26/02/2010

Assisted Suicide Prosecutions To Continue

Helping someone to kill themselves will remain illegal in Northern Ireland, according to new guidance from the Public Prosecution Service (PPS).

Following a widespread public consultation on its interim guidance the PPS has published its policy on prosecuting cases of encouraging and assisting suicide.

The Acting Director of Public Prosecutions for Northern Ireland, Jim Scholes, said: "Responses were received from individuals and organisations and these together with the debate in the Assembly have informed this policy which will guide prosecutors in making decisions in these difficult cases.

"I must stress that this policy does not in any way decriminalise the offence of encouraging or assisting suicide which carries a significant maximum penalty of 14 years' imprisonment.

"Assisting suicide has been a criminal offence here for some 44 years and this policy does nothing to change that. It is only Parliament that can change the law," he said.

"The policy sets out how prosecutors will apply the Test for Prosecution in considering cases of encouraging or assisting suicide.
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"It clarifies the distinction between offences of encouraging or assisting suicide and offences of murder or manslaughter and it restates the broad presumption that the public interest requires prosecution where there has been a breach of the criminal law and outlines the public interest factors which must be assessed."

The guidelines set out a range of factors to be taken into account when deciding whether or not to prosecute.

Assisted suicide will still carry a jail term of up to 14 years. The guidelines are similar to ones issued in England and Wales on Thursday.

The new guidance places increased focus on the motivation of the suspect.

More than 100 Britons with terminal or incurable illnesses have gone to the Swiss centre Dignitas to die and none of the relatives and friends involved in the cases have been prosecuted, as under the law, the authorities have the power to use their discretion.

Yesterday, the assisted suicide law in the UK was also clarified by the head of Public Prosecutions in the rest of the UK.

Keir Starmer said the public can have "full confidence" in the policy the Crown Prosecution Service will follow in deciding whether or not to prosecute cases of assisted suicide.

However, a clear distinction has been made between assisted suicide and so-called mercy killings.

See: New Assisted Suicide Policy Revealed

(BMcC/GK)

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