The Crown Prosecution Service is consulting the public on whether to amend its guidelines on prosecuting so-called mercy killing and suicide pacts. This is really a way of bringing in assisted suicide through the back door.
Below is our guide for responding to this consultation.
The closing date is midnight on Friday 8 April 2022. You can either use the online form, or download the response form and send it by email or post.
The CPS wants to amend its legal guidance on prosecuting for murder and manslaughter. The proposed changes are set out on the CPS website. The consultation questions are asking the public for views on these proposed changes.
There are 9 questions in the consultation – below, we provide an answer to them all.
We recommend that you respond to questions 1-5, 7 and 9, using your own words.
Question 1. Do you think that the categories of cases to which these additional factors apply are appropriate?
Question 2. Can you expand on your answer to question 1?
- Prosecution of mercy killings and suicide pacts is always in the public interest due to the inherent value of human life, as well as the right to life being codified in law. This presumption should never be watered down.
- Parliament recently rejected a proposal for assisted suicide in England and Wales, and as such the CPS should not do anything that could undermine this legislative decision through the back door.
- The offence of encouraging or assisting suicide is being watered down to the point of being meaningless, given the proposed new guidance would only allow prosecution where the victim has taken or attempted to take their own life. The intention of the person encouraging or assisting suicide is being ignored completely here. Watering down the offence in this manner would create a huge grey area in the law which would leave vulnerable people at risk of suggestion and manipulation in all kinds of settings.
- It is not appropriate to distinguish between victims who are under and over 18 years of age. The proposals would lessen protections for adults over 18, who in fact form the majority of victims of suicide. The risk is doubled for those adults who are deemed not to have the capacity to reach an informed decision to end their life.
- The notion of compassion implied in the proposals is completely subjective. We do not consider it compassionate to end someone else’s life.
- As mercy killings and suicide pacts often take place in private, or even secretly, establishing motives and evidence is very difficult. The introduction of such a long list of public interest factors in favour of prosecution would, in reality, lessen the likelihood of prosecution. This undermines existing law and will lead to legalising assisted suicide by stealth. Given that assisted suicide in jurisdictions where it is legal is often carried out by medical and healthcare professionals, these proposed prosecution guidelines will actually erode the integrity of the medical and healthcare professions, especially their duty to save lives, not end lives.
- The listed factors tending against prosecution are entirely inappropriate as they will undermine existing law protecting life. Introducing the idea that the victim has consented to suicide by making a “voluntary, clear, settled and informed decision” to commit suicide sneaks assisted suicide through the back door, by using the concept of informed consent. This concept is borrowed from medicine and healthcare, and as such it would clearly get used to render impossible prosecutions of assisted suicide involving medical and healthcare professionals.
- Again, it is impossible to prove that a suspect is “wholly motivated by compassion” or that his or her actions were characterised by reluctance. It is easy to lie about such things, especially if there are no other witnesses.
- It is very concerning that the fact of the victim being seriously physically unwell and unable to commit suicide could result in non-prosecution. This would effectively legalise assisted suicide through the back door.
- It is deeply cynical to make the suspect’s participation in a suicide pact grounds for not prosecuting him or her.
- Making reporting the death to the police grounds for not prosecuting opens the door to making the police an accessory to murder.
Question 3. Do you agree that the factors considered should be broadly consistent with those set out in the assisted suicide policy?
Question 4. Can you expand on your answer to question 3?
- The assisted suicide policy clearly distinguishes itself from murder and manslaughter (sections 32-34), so this question does not make sense, unless it hints at an as yet unexpressed intention to change the policy on assisted suicide as well.
- The factors for and against prosecuting mercy killings and suicide pacts should not be assimilated to those for assisted suicide, as this would erode the law on murder and manslaughter. This would change the law through the back door, and diminish the value of innocent human life in the law and the criminal justice system, as well as in wider society.
- The dearth of prosecutions for assisted suicide by the Crown Prosecution Service since 2009 is deeply concerning, suggesting the existing law is not being taken seriously despite widespread public concern.
Question 5. Are there any further factors in favour of prosecution that should be included?
Question 6. What further factors in favour of prosecution should be included if you replied Yes to question 5?
We don’t think there should be any further factors. The reason is that the introduction of new factors is, as explained above, really being done to make prosecution less likely than it is now.
Question 7. Are there any further factors tending against prosecution that should be included?
Question 8. What further factors tending against prosecution should be included if you replied Yes to question 7?
There is no need to add more factors. The real need is to enforce the existing law.
Question 9. Please provide any other feedback you wish to share around how the revised guidance could be improved?
There is no need for revised guidance at all. The Crown Prosecution Service should cease to campaign to undermine the existing criminal law. Instead it should direct its energies towards taking up more cases of assisted suicide for prosecution.