MERCIFUL RELEASE

The law on assisted suicide is now a complete shambles. Within the space of a week, one woman is convicted of murdering her terminally ill son, and has to serve at least nine years behind bars, the other woman is acquitted of attempted murder, to spontaneous applause, and the judge criticises the Crown Prosecution Service for bringing the charge in the first place. So why didn’t he stop it?

For those who had thought that Keir Starmer, the ‘quiet’ and all but invisible man in charge of the CPS, would shine his light into the dark recesses of the law on assisted suicide, there is a genuine sense of disappointment. His attempts at clarification have been anything but, leaving the CPS and the courts to square the circle and failing miserably.

The problem with this unholy mess is that nobody is willing to stand up and be counted. In the two most recent cases, the grief of caring mothers nursing their terminally ill children cannot be overstated, and yet they, and not the medical profession, must shoulder the burden of mixing the drugs and administering the fatal dose. Where is the qualified doctor when you need him? If recent events are anything to go by, he’s in Germany, in possession of a smattering of English and only three hours sleep. Why can’t they take the lead and actually help, instead of washing their hands?

The CPS also has to take its share of responsibility, and not shift the decision making to the judge and jury. In the case of the woman charged with attempted murder and gloriously acquitted, why didn’t the CPS heed the strictures of the judge? A classic case of buck passing, which simply shouldn’t happen. The responsibility for seeing that justice is done rests in the hands of twelve men and women who have no legal or medical knowledge, and who are as likely as not to reach their verdict with the toss of a coin.

And what about the judge? Another classic case of buck passing. The rules state that if there is a case to answer, then it must be answered by the jury. But there are weak cases which cry out for judicial intervention, so why not intervene? The trial judge was eminently placed to do so, and yet he fudged it. Why? He must have been aware of the criticisms of his learned colleague. In the name of humanity, stand up and be counted!

So this unholy mess is dumped back into the laps of the politicians, who have bigger fish to fry, and in the case of this dying government, plans to make when they are thrown out of office. If ever there was a case for assisted suicide, this government would come high on the wish list of most of the electorate. But with Jack Straw, the Minister for Justice, his silence is underwhelming.

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david

David is an English barrister, writer, public performer and keynote speaker. His full profile can be found on his website.

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