MERCY KILLING

The debate on mercy killing and assisted suicide continues unabated as the law struggles to find a way through the ethical morass.  The two terms and not synonymous.  Mercy killing requires intervention by a third party, almost always a doctor, where the sufferer is incapable of ending his life unaided.  Assisted suicide suggests the contrary, where the sufferer ends his own life unaided, although with the assistance of a third party, almost always a close relative or family friend.  This is not a distinction without a difference, but a fundamental difference, and one given prominence in the tragic case of Tony Nicklinson.  He has “locked in” syndrome, cannot move, and can only communicate by blinking his eyes. He wants to die, but as the law stands, he has no right to do so.

The debate on assisted suicide has moved on since Debbie Purdy’s case and the helpful ‘clarification’ by the Director of Public Prosecutions.  This ‘clarification’ suggests that relatives and friends of sufferers who take their own lives are unlikely to be prosecuted where it can be clearly shown that they were acting out of compassion and not in anticipation of an expected inheritance.

Mercy killing is far from resolved, and by all accounts, a proposed Bill to address this issue will fail to do so.  It will fail to help Tony Nicklinson, not simply because he is incapable of taking the necessary physical steps to end his own life, but also because he fails to meet the criteria.  These are that he has a terminal illness with a prognosis of only 12 months to live, and he must be able to take the lethal medication himself.  The ability to take the lethal dose unaided also applies to the Dignitas clinic in Switzerland.

Everybody with an opinion wants to ventilate it.  There is the Commission on Assisted Dying, the Care not Killing and the Right to Die lobbies, to name but three of the most vociferous, but surely to God it must be first and foremost the sufferer and his family and friends who should have the right to decide.

If the sufferer, like Tony Nicklinson, can communicate his wish to die, then in the name of humanity, let him die.  The idea that the doctor administering the lethal dose should be paraded in court and accused of murder is abhorrent to all right minded people in a civilised society.

By all means have safeguards and hoops to jump through to protect the interests of the sufferer, but once surmounted to the satisfaction of right minded people, and not lawyers or interest groups or lobbyists, let the suffering end.

Postscript  John Simpson, the distinguished World Affairs Editor of the BBC, is presenting a programme on BBC1 this coming Wednesday at 9pm, entitled “When I Get Older”.  It deals with many of the issues discussed in this article, and well worth tuning in.

WHO WANTS TO BE A JUDGE?

For those of you who are interested, and I suspect I can number you on the fingers of one hand, the Crime and Courts Bill has reached the House of Lords.  The section giving rise to a good deal of hot air is the proposal that the Lord Chancellor, who is also the Justice Secretary of State, should sit on the panel of the Judicial Appointments Commission and have a say on the appointment of senior judges.

At present he does not.  The Lord Chancellor has the power of veto, which means he can refuse the recommendation of the Commission, but if he does so, he must give reasons.  But I ask rhetorically, how he can possibly make an informed decision, and possibly exercise his veto, and give reasons for doing so, if he has been excluded from the selection process?

Since the enactment of the Human Rights Act, judges have found themselves in increasing conflict with the government, especially over the interpretation of European Convention rights, and in a previous article, I have already highlighted the absurdities of some of the rulings relating to the right to a family life.

Whether judges wish it or not, this single issue has become politicised, and the fine line between judicial independence and the will of the people is becoming finer by the day. Judges argue that they are simply interpreting the law as they understand it, politicians argue that the judges should wake up to reality and get a life!

Court watchers will have also detected a tension between the outgoing President of the Supreme Court and the Lord Chief Justice on the proper interpretation of the European Convention, so judges are not immune to reality and the impact their decisions have on the executive arm of the government.

This debate is given added urgency by the impending retirement of the President of the Supreme Court, and the selection of his successor, and suitable names are already being touted in the corridors of power.

Predictably, the legal profession, as ever on the front foot when reforms to the system are being canvassed, is against the proposal, claiming that this would erode the independence of the selection process at the expense of government interference.  I beg to differ.

Judges need to be alive to political expediency and the will of the people, as the American Supreme Court has discovered in its narrow vote in favour of President Obama’s health-care plan. To have done otherwise would have brought the court and the President into a head on conflict, and there are lessons to be learned by our own Supreme Court.

I am open to persuasion on what powers the Lord Chancellor should have as part of the selection process, but that is a separate issue. Hearsay as reliable evidence in a court of law has been excluded since time immemorial, for the obvious reason that by its very definition, it is unreliable.  If the Lord Chancellor is not allowed to take part in the selection process, he will of necessity have to rely on second hand reports back to him before deciding if he should exercise his veto.

This is the worst of both worlds.

ANYONE FOR TENNIS?

Wimbledon is upon us, giving the BBC a rare chance to shine at the expense of Sky TV.  They may have lost the sports coverage of almost everything else, but Wimbledon and the British Golf Open remain the only jewels in their crown, to be milked for all they’re worth.

I love the whole atmosphere, and above all, the whites only policy, rigidly enforced.  What a joy to see the players properly attired, all in white, instead of the ‘dress as you like’ policy of other lesser tournaments.  I remember the good old days when gentlemen players wore long white trousers, fetchingly secured with the old school tie, and the ladies, never women, wore Alice bands and dresses below their knees.

But times change, particularly in the women’s game, and who am I to complain when I feast my eyes on the likes of Maria Sharapova?  and what’s more, she plays a mean game of tennis!  The men, mercifully, have graduated to more comfortable shorts, and less eye watering for them and the rest of us.  Remember Bjorn Borg and those ball hugging shorts? Still, they didn’t stop him winning everything.

It is also that time of the year when Andy Murray, the Scottish great white hope for fame and glory, is paraded out and given maximum exposure.  He has, however, several hurdles to surmount before fame and glory are his.  The first three are Nadal, Federer and that Serbian whose name nobody can pronounce.  The fact that Murray is incoherent and is married to his mother can’t help either.  Best to leave him alone and if he exceeds all expectations, that’s a bonus.

I like my sports heroes to be clean cut, which is why I don’t like all that grunting on court.  Maria is the worst offender, and frankly, very off putting.  I’m surprised she’s allowed to get away with it.  If I were her opponent, unlikely in the extreme, I’d make a complaint.

Talking of clean cut, I have dipped in and out of the Euro 2012 football competition, and it’s not a pretty sight.  Footballers to a man, with the obvious exception of Ronaldo, are a depressing breed, and offensive to the eye.  And all that gobbing on the pitch, and the histrionics when somebody is tackled!  As somebody once said, football is a gentleman’s game played by hooligans, and he wasn’t far off the mark.

And what about goals, the whole purpose of the exercise?  Two of the best teams in Europe spent two hours kicking the ball this way and that, and no goals to show for their efforts.  If I were to part with £30 or more to watch a football match, I would insist on goals to maximise my enjoyment, so how about abolishing the offside rule?  It spoils the fun!  Better still, why not do what the lad at Rugby School did all those years ago?  Simply pick up the ball, run with it and throw it into the goal!

Besides tennis, I suppose the only remaining sport with a clean cut image is golf.  The golfers and the spectators are well disciplined and polite, except for that moron who appears at every major championship and bellows “In the hole” after every shot.  The players are courteous to each other, hats off and handshakes on the eighteenth green, but I have never understood why they wear baseball caps.

But if I were the golf supremo, I’d rigorously enforce time penalties for those golfers who spend an eternity lining up their putts, padding around the green like a caged animal, and then missing the hole!  Jason Day from Australia is known as All Day for the time it takes him to hit the ball, and we spectators deserve better.

If you want a flutter, my money is on Federer to win Wimbledon, and Luke Donald to win the British Open.  You read it here first!

MAY IT PLEASE YOUR LORDSHIP

In my line of work, there are times when I need to close down, get my nose out of some dusty legal tome, and smell the roses.  My idea of rest and relaxation is a good read, and if this is combined with a good laugh, so much the better!

I am too young to remember Henry Cecil’s heyday with his humorous books on the law, but I greatly enjoyed John Mortimer’s Rumpole series, immortalised on television by Leo McKern.  Sadly, Mortimer and McKern are no longer with us, and are no doubt pleading at the Celestial Bar, but until recently, nobody took up the torch of legal humour to give us relief from the daily grind.

Browsing in the bookshops, or what is left of them, has been a fruitless exercise, but I recently went on Amazon, and to my surprise and delight, I found just what I was looking for.  It’s a new book by Toby Potts entitled May It Please Your Lordship, and for me at least, it ticks all the boxes.

The book is set in the 70’s, and recounts the trials and tribulations of Toby from his call to the Bar, his experiences in pupillage, his first brief when he represents the wrong client, through to his great tour de force when he represents Santa Claus at the Old Bailey.

Each chapter recounts an episode in Toby’s eventful life at the Criminal Bar as he climbs the greasy pole to fame and fortune, or so he hopes.

I say it ticks all the boxes – it is very well written, and very funny.

There are other books on Amazon with the same title, but they’re as dry as a drainpipe in a drought.  But May It Please Your Lordship by Toby Potts is easy enough to find, and well worth the search.  Go to www.amazon.co.uk, log onto ‘books’, enter the title, and get ready for a really good read.

For Kindle addicts, I gather that the book will be Kindle user friendly in the very near future.  Check it out.

Enjoy!

BE GONE

I suspect I am not alone in applauding Teresa May’s efforts to deport undesirable illegal immigrants, as she has been attempting to do for several months.  A few undesirables stick out like a sore thumb, or in one egregious case, a sore hook.

Her proposal is to ‘clarify’ the provisions of the Human Rights Act for the benefit of the judiciary, and to ‘instruct’ them on thorny issues such as the right to a family life.  This has been pleaded successfully by at least two undesirables, one who had fathered a child whilst awaiting deportation, and the other who had formed a close attachment to a cat.

The problem faced by the Home Secretary is that the judiciary cannot ignore the European Convention on Human Rights, enshrined as it is, and has been since 1998, in our domestic legislation, and likely to remain so until the next General Election in 2015.  High on David Cameron’s wish list in 2015 will be a mandate from vox populi to lead a Conservative administration unshackled by the Liberal Democrats, and wait for the walls of Jericho to come tumbling down.

Far too often in the recent past, we have seen decisions of our domestic courts overturned by the European Court of Justice, and this is going to happen, time and again, unless and until we repeal the Human Rights Act.  Whether or not we replace it with our own Bill of Rights is academic, and a distraction from the main event.

In the meantime, whilst Mrs. May’s ‘instructions’ to the judiciary play well to Middle England, they are nothing more than empty political posturing.  Of greater concern is that they have the potential of undermining the rule of law and casting the judiciary in the role of pantomime villains.

It is tempting to adopt the approach favoured by the French and Italians.  If the face doesn’t fit, put the undesirable on the first plane back home and let the Devil take the hindmost.  It plays well with the crowd, but it does them no good in the eyes of fair minded people. It’s wrong and unjust.

Repeal, reform and clarify by all means, but don’t play political football with the rule of law.  That could lead to a penalty shoot out, and on present form, we’ll go down like a lead balloon.