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DPP publishes assisted suicide policy

25/02/2010

The public can have full confidence in the policy the CPS will follow in deciding whether or not to prosecute cases of assisted suicide, Keir Starmer QC, Director of Public Prosecutions, said today.

Mr Starmer published the policy after taking account of thousands of responses received as part of what is believed to be the most extensive snapshot of public opinion on assisted suicide since the Suicide Act 1961 was introduced. Nearly 5,000 responses were received by the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) following the consultation exercise launched in September.

Mr Starmer said: "The policy is now more focused on the motivation of the suspect rather than the characteristics of the victim. The policy does not change the law on assisted suicide. It does not open the door for euthanasia. It does not override the will of Parliament. What it does is to provide a clear framework for prosecutors to decide which cases should proceed to court and which should not.

"Assessing whether a case should go to court is not simply a question of adding up the public interest factors for and against prosecution and seeing which has the greater number. It is not a tick-box exercise. Each case has to be considered on its own facts and merits.

"As a result of the consultation exercise there have been changes to the policy. But that does not mean prosecutions are more or less likely. The policy has not been relaxed or tightened but there has been a change of focus."

The sixteen public interest factors in favour of prosecution are:

  • The victim was under 18 years of age.
  • The victim did not have the capacity (as defined by the Mental Capacity Act 2005) to reach an informed decision to commit suicide.
  • The victim had not reached a voluntary, clear, settled and informed decision to commit suicide.
  • The victim had not clearly and unequivocally communicated his or her decision to commit suicide to the suspect.
  • The victim did not seek the encouragement or assistance of the suspect personally or on his or her own initiative.
  • The suspect was not wholly motivated by compassion; for example, the suspect was motivated by the prospect that he or she or a person closely connected to him or her stood to gain in some way from the death of the victim.
  • The suspect pressured the victim to commit suicide.
  • The suspect did not take reasonable steps to ensure that any other person had not pressured the victim to commit suicide.
  • The suspect had a history of violence or abuse against the victim.
  • The victim was physically able to undertake the act that constituted the assistance himself or herself.
  • The suspect was unknown to the victim and encouraged or assisted the victim to commit or attempt to commit suicide by providing specific information via, for example, a website or publication.
  • The suspect gave encouragement or assistance to more than one victim who were not known to each other.
  • The suspect was paid by the victim or those close to the victim for his or her encouragement or assistance.
  • The suspect was acting in his or her capacity as a medical doctor, nurse, other healthcare professional, a professional carer (whether for payment or not), or as a person in authority, such as a prison officer, and the victim was in his or her care.
  • The suspect was aware that the victim intended to commit suicide in a public place where it was reasonable to think that members of the public may be present.
  • The suspect was acting in his or her capacity as a person involved in the management or as an employee (whether for payment or not) of an organisation or group, a purpose of which is to provide a physical environment (whether for payment or not) in which to allow another to commit suicide.

The six public interest factors against prosecution are:

  • The victim had reached a voluntary, clear, settled and informed decision to commit suicide.
  • The suspect was wholly motivated by compassion.
  • The actions of the suspect, although sufficient to come within the definition of the crime, were of only minor encouragement or assistance.
  • The suspect had sought to dissuade the victim from taking the course of action which resulted in his or her suicide.
  • The actions of the suspect may be characterised as reluctant encouragement or assistance in the face of a determined wish on the part of the victim to commit suicide.
  • The suspect reported the victim's suicide to the police and fully assisted them in their enquiries into the circumstances of the suicide or the attempt and his or her part in providing encouragement or assistance.

The CPS Policy for Prosecutors in respect of Cases of Encouraging or Assisting Suicide must be read alongside the Code for Crown Prosecutors and is effective immediately.

Ends

  1. Read the Policy for Prosecutors in respect of Cases of Encouraging or Assisting Suicide on the CPS website.
  2. Read the Public Consultation Exercise Summary of Responses report on the CPS website.
  3. All media enquiries to CPS Press Office on 020 7710 6088 or 020 7796 8102.
  4. It is not a criminal offence in England or Wales to attempt or to commit suicide.
  5. Section 2 of the Suicide Act 1961 has been amended by section 59 of the Coroners and Justice Act 2009 which came into force on 1 February 2010.
  6. A person commits an offence if he or she does an act capable of encouraging or assisting the suicide or attempted suicide of another person, and his or her act was intended to encourage or assist suicide or an attempt at suicide.
  7. A total of 4,710 individuals and organisations from England and Wales submitted a response consisting of:
    • 2,459 completed pro-forma questionnaires;
    • 1,719 other pieces of correspondence which identified specific factors; and
    • 532 other pieces of correspondence which contained more general observations.
  8. The DPP has published his long-term vision for the prosecution service and its role within the wider criminal justice system. It includes modernising the service and increasing the efficiency and effectiveness of criminal justice - read "The Public Prosecution Service: Setting the Standard" at www.cps.gov.uk/pps
  9. The CPS consists of 42 Areas in total, each headed by a Chief Crown Prosecutor (CCP). These are organised into 14 Groups, plus CPS London, each overseen by Group Chair, a senior CCP. In addition there are five specialised national divisions: Organised Crime, Special Crime, Counter-Terrorism, Fraud Prosecution, and Revenue and Customs. A telephone service, CPS Direct, provides out-of-hours advice and decisions to police officers across England and Wales. The CPS employs around 8,250 people and prosecuted 1,032,598 cases with an overall conviction rate of 86.6% in 2008-2009. Further information can be found on our website.

    More about the CPS

  10. The CPS, together with ACPO and media representatives, has developed a Protocol for the release of prosecution material to the media. This sets out the type of prosecution material that will normally be released, or considered for release, together with the factors we will take into account when considering requests.

    Publicity and the Criminal Justice System protocol