Monday 21 September 2009

Chief prosecutor seems to be part of PR exercise

The Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) is due to issue his guidelines on assisted suicide on Wednesday. The House of Lords told him to do this in response to Mrs Debbie Purdy's request. She wants to know if her husband will get into trouble if he takes her abroad to kill herself. Although the guidelines aren't due out yet, Mr Keir Starmer, the DPP (right), has been on the media talking about his new policy.

Yesterday, he spoke to Andrew Marr on BBC television about the case of Daniel James. He said: "Daniel James had a clear, settled intention to commit suicide. His parents were acting purely out of compassion; and whilst assisting him weren't encouraging him, and they had nothing to gain. Now it's obvious that those factors are going to feature fairly heavily in the policy we're publishing on Wednesday."

It would seem that the policy will mean that people like Mr and Mrs James will continue to escape prosecution, even if (as Mr Starmer recognizes) they assist a suicide. Elsewhere in the interview, Mr Starmer says: "Well we're certainly not changing the law. Assisted suicide is an offence; it'll remain an offence."

It is very disturbing to see these comments being made in advance of the publication of the new prosecution policy. It suggests that there is a public relations strategy that is driving the DPP's action. The strategy seems to be to soften up public opinion in advance of the new policy.

Statute law has not been changed but the DPP's policy could well make a difference in the way people behave in circumstances of a person's suicide. The court decision in which Mr Starmer was instructed to issue this new policy included a legal argument to say that committing suicide was part of one's right to private life which is protected in article eight of the European Convention on Human Rights.

All this is very dangerous indeed and it's why SPUC intervened in Mrs Purdy's case.

George Pitcher in today's Telegraph reminds us of how Lord Falconer said that the Archbishop of Canterbury lacked compassion because he opposed assisted suicide. Mr Pitcher writes: " The DPP … has dutifully played his role in this legislative charade. He made some respectable noises after the Law Lords' ruling that it wasn't for him to change the law. Then he proceeded in effect to do just that." He warns that, once the law has been undermined by this guidance, the law will itself be changed. Mr Pitcher even predicts a suicide clinic in Britain and calls on David Cameron to reverse this worrying trend.

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