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Suicide review

June 2015

The High Court has granted permission for a judicial review of the Director of Public Prosecutions’ (DPP) action in amending the assisted suicide prosecution policy.

According to a statement from the Christian Legal Centre (CLC), two members of the public, Nikki and Merv Kenward, sought the judicial review, because they believe the DPP’s action liberalises the enforcement of the law on assisted suicide and could put vulnerable people at risk. Nikki Kenward was paralysed by Guillain-Barré Syndrome (GBS) in 1990. Now, she and her husband Merv campaign with the Distant Voices group to resist changes in law that would allow assisted suicide and euthanasia.

Referring to a court case brought by the Nicklinson family in 2014 where the Appeal Court heard pleas to relax the right-to-die regulations, Lord Justice Bean granted the Kenwards permission for a judicial review. He said, ‘We propose to grant permission to proceed with the substantive claim. The importance of the subject matter, and because Justices did not speak with one voice in Nicklinson, leads us to the conclusion that the case should be heard at a divisional court. The main burden of the case is against the DPP’.

In a statement from the CLC, the judge’s decision was an important step forward in making sure that vulnerable people, such as the elderly and disabled, are protected. The Suicide Act 1961 makes it a criminal offence to assist or encourage suicide. The DPP has a discretion on whether to prosecute according to the published policy. However, last October, the DPP amended the policy, making the prosecution of healthcare professionals in assisted suicide cases less likely.  Arguments before the High Court were made by the CLC’s standing counsel, Paul Diamond.

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