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The Mailonline in London reported 15 Dec 10:

No charges in 20 assisted-suicide cases as public prosecution is accused of re-writing law

By Steve Doughty

The Director of Public Prosecutions [in England] has declined to bring charges against at least 20 people suspected of helping others to commit suicide, it was revealed yesterday.

Keir Starmer QC said the cases were difficult and involved families where loved ones were accused of assisting in suicide.

The disclosure provoked fury from anti-euthanasia groups. They accused Mr Starmer, who is in charge of all criminal prosecution decisions, of single-handedly rewriting the law on suicide.

Earlier this year the DPP published controversial guidelines on when prosecutions for assisted suicide are likely to be brought.

The new rules suggest that prosecutors no longer regard it as a crime to help someone to die out of compassion. Under the 1961 Suicide Act, assisting with a suicide remains a crime which can attract a jail sentence of 14 years.

Mr Starmer was giving evidence at an inquiry into assisted dying led by Lord Falconer, former Labour Lord Chancellor, and a leading advocate of new right-to-die laws.

He said that in the financial year which ended in March, 19 police files on assisted suicide were sent to the Crown Prosecution Service.

In 17 of these cases, no charges were pursued. One is still being considered, and the last was withdrawn by police.

Since March, the DPP has been sent a further 14 cases. Eleven are under consideration, but three have been dropped.

Mr Starmer said: ‘These cases are all difficult, they are all very difficult, a lot of difficult circumstances, and they take quite a lot of investigation.’ Mr Starmer told Lord Falconer he would not give his personal opinion on whether the assisted suicide law should be reformed.

He said: ‘I have been reluctant in the past to offer a view. I am not going to do so now.’ He added that it was risky to try to pick out a pattern of similarity among the 20 cases which were dropped.


Derek Humphry comments on the above: Absent a law in England that approves physician-assisted suicide for the terminally ill, these guidelines and the prosecutor’s decision not to take many people to court are considerable and welcome progress. With the recent right-wing swing in the UK, actual law reform seems now to be many years away.

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