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Assisted Suicide

Volume 497: debated on Monday 12 October 2009

My right hon. Friend the Attorney-General has made the following written ministerial statement:

Following the House of Lords judgment in Purdy v DPP the Director of Public Prosecutions issued his interim policy document on the 23 September 2009, setting out the particular factors he would take account of when deciding whether to give consent to the prosecution of a person for the offence of aiding, abetting, counselling or procuring (assisting) another to commit or attempt to commit suicide.

This policy was issued on an interim basis and at the same time the Director announced he would start a consultation exercise that would last for three months. He is aiming to then publish his finalised policy in the Spring of 2010. Copies of the interim policy and the consultation paper have been placed in the Libraries of both Houses.

The policy does not change the law but responds to the House of Lords judgment in the case of Purdy v DPP.

It has never been the rule in England and Wales that suspected criminal offences must automatically be prosecuted. Where there is sufficient evidence to provide a realistic prospect of a conviction for assisted suicide, the Director must, as with all offences, go on to consider whether a prosecution is needed in the public interest. In exercising that discretion, the Director takes into account factors both for and against prosecution. These are set out in the code for Crown Prosecutors. The consideration of evidence followed by a consideration of whether a prosecution is needed in the public interest constitutes the full code test.

In the case of Purdy v DPP the House of Lords considered that in the special case of assisted suicide the Director should issue a policy document setting out the further public interest factors that may apply to this specific offence in order to give prosecutors and persons in Ms Purdy’s position extra clarity as to the exercise of the prosecutorial discretion.

Each case is unique and will be considered on its own facts and merits with prosecutors continuing to apply the factors in the code for Crown Prosecutors as well as the new interim policy.