CPS publishes updated homicide prosecution guidance
The Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) has published its updated prosecution guidance on homicide following a 12-week public consultation.
The guidance has been refined to assist prosecutors considering the public interest when dealing with suspects in deaths arising out of ‘mercy killings’ and failed suicide pacts.
The updated CPS homicide prosecution guidance includes amendments to relevant public interest factors on mercy killing and suicide pacts in the context of mercy killings.
Some of the amendments to the public interest factors include:
1. In favour of prosecution: The suspect influenced the victim not to seek medical treatment, palliative care and/or independent professional advice or denied access to such treatment, care and/or professional support.
2. In favour of prosecution: The suspect was acting in their capacity as a medical doctor, nurse, or other healthcare professional and the victim was in their care.
3. Against prosecution: The victim had reached a voluntary, clear, settled and informed decision that they wished for their life to end.
4. Against prosecution: The actions of the suspect may be characterised as reluctant, in the face of significant emotional pressure due to the victim’s wish for their life to end.
The revisions are designed to give clear advice to prosecutors and to ensure there is transparent and consistent decision making across the CPS when considering these sensitive and challenging cases.
Each case must be considered on its own facts and on its own merits. Prosecutors must decide the importance of each public interest factor in the circumstances of each case and go on to make an overall assessment.
The guidance does not decriminalise the offences of murder, manslaughter or attempted murder. Nor does it amount to an assurance that a person will be immune from prosecution if he or she does an act that ends the life of another person.
In fact, our guidance states a prosecution: "is almost certainly required in the public interest.”
The homicide guidance, which has been refreshed as a whole, does not touch on ‘assisted dying’ or other similar scenarios which are treated separately in law.
The update followed a 12-week public consultation between 14 January, 2022 and 9 April, 2022, and a total of 1,271 responses were received.
Director of Public Prosecutions Max Hill KC said: “I am grateful to all those who took the time to consider the draft guidance and send in their views on this sensitive and emotive topic.
“Each response was carefully reviewed and considered, and those views have been used to reflect on our proposed approach to the guidance.
“It is vital our prosecutors are given the clearest possible additional guidance to make decisions on whether the legal test for criminal charges has been met in these complex cases.
“A prosecution will usually take place unless the prosecutor is satisfied that there are public interest factors tending against prosecution which outweigh those tending in favour. Each case must be considered on its own facts and on its own merits.
“Prosecutors must decide the importance of each public interest factor in the circumstances of each case and go on to make an overall assessment.
“But it is very important to note that we will always prosecute cases of murder and manslaughter where there is sufficient evidence, and it is in the public interest.”
The guidance also adds:
- How prosecutors can consider charges of murder or manslaughter where the conduct of a suspect, especially in a domestic abuse context, may have led to their suicide.
- Further guidance on causing or allowing the death or serious injury of a child or vulnerable adult.
The revised guidance has been published on the CPS website.
Notes to editors
The updated guidance sets out 13 factors tending in favour of prosecution, including:
- 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 request another to end their life;
- There is no evidence or information to indicate that the victim had reached a voluntary, clear, settled and informed decision that they wished for their life to end. This includes cases where the evidence or information suggest the decision had not been independently reached by the victim and might have been influenced by pressure, control or coercion by the suspect or anyone else. It includes an assessment of the mental health and any other vulnerabilities of the victim as this may impact on their ability to reach such a decision. Victims with a condition that causes their mental health to fluctuate are less likely to be able to reach a settled decision;
- The victim was physically able to undertake the act to end their own life;
- The victim had not clearly and unequivocally communicated their decision that they wished for their life to end. The decision must be communicated to the suspect, but prosecutors should consider whether it is capable of independent verification, for example was it was communicated to others such as family members, friends or health care professionals.
- The suspect was not wholly motivated by compassion; for example, the suspect was motivated by the prospect that they or a person closely connected to them stood to gain in some way from the death of the victim;
- The suspect pressured, coerced or controlled the victim to make the decision or did not take reasonable steps to ensure that any other person had not pressured, coerced or controlled the victim. Vulnerable victims may be more susceptible to being unduly influenced to view themselves as a burden;
- The suspect has a history of violence or abuse against the victim. This includes any history of the suspect controlling or coercing the victim during their relationship. See the legal guidance on controlling and coercive behaviour for further guidance;
- The suspect was unknown to the victim;
- The suspect was motivated by a financial or other reward/benefit for their actions;
- The suspect deliberately used excessive violence or force causing unnecessary or prolonged suffering;
- The suspect was acting in their capacity as a medical doctor, nurse, or other healthcare professional and the victim was in their care.
- The suspect influenced the victim not to seek medical treatment, palliative care and/or independent professional advice or denied access to such treatment, care and/or professional support.
There are six public interest factors tending against prosecution, which are:
A prosecution is less likely to be required if:
- The victim had reached a voluntary, clear, settled and informed decision that they wished for their life to end. The must have the freedom and capacity to make such a decision. This decision must have been made sufficiently close in time to their death and independently reached by the victim and not influenced by pressure, control or coercion by the suspect or anyone else. This requires thorough scrutiny and critical examination of the suspect’s account, on its own and when placed in the context of the evidence as a whole. Prosecutors should consider what access the victim had to health care professionals including discussions about treatment and support options;
- The suspect was motivated by compassion alone and only in circumstances where the preceding factor is present;
- The victim was physically unable to undertake the act to end their own life;
- The actions of the suspect may be characterised as reluctant, in the face of significant emotional pressure due to the victim’s wish for their life to end. Prosecutors should consider whether this is capable of independent verification by others;
- The suspect made a genuine attempt to take their own life at the same time;
- The suspect reported the death to the police and fully assisted them in their enquiries into the circumstances and their part in it.
The updated guidance can be found here.