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History > 2009 > UK > Politics > House of Lords (I)





Debbie Purdy

wins 'significant legal victory'

on assisted suicide

Multiple sclerosis patient succeeds in arguing
that it is a breach of her human rights
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
Afua Hirsch
This article was first published on guardian.co.uk
at 16.57 BST on Thursday 30 July 2009.
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 condition worsens.

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 life.

"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, G, 30.7.2009, http://www.guardian.co.uk/society/2009/jul/30/debbie-purdy-assisted-suicide-legal-victory






Apprentice in the Lords: Baron Sugar of Clapton takes his seat


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, http://www.timesonline.co.uk/tol/news/politics/article6720785.ece






Control orders breach human rights of terror suspects, law lords rule

Judgment says use of 'secret evidence' for control orders denies terror suspects fair trial


Wednesday 10 June 2009
10.19 BST
Alan Travis
Home affairs editor


The Law Lords have dealt a major blow to the government's controversial use of control orders on terror suspects, saying that the use of "secret evidence" denies them a fair trial.

The nine-judge panel, led by Lord Philips of Worth Matravers, the senior law lord, upheld a challenge on behalf of three Libyans on control orders who can't be named. They argued that the refusal to disclose even the "gist" of the nature of the evidence against them denies them a fair trial under the Human Rights Act.

The Home Office argued that it was sometimes possible to have a fair hearing without any disclosure depending on the circumstances of the case. Security-vetted special advocates are supposed to represent the interests of those placed on control orders in each case.

The terms of the control orders imposed on individual suspects by the home secretary include curfews at their home address of up to 16 hours, a ban on travelling abroad, all visitors to be approved by the Home Office, monitoring of all phone calls and a ban on internet and mobile phone use.

The judgment is a further blow to the government's control order regime after the Law Lords ruled in 2007 that 18-hour curfews were in breach of the European Convention on Human Rights.

    Control orders breach human rights of terror suspects, law lords rule, G, 10.6.2009, http://www.guardian.co.uk/politics/2009/jun/10/control-orders-breach-terror-suspects-rights






Assisted suicide ban forcing terminally ill to die early, Lords told

MS sufferer claims lack of legal clarity on prosecution of relatives breaches her human rights


Tuesday 2 June 2009
14.20 BST
Afua Hirsch, legal affairs correspondent
This article was first published on guardian.co.uk at 14.20 BST on Tuesday 2 June 2009.
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 insufficient evidence.

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 policy".

"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," Macdonald said.

"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 careful safeguards.

"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 position.

"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 prosecution."

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, http://www.guardian.co.uk/society/2009/jun/02/assisted-suicide-lords-multiple-sclerosis






Lords: rise of CCTV is threat to freedom

World's most pervasive surveillance undermines basic liberties, say peers


Friday 6 February 2009
The Guardian
Alan Travis, home affairs editor
This article was first published on guardian.co.uk at 00.01 GMT on Friday 6 February 2009.
It appeared in the Guardian on Friday 6 February 2009 on p1 of the Top stories section.
It was last updated at 08.48 GMT on Friday 6 February 2009.


The steady expansion of the "surveillance society" risks undermining fundamental freedoms including the right to privacy, according to a House of Lords report published today.

The peers say Britain has constructed one of the most extensive and technologically advanced surveillance systems in the world in the name of combating terrorism and crime and improving administrative efficiency.

The report, Surveillance: Citizens and the State, by the Lords' constitution committee, says Britain leads the world in the use of CCTV, with an estimated 4m cameras, and in building a national DNA database, with more than 7% of the population already logged compared with 0.5% in the America.

The cross-party committee which includes Lord Woolf, a former lord chief justice, and two former attorneys general, Lord Morris and Lord Lyell, warns that "pervasive and routine" electronic surveillance and the collection and processing of personal information is almost taken for granted.

Although many surveillance practices and data collection processes are unknown to most people, the expansion in their use represents "one of the most significant changes in the life of the nation since the end of the second world war", the report says. The committee warns that the national DNA database could be used for "malign purposes", challenges whether CCTV cuts crime and questions whether local authorities should be allowed to use surveillance powers at all.

The peers say privacy is an "essential prerequisite to the exercise of individual freedom" and the growing use of surveillance and data collection needs to be regulated by executive and legislative restraint at all times.

Lord Goodlad, the former Tory chief whip and committee chairman, said there could be no justification for this gradual but incessant creep towards every detail about an individual being recorded and pored over by the state.

"The huge rise in surveillance and data collection by the state and other organisations risks undermining the long-standing traditions of privacy and individual freedom which are vital for democracy," he said. "If the public are to trust that information about them is not being improperly used there should be much more openness about what data is collected, by whom and how it is used."

The constitution committee makes more than 40 recommendations to protect individual privacy, including the deletion of all profiles from the national DNA database except for those of convicted criminals and a call for the mandatory encryption of personal data held by public and private organisations that are legally obliged to hold it.

But the report is silent on proposals from Jacqui Smith, the home secretary, for a "superdatabase" tracking everybody's emails, calls, texts and internet use and from Jack Straw, the justice secretary, to lower barriers on the widespread sharing of personal data across the public sector.

But the peers are critical of whether local authorities should continue to exercise their surveillance powers under the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act 2000. They say examples of local councils using covert surveillance operations to stop fly tipping, reducing dog fouling, and investigate fraudulent school place applications led them to question how they acquired such powers. Ministers should examine whether local authorities, rather than the police, are the appropriate bodies to mount surveillance operations, the peers say. If they are, then their use should be confined to crime investigations that carry a minimum two-year prison sentence.

The peers say individuals targeted by such operations should be informed when it is completed, as long as no investigation is prejudiced.

    Lords: rise of CCTV is threat to freedom, G, 6.2.2009, http://www.guardian.co.uk/uk/2009/feb/06/surveillance-freedom-peers






Peers for hire face expulsion from Lords

Labour leader in upper house calls for emergency action to root out abuse


Wednesday 28 January 2009
The Guardian
David Hencke and Nicholas Watt
This article was first published on guardian.co.uk at 00.01 GMT on Wednesday 28 January 2009.
It appeared in the Guardian on Wednesday 28 January 2009 on p1 of the Top stories section.
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 wrongdoing.

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 women.

"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 obey.

"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 commissioner.

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 the Lords.

Peers for hire face expulsion from Lords, G, 28.1.2009, http://www.guardian.co.uk/politics/2009/jan/28/peers-for-hire-lords