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The Role of The Crown Prosecution Service

The Crown Prosecution Service is the government department responsible for prosecuting criminal cases investigated by the police in England and Wales.

As the principal prosecuting authority in England and Wales, we are responsible for:

  • advising the police on cases for possible prosecution
  • reviewing cases submitted by the police
  • determining any charges in more serious or complex cases
  • preparing cases for court
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Director of Public Prosecutions responds to Supreme Court on assisted suicide policy

16/10/2014

The Director of Public Prosecutions has today clarified the CPS Policy on cases of encouraging or assisting suicide in light of the recent comments of the Supreme Court in the case of Nicklinson and others.

In considering the section which indicates the likelihood of prosecution of health care professionals, the DPP has made it clear that this refers to those with a specific and professional duty of care to the person in question.

The relevant paragraph offers guidance on cases where the suspect is "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".

During earlier proceedings in the Court of Appeal, the then Lord Chief Justice interpreted this guidance to mean that if a person operating in one of the prescribed professions had cared for a victim to the extent that they were in a position of authority, and may have been able to use that authority to exercise undue influence over the victim, then this may be considered as a factor tending in favour of prosecution. In his view it was not to be interpreted as meaning that professionals brought in to help from outside the family circle should be more likely to be prosecuted simply because of their professions.

Therefore the DPP has confirmed that the words "and the victim was in his or her care" will be highlighted to prosecutors. The following footnote will also be added: "For the avoidance of doubt the words 'and the victim was in his or her care' qualify all of the preceding parts of this paragraph. This factor does not apply merely because someone was acting in a [professional] capacity described within it: it applies only where there was, in addition, a relationship of care between the suspect and the victims such that it will be necessary to consider whether the suspect may have exerted some influence on the victim."

Director of Public Prosecutions, Alison Saunders, said: "I am grateful to the Supreme Court for the careful and detailed analysis of this issue. I am happy to further clarify the factor in favour of prosecution where the suspect is a healthcare professional.

"This is, of course, an emotive subject on which many hold strong views and these cases present difficult and complex decisions for prosecutors. Each case must be considered on its own facts and merits and prosecutors must weigh each public interest factor depending on the circumstances of each case and go on to make an overall assessment.

"Assisting or encouraging suicide remains illegal and nothing in these guidelines offers immunity against prosecution. It is my role to ensure that the guidance I publish contributes to a consistent and principled approach which can be understood by the public and the police as well as by prosecutors."

Notes:
  1. Paragraph 43.14 of the updated The Policy for Prosecutors in Respect of Cases of Encouraging or Assisting Suicide now reads: 43. A prosecution is more likely to be required if: 14. 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;
                                   
    Footnote: For the avoidance of doubt the words and the victim was in his or her care qualify all of the preceding parts of this paragraph. This factor does not apply merely because someone was acting in a capacity
    described within it: it applies only where there was, in addition, a relationship of care between the suspect and the victims such that it will be necessary to consider whether the suspect may have exerted some influence on the victim.
  2. It is not an offence for an individual to attempt or commit suicide.
  3. Section 2(1) Suicide Act 1961 provides: "A person who aids, abets, counsels or procures the suicide of another, or an attempt by another to commit suicide, shall be liable on conviction on indictment to imprisonment for a term not exceeding fourteen years."
  4. The Suicide Act 1961 is applicable when a substantial part of the aiding, abetting, procuring or counselling of the suicide occurs in England or Wales. The suicide itself can be committed in any country.
  5. As with every other case, the test set out in the Code for Crown Prosecutors (the Code) will be applied: there must be enough evidence to provide a realistic prospect of conviction. If the case does not pass that evidential stage, it must not go ahead no matter how important or serious it may be. If the case does pass the evidential stage, consideration must be given to whether a prosecution is needed in the public interest.
  6. The Code sets out a substantial number of factors both for and against prosecution in all types of cases. The Policy for Prosecutors in Respect of Cases of Encouraging or Assisting Suicide sets out further factors which are more directly related to cases of assisted suicide which also need to be considered.

Ends

Notes to Editors

  1. For media enquiries call the CPS Press Office on 020 3357 0906; Out of Hours Pager 07699 781 926
  2. The CPS consists of 13 Areas in total, each headed by a Chief Crown Prosecutor (CCP). In addition, there are three national casework divisions: Specialist Fraud (formerly Central Fraud and Welfare, Rural & Health Divisions), Special Crime & Counter Terrorism and Organised Crime. CPS Direct is a 'virtual' 14th Area which provides charging decisions to all police forces and other investigators across England and Wales - it operates twenty-four hours, seven days a week, 365 days a year.
  3. At 31 March 2014 we employed a workforce of approximately 6237 staff (full time equivalent), including around 2226 prosecutors and 3629 caseworkers and administrators. Further information can be found on our website:  www.cps.gov.uk.
  4. 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. Read the Protocol for the release of prosecution material to the media.