What is a life worth living? Further analysis of “M” – Daniel Sokol

W (by her litigation friend, B) v M (by her litigation friend, the Official Solicitor) and others [2011] EWHC 2443 (Fam). Read judgment.

In the first case of its kind, the Court of Protection ruled that withdrawing artificial nutrition and hydration from a person in a minimally conscious state was not, in the circumstances, in that person’s best interests. The Court also made general observations for future cases.

See our earlier posts here and here for a summary of the facts of this case.

The judgment

Since M had left no legally valid advance decision expressing her wishes to forego life-sustaining treatment, the court had to determine whether it would be in M’s best interests to withdraw artificial nutrition and hydration (ANH). Continue reading

No right to die without a “Living will”

We posted earlier on the Court of Protection’s refusal to declare that doctors could lawfully discontinue and withhold all life-sustaining treatment from a patient in a minimally conscious state (MCS) – “just above” a vegetative state (VS), which itself is slightly higher than a coma – read judgment.

The message underlying this ruling  is clear: if you want to avoid the risk of spending years of your life subject to aggressive medical intervention whilst imprisoned in a cage of bare-consciousness, make a living will. The Mental Capacity Act is remorseless, and courts will no longer come to the aid of those of us optimistic enough to think “it will never happen”.

We do not tend to think specifically about ending up in state of total dependency on medical support and therefore there is very little  likelihood of any significant section of the population making a formal advance decision in accordance with the Act. On the other hand, how many of us have said, as patient M said in this case, that if such a situation were to arise, we would want to “go quickly”? [para 230]

Such generalities however are to no effect. Despite the universal human instinct to live in denial of contingent disasters,  the court refused to give due weight to M’s previously expressed wish not to live a life dependent on others, because those these statements were not “specifically directed” at the consequences of withdrawing artificial nutrition and hydration (ANH) when conscious. Baker J could not consider those statements as a clear indication some eight years on from the onset of her illness, of what M would now want to happen.

Continue reading

Court refuses family’s “right to die”

M and others v NHS Primary Healthcare Trust – read judgment

For the first time the courts have been asked to consider whether life-supporting treatment should be withdrawn from a patient who was not in a persistent vegetative state (PVS) but was minimally conscious. The patient’s family sought a declaration for the withdrawal of artificial nutrition and hydration withdrawn and said the woman, referred to as M in court, would not want to live “a life dependent on others”. Continue reading

Detention of mentally ill foreign national violated Convention rights

R (on the application of S) v Secretary of State for the Home Department [2011] EWHC 2120 (Admin) - read judgment

The High Court has found that the Secretary of State unlawfully detained a mentally ill foreign national who was awaiting deportation.  By failing to notify the claimant of the deportation order in good time or to follow the Home Office’s own published policies on the detention of mentally ill persons, and by detaining the claimant in degrading conditions, the Secretary of State had breached Article 3 (prohibition of inhuman and degrading treatment) and Article 5 (right to liberty and security of person) of the Convention. Continue reading

Strict liability for offence of under-age sex does not offend presumption of innocence

C v United Kingdom Application no. 37334/08 – read judgment

The Strasbourg Court has rejected as manifestly ill-founded a complaint that the offence of strict liability for rape of a child under 13 violated the right to a presumption if innocence under Article 6 and respect for private life under Article 8.

This admissibility decision touches a sensitive nerve in the relationship between Strasbourg and national authorities by exploring the extent to which the Convention rights should influence prosecutorial policy.  Section 5 of the 2003 Sexual Offences Act creates an offence of strict liability, which means that penile penetration of a child under the age of 13 is an offence whether or not the victim gave consent and irrespective of the belief of the perpetrator regarding the victim’s age. This is because the law regards the attitude of the victim of this behaviour as irrelevant to the commission of the offence;  even if a child under 13 is fully capable of understanding and freely agreeing to such sexual activity, the law says that it makes no difference. He or she is legally disabled from consenting. Although absence of consent is not an ingredient of the offence, presence of consent is, material in relation to sentence which under Section 5 of the 2003 Act can range from absolute discharge to life imprisonment. Continue reading

When is family life family life? A look at deportation cases – Lourdes Peroni

In A.A. v. the United Kingdom, a recent case involving the deportation of a young Nigerian man, the Court faced, once again, the question whether relationships between adult children and parents/siblings amount to family life in deportation cases. The Court’s Fourth Section did not give a clear answer to this question. The 24-year-old applicant resided with his mother and did not have children of his own [also see Rosalind English’s post].

In this post, I take a quick look at the Fourth Section’s reasoning on this issue and try to situate it in the wider context of the Court’s deportation case law. One word of caution:  this is an attempt to briefly look at one specific question the Court asks to decide whether the deportation has interfered with an applicant’s right to respect for her family life. Do the ties invoked by the applicant constitute family life within the meaning of Article 8 § 1? To be more specific, do relationships between adult children and parents/siblings amount to family life in deportation cases?

Continue reading

The suits in Strasbourg – Yukos Oil, tax evasion and human rights

Oao  Neftyanay Kopaniya Yukos v Russia (Application no. 14902/04) - read judgment 

The collapse of the Russian oil giant Yukos following enforcement proceedings for multi-billion tax evasion has not prevented the ghost of the now-defunct company appearing in Strasbourg as a “victim” of the Convention.  After majority shareholder Mikhail Khodorkovsky  was prosecuted and imprisoned for fraud, the assets of Yukos were seized and the company was declared insolvent in 2006, and liquidated a  year later.  Nevertheless, the Strasbourg Court accepted its application because the issues raised by the case “transcended the person and the interests” of the applicant company. Striking out such claims, said the Court,

would undermine the very essence of the right of individual applications by legal persons, as it would encourage governments to deprive such entities of the possibility to pursue an application lodged at a time when they enjoyed legal personality…

The case raises interesting questions with regard to the policing and punishment of tax evasion, a matter which Strasbourg generally prefers to leave to national authorities. Whilst the wide margin of appreciation generally granted to a national governments cannot be boundless, there glimmers behind this ruling a reflection of  troubled water between the Council of Europe and its largest constituent. By admitting and upholding some of the complaints, Strasbourg signals its readiness to castigate failures in due process. But the rejection of the more fundamental charge of political motivation, though not exactly an olive branch, is proffered at least as a sign of non-aggression. Continue reading