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'We've got our lives back'
after Lords victory to clarify
law on right to die
Friday, 31 July 2009
By Jeremy Laurance, Health Editor
Debbie Purdy, who has dedicated her living days to winning the
right to plan her death, made legal history yesterday when five law lords backed
her landmark appeal to have the law on assisted suicide clarified.
The 46-year-old campaigner, who has multiple sclerosis, was "ecstatic" after the
peers unanimously supported her call for the Director of Public Prosecutions to
spell out the circumstances in which her husband or someone in a similar
position might face prosecution for helping a loved one end their life abroad.
Having lost twice in the High Court and Court of Appeal, yesterday's decision
brought huge relief. Flanked by her husband, the Cuban violinist Omar Puente,
and to cheers from her supporters, Mrs Purdy said after the ruling: "I'm
ecstatic. I am eagerly awaiting the DPP's policy publication so that we can make
sure what we do does not risk prosecution. I think people are beginning to
realise now that this is not about a right to die; it is about a right to live.
"It feels like everything else doesn't matter and now I can
just be a normal person. It's terrific. It gives me my life back. We can live
our lives. We don't have to plan my death."
Responding to the ruling, the DPP Keir Starmer, QC, said prosecutors would start
work immediately to produce an interim policy by September, followed by a public
consultation before the final policy is published next spring. "This is a
difficult and sensitive subject and a complex area of the law," he said.
"However, I fully accept the judgment of the House of Lords. The Crown
Prosecution Service has great sympathy for the personal circumstances of Mrs
Purdy and her family."
The decision will bring relief to scores of people facing
similar dilemmas. More than 100 UK citizens with terminal illness or facing
intolerable suffering have travelled to the Dignitas clinic in Switzerland with
friends or relatives to end their lives. No one has been prosecuted but the risk
is always there. Under the present law, anyone who helps facilitate a suicide
faces up to 14 years in jail.
Giving judgment in Mrs Purdy's case yesterday, the law lords said the DPP should
be required to set out an "offence-specific policy", identifying the facts and
circumstances that he would take into account in deciding whether it was in the
public interest to prosecute under the Suicide Act.
Experts said the ruling meant it was no longer acceptable for the DPP to decide
what was a crime on a case by case basis and that after he had set out the
principles that would exclude prosecutions for compassionate assistance, the law
would effectively have been changed. But the law lords said the ruling did not
decriminalise assisted suicide, which was rejected after a highly charged debate
this month by peers in the House of Lords sitting as the second chamber of
Parliament and not as a court.
Mrs Purdy suffers from progressive multiple sclerosis which could mean she faces
an undignified and distressing death. That might be avoided if she were able to
travel to Dignitas to end her life peacefully.
Her dilemma was that unless the law was clarified she might be forced to end her
life sooner than she planned, while she was still able to travel to Switzerland
independently, to avoid the risk of her husband being prosecuted for assisting
her. If the risk of prosecution was sufficiently low, she could wait until the
very last minute before travelling with her husband's assistance.
The law lords said: "Everyone has the right to respect for their private life
and the way that Mrs Purdy determines to spend the closing moments of her life
is part of the act of living. Mrs Purdy wishes to avoid an undignified and
distressing end to her life. She is entitled to ask that this too must be
Campaigners hailed the victory as bringing an end to the "legal muddle" over
assisted suicide. Pressure for a change in the law has grown. The Royal College
of Nursing declared this month it was dropping its opposition to assisted
suicide and adopting a neutral stance.
Sarah Wootton, chief executive of Dignity in Dying, said: "This historic
judgment ensures the law keeps up with changes in society and, crucially,
provides a more rational deterrent to abuse than a blanket ban which is never
Debbie Purdy: 'We've
got our lives back', I, 31.7.2009,
wins 'significant legal victory'
Multiple sclerosis patient succeeds
in arguing that it is a breach of her
not to know whether her husband Omar Puente
will be prosecuted
if he accompanies
her to Swiss clinic Dignitas
Thursday 30 July 2009
Guardian.co.uk, 16.57 BST
This article was first published on guardian.co.uk
at 16.57 BST on Thursday 30
It was last updated at 17.08 BST
on Thursday 30 July 2009.
Debbie Purdy has won a significant legal victory in the House of Lords which
lawyers are describing as a turning point for the law on assisted suicide.
Purdy, 46, from Bradford, West Yorkshire, who has primary progressive multiple
sclerosis, succeeded in arguing that it is a breach of her human rights not to
know whether her husband, Cuban jazz violinist Omar Puente, will be prosecuted
if he accompanies her to Swiss clinic Dignitas where she wishes to die if her
The decision – the last ever by the law lords before they recommence work as
justices of the new supreme court in October – went further than expected in
Purdy's favour, lawyers say.
Ordering the director of public prosecutions to issue a policy setting out when
those in Puente's position can expect to face prosecution, the court ruled that
the current lack of clarity is a violation of the right to a private and family
"It's a complete victory," said Saimo Chahal, partner at Bindmans who
represented Purdy. "I always knew we would have to go to the House of Lords to
get a judgment that was reasoned and considered".
Purdy's two previous attempts to request a policy from prosecutors failed after
the courts said the current situation was lawful.
Despite at least 115 British people already known to have travelled abroad for
an assisted suicide, with an average of two a month since 2002 and despite
scores of police investigations, not a single family member has been prosecuted.
A report last month from campaign group Dignity in Dying, which has supported
Purdy's case, warned that a further 34 Britons were in the final stages of
travelling abroad for the same purpose.
Earlier this month renowned British conductor Sir Edward Downes, 85, and his
wife Joan, 74, joined those who have ended their lives at Dignitas.
Their death, watched by their children Caractacus, 41, and Boudicca, 39, is
still the subject of a police investigation.
In a further development last year, DPP Keir Starmer published a decision not to
prosecute the relatives of 23-year old rugby player Daniel James even though
there was enough evidence, because it was not in the public interest.
Campaigners welcome today's victory for Purdy of a recognition of rights for
those who wish to die in a manner of their choosing, and say that what is
ultimately needed is a change in the law.
Parliament urgently needs to acknowledge the fact that people are travelling
overseas to die – and this trend shows no sign of stopping", said Sarah Wootton,
chief executive of Dignity in Dying.
"It's time the 1961 Suicide Act was brought up to date to reflect what's really
going on in UK courts".
Parliament has so far resisted attempts to change the law, with the latest
proposals defeated in the House of Lords by 194 votes to 141 earlier this month.
But campaigners say that today's ruling will place unprecedented pressure on
parliament to act.
"This case means the DPP will have to publish the factors for and against
prosecuting those who assist suicide abroad, but it would only be
retrospective", Wootton said. "But it sends a clear message that the law can
distinguish between different types of behaviour, and saying that compassionate
assistance is not a crime. Surely parliament will need to react to that".
Debbie Purdy wins
'significant legal victory' on assisted suicide,
Apprentice in the Lords:
Baron Sugar of Clapton
From Times Online
July 20, 2009
Ann Treneman First came Black Rod. Then Garter King of Arms who wore a tabard
covered in what looked like flocked wallpaper. Then came the man we knew as
Sirallun, looking slighter than expected, heavy red robes swaying.
Clad in ermine, Sir Alan Sugar took his seat in the House of Lords today under
the title the Baron Sugar of Clapton.
It was a bit of a shock to see him standing up - and not talking. He was
"supported" by two Ministers, Baroness Vadera and Lord Davies of Abersoch, both
of whom work at least part of the time for Baron Mandelson's sprawling
department of Business Innovation and Skills.
If Sirallun works anywhere, and his role as "enterprise czar" is sketchy at
best, it will be there. There were mutterings about having two Ministers as his
supporters with some people suggesting, perhaps unkindly, that has no other real
friends in the Upper House.
All was quiet in the chamber as the clerk read out the Queen's proclamation that
she would "advance, create and prefer on our trusty and well-beloved friend Sir
Alan Sugar" the title of "the Baron Sugar of Clapton in our London Borough of
Hackney." It is a title he will hold "for his life".
The short ceremony was watched by the new peer's family from the packed public
gallery of the Lords.
At the end, there was a muted ripple of "hear, hear", entirely from the Labour
benches, where Lord Sugar will in future sit.
The new peer shook hands with Baroness Hayman, the Lord Speaker, and processed
out at the throne end of the chamber.
The abrasive entrepreneur, who became a media star through his appearances on
BBC's The Apprentice, has been made a life peer following his appointment last
month as Gordon Brown’s ’enterprise tsar’. He will advise the PM, but will not
become a minister.
Siralan's appointment sparked a row over the next series of The Apprentice,
which is expected to clash with the general election next spring. Conservatives
said that as a signed-up Government adviser he should no longer be allowed to
present the show, but the corporation insisted his new role would not
“compromise the BBC’s impartiality”.
There was further dismay when a female former employee revealed she was suing
the tycoon and his son for sexual discrimination.
Siralan stepped down from all his company directorships this month to avoid any
conflicts of interest in his new role.
The 62-year-old multi-millionaire has also been dropped from advertisements to
promote apprenticeships and premium bonds because of Cabinet Office guidelines
that prevent political figures from taking part in Government advertising.
Apprentice in the Lords:
Baron Sugar of Clapton takes his seat, Ts, 20.7.2009,
Assisted suicide ban
forcing terminally ill to die early,
MS sufferer claims lack of legal clarity
of relatives breaches
her human rights
Tuesday 2 June 2009
Afua Hirsch, legal affairs correspondent
This article was first published on guardian.co.uk
at 14.20 BST
on Tuesday 2
It was last updated at 15.52 BST on Tuesday 2 June 2009.
The ban on assisted suicide is forcing terminally ill people to cut their
lives short, the House of Lords heard today as MS sufferer Debbie Purdy
continued her controversial case to clarify the law at the UK's highest court.
Purdy, 46, from Bradford in West Yorkshire, who suffers from primary progressive
multiple sclerosis, claims her human rights are being violated by the lack of a
clear policy from the director of public prosecutions as to whether her husband,
the Cuban jazz violinist Omar Puente, will be prosecuted if he accompanies her
to the Dignitas clinic in Switzerland.
"It is ironic indeed that the more likely it is Debbie Purdy's husband will be
prosecuted for assisting suicide, the sooner Debbie Purdy will end her life to
avoid that danger," David Pannick, Purdy's barrister, told the panel of five law
lords. "We therefore have the bizarre position that a policy designed to protect
sanctity of life will have the effect … of shortening the life of a terminally
ill person such as Debbie Purdy".
Assisted suicide remains an offence under English law, punishable by up to 14
years' imprisonment – even if carried out in countries, such as Switzerland,
Belgium and the Netherlands, where it is legal.
More than 100 British citizens have travelled to Dignitas, which offers
facilities for the seriously ill to end their lives with the assistance of
friends and relatives. Since it was established, in 1998, nearly 800 people from
the UK have become members of the Swiss organisation – the first step for those
considering assisted suicide.
The law lords heard that of eight previous cases of assisted suicide abroad that
prosecutors have considered – including an attempted drowning in Tenerife and a
number of suicides at Dignitas – none had resulted in prosecutions owing to
In a landmark decision last year, the director of public prosecutions, Keir
Starmer, published a decision not to prosecute the relatives of a 23-year-old
rugby player, Daniel James, even though there was enough evidence, because it
was not in the public interest.
"It is true that in the Daniel James case the DPP personally took the decision,"
Pannick said. "[But] our concern is that in this area, where the public interest
test inevitably depends upon profound difficult questions of ethics, it is very
unsatisfactory from the point of view of consistency and avoiding arbitrariness
to have these decisions taken by crown prosecutors without guidance in form of
"If it is up to prosecutors up and down the country [to decide whether to
prosecute], I can see the need for a code to guide them as to consistency," the
senior law lord Lord Phillips said.
The case comes as support for a change in the law continues to mount, with
reports that the former lord chancellor Lord Falconer is planning to put down an
amendment to the coroners and justice bill being debated in the House of Lords
with the aim of removing the threat of prosecution from family members who
accompany their loved ones overseas to euthanasia clinics.
"Debbie is right to say that that is a very uncertain position," Lord Falconer
told BBC Radio 4's Today programme today.
"It means that people like Debbie won't be sure that her husband, if he
accompanies her, won't be prosecuted after she has gone to the clinic. In some
cases, people have to go without their partners because of that fear.
"I think that the law should say that, subject to very clear safeguards, you
won't be prosecuted if you go with your loved one to a clinic abroad to help
that loved one commit suicide."
The former director of public prosecutions Ken Macdonald said that without a
change in the law, no reassurance could be given to someone in Purdy's position.
"The DPP cannot offer immunity for a crime supposedly to be committed in the
future. This would be completely unlawful. It would also be dangerous,"
"What we have to avoid at all costs is a world in which vulnerable and
terminally ill people feel that because assisted suicide is lawful, it is
somehow incumbent upon them to take this step to avoid being 'a burden' on
others. So any change in the law would have to be accompanied by the most
"That said, I never saw a case in this special category where I could discern
the remotest public interest in prosecution … Looking at these tragic cases and
considering the dreadful plight of the relatives, I struggled to see them as
criminals. But I think this is a judgment that should be made by parliament and
not by a public official, however senior."
Changing the law remains controversial, with groups including the British
Medical Association opposing legalisation of assisted suicide or voluntary
euthanasia, on the grounds that "it is alien to the traditional ethos and moral
focus of medicine" and because of the difficulties of effective monitoring.
But critics say parliament has been too slow to respond to changing public
perceptions of assisted suicide, leaving those such as Purdy in a vulnerable
"Parliament urgently needs to acknowledge the fact that people are travelling
overseas to die – and this trend shows no sign of stopping", said Sarah Wootton,
chief executive of Dignity in Dying, which advocates legalising assisted
suicide. "It's time the 1961 Suicide Act was brought up to date to reflect
what's really going on in UK courts. Safeguards must be put in place to protect
vulnerable people whilst ensuring that loved ones of terminally ill, mentally
competent people, like Debbie Purdy, who choose this option, do not face
Speaking outside the court yesterday, Purdy said: "Since the 1961 Suicide Act
was introduced we have legalised homosexuality and abortion without making them
compulsory. We need to look at the law on assisted suicide again and think about
how that could be legalised too with proper safeguards in place."
She added: "Society has changed and we need a law that is fit for purpose."
The case continues.
Assisted suicide ban
forcing terminally ill to die early, Lords told, G, 2.6.2009,
Peers for hire face expulsion from Lords
Labour leader in upper house
calls for emergency action to root out abuse
Wednesday 28 January 2009
David Hencke and Nicholas Watt
This article was first published on guardian.co.uk at 00.01 GMT
on Wednesday 28
It appeared in the Guardian
on Wednesday 28 January 2009
on p1 of the Top
It was last updated at 09.23 GMT
on Wednesday 28 January 2009.
Peers will be expelled permanently from the House of Lords if they break
tough new rules limiting outside earnings, under separate plans being hastily
drawn up by Labour and the Tories.
As anger grew over the conduct of four Labour peers, who allegedly said they
were prepared to use their influence to amend legislation in exchange for
payments, the government called for "emergency sanctions" to punish the peers if
they are found guilty.
Baroness Royall, leader of the Lords, today announces a toughening of the
government's stance after ministers expressed horror at yesterday's weekly
cabinet meeting over the alleged conduct of the peers.
As David Cameron announced that he is establishing a task force to examine
"enforceable mechanisms" for suspending and excluding errant peers, Royall
responded to the growing anger by saying she is "genuinely sorry" for the damage
inflicted on parliament by the four peers' alleged actions.
Writing in today's Guardian, Royall, who has interviewed the four peers and
referred the matter to the subcommittee on Lords' interests, said the rules
governing peers will have to be changed to make sure that they cannot "earn a
living [that] warps their work as parliamentarians".
"If there are wrongs, they must be righted," she writes. "If there are abuses,
they must be rooted out.
"So I will be recommending that we should be able to take a range of actions as
necessary, including being able to suspend peers immediately while an
investigation is being carried out, longer periods of suspension if cases are
proven, and even consider the option not of removing peerages - [that is] not in
the gift of the House - but of even longer and perhaps permanent exclusions in
extreme cases. If the current allegations are proven, we may need as well to
consider emergency sanctions if warranted."
Government sources indicated that the new rules would probably not come into
force in time to deal with the four Labour peers.
Royall therefore called for "emergency sanctions" to deal with any of the peers
found guilty, because she believes it would be "grotesquely unfair" if they
faced punishment under the current rules, which simply involves being named and
shamed on the floor of the Lords.
Lord Taylor of Blackburn, a peer since 1978, and Lord Truscott, a former energy
minister, allegedly told reporters from the Sunday Times that they had used
their influence to amend legislation indirectly on behalf of clients.
A further two Labour peers, Lords Snape and Moonie, indicated to the journalists
that they were prepared to use their influence to help clients. All four deny
Royall today apologises for their alleged actions. "The House of Lords is an
honourable and hard-working place. Peers are honourable and hard-working men and
"If there is any slippage in those standards, then not only must it be righted,
but we as a House owe an apology - a profound apology - to the public we are
here to serve, and a pledge to improve ourselves.
"Whatever the outcome of the investigations, that I do here, and now: I am
sorry, genuinely sorry for the damage already done."
The tougher government response came as Cameron announced that he would
establish a task force on standards to examine changes and to advise on how to
monitor lobbying by peers and to recommend changes to the law.
Lord Strathclyde, the Tory leader in the Lords, is already drawing up an
expulsion bill to ensure that peers who break the rules can be expelled.
Cameron said: "Today, it's not possible to suspend a member of the House of
Lords, no matter how badly he or she behaves, it's not possible to expel them
from that legislature, and yet they're making the laws that all of us have to
"This is completely wrong, it needs to change and we will change it. We will
make sure that members of the House of Lords, if they behave wrongly, can be
suspended or expelled. Simple as that."
Nick Clegg, the Liberal Democrat leader whose party has called on the police to
investigate Lords Taylor and Truscott, said errant peers should be expelled.
"This case exposes the extraordinary protection enjoyed by the political class.
One rule for lawmakers and another for everyone else," he said.
The four peers are due to be asked to appear before the Lords interests
committee, chaired by Baroness Prashar, the former first civil service
In her article in today's Guardian, Royall says: "Each one insisted vigorously
they had done nothing wrong.
"They genuinely believe that; and it is right for them to put their case to the
investigation for determination by - literally - their peers."
Royall's proposals will be considered by the Lords privileges committee, chaired
by Lord Brabazon of Tara.
The intervention by Tory party leader, following tough comments by his Liberal
Democrat counterpart, is significant because the parties have to work together
in the Lords to change the rules because no single party commands a majority in
Peers for hire face
expulsion from Lords, G, 28.1.2009,
October 18, 1834
by fire of houses of parliament
From the Guardian archive
Saturday October 18, 1834
The mere announcement to our readers that the house of lords,
the house of commons, and all their various offices, have become a prey to the
unsparing element will awaken feelings in which sorrow, astonishment, and doubt
will be singularly mingled.
At half-past five in the evening, a friend of ours passed
between the houses of parliament and the Abbey, when all was still. Yet within a
short hour, the interior of the house of lords was filled with one vast flame,
casting its lurid glare far over the horizon, spreading over the silent Thames a
vast sheet of crimson that seemed to smother the more feeble rays of the rising
moon - bringing out the stately and majestic towers of the abbey in strong
relief against the deep blue western sky, playing with seemingly wayward and
fantastic scintillations on the inimitable fretwork of the Seventh Harry's
The flames first shewed themselves about half-past six o'clock. They burst forth
in the centre of the lords, and burnt with such fury that in less than half an
hour, the whole interior presented one entire mass of fire.
By half-past seven o'clock the engines were brought to play upon the building
both from the river and the land side, but the flames had by this time acquired
such a predominance that the quantity of water thrown upon them produced no
In less than a hour the entire roof of the house of lords had fallen in. The
firemen now abandoned all hopes of saving any part of this portion of the
building, and their efforts were wholly directed towards the house of commons,
and the preservation of Westminster Hall, which for the beauty of its
architecture, and its close connection with some of the most important events of
our country's history is equally admired and estimated by the antiquarian, the
man of science, and the citizen.
For some time their efforts were successful, but not so ultimately. The wind
veered somewhat towards the west, thus throwing the flames immediately upon the
house of commons, the angle of which abutting upon the house of lords, caught
fire, and the roof ignited, the woodwork of which being old and dry, the flames
spread with the rapidity of wild fire.
In a very short time indeed, the whole of the roof fell in with a tremendous
crash, emitting millions of sparks and flakes of fire. This appearance, combined
with the sound resembling a piece of heavy ordnance, induced the assembled
multitude to believe that an explosion of gunfire had taken place. The scene of
confusion which followed baffled the power of description.
From the Guardian
archive > October 18, 1834 >
Destruction by fire of houses of parliament, G,
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