Personal Injury, Serious Injury & Clinical Negligence

Encouraging or assisting suicide remains a crime says the Supreme Court

The tragic case of Nicklinson v MOJ reached its conclusion today when the Supreme Court held that encouraging or assisting suicide in this country remains a crime.

Mr Nicklinson suffered a catastrophic stroke and sought a declaration that it would be lawful for a third party to assist him to end his life. In the alternative he sought a declaration that the law was incompatible with his right to a private life pursuant to Article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights. Both applications were refused and Mr Nicklinson declined all food, dying of pneumonia shortly afterwards.

Despite his death, his case and a second case on similar terms proceeded to the Supreme Court. By a majority decision of 7 to 2 the Court held that the issue is one for the UK to decide and lies within its “margin of appreciation”. Further a majority held that the Court would be entitled to make a declaration that the law relating to assisted suicide was incompatible with European law if it wished but only two Judges would have actually found it so. Four Judges deemed it a matter for Parliament rather than the Court.

The second limb of the appeal was an application by the Director of Public Prosecutions that the current law, permitting a prosecution of a person assisting in a suicide only with DPP permission and subject to DPP guidelines. The Court upheld this approach as a proper and reasonable approach for a prosecuting authority in such circumstances.

Hopes of campaigners for significant changes in the law have been dashed. The simple interpretation of this decision is “no change”. It remains to be seen as to whether appeals to the European Court will follow.