTICE | AND THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN THE TWO
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CPS revisits mercy killing guidance to ‘fill the void’ left by parliament’s inaction on assisted dying

CPS revisits mercy killing guidance to ‘fill the void’ left by parliament’s inaction on assisted dying

2012 Koestler awards: Blossom, Reaside Clinic

The Crown Prosecution Service has this week began a three month consultation on revising its guidance on ‘mercy killing’ and suicide pact cases including allowing for additional ‘public interest’ factors when a loved one acts ‘wholly out of compassion’ for the deceased.

The draft guidance removes previous advice that in the case of a suspected mercy killing a prosecution is ‘almost certainly required‘ and, according to the Director of Public Prosecutions Max Hastings QC, the changes could ‘avoid placing a loving husband or a loving wife in court’ if they helped a partner to end their life.

Hill explained: ‘What we’re saying under the new guidance is that a prosecution may be required, but there are circumstances where actually, even where you have the evidence, you may be able to move away from prosecution – for example, where there is evidence of a settled intention on the part of the victim that their life should come to an end, and that what happens is at the time of their choosing.’

The Campaign for Dignity in Dying has welcomed the consultation, saying this week that the new guidance ‘recognises that mercy killing and suicide pacts are different from murder and manslaughter, and that they should be treated differently by our criminal justice system. Differentiating acts of compassion from serious crimes is an important milestone on the road to law change’.

However, the group criticises the ongoing ‘blanket ban’ on assisted dying in the UK, stating the CPS ‘has been forced to fill the void of Parliament’s inaction, attempting to patch up laws that urgently require proper reform’.

This updated guidance would move the CPS’s position on mercy killing closer to that of encouraging or assisting suicide, the guidance for which was updated in 2010. If passed, prosecution would be less likely when ‘the actions of the suspect may be considered as reluctant’, if the victim was too unwell to take their own life, and if the suspect fully complied with a police investigation.

Although the new guidance would differentiate suspected acts of compassion from other violent crimes, the CPS would recommend prosecution where the victim was under 18, they had not ‘clearly and unequivocally’ expressed their wish to end their life, of if the crime was committed by a healthcare professional. They advise in such cases prosecution would more than likely be in the public interest – “if a life is taken, which is not at the time of the victim’s choosing, then this will remain an offence of murder and can be charged as murder”.

 


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