The appellant had proposed an alternative scheme for assisted suicide containing certain conditions and safeguards, including the approval of a High Court judge, for those who were terminally ill and had less than six months to live. However, it was held that the alternative scheme would not be effective and raised wide-ranging policy issues that would be better dealt with by Parliament.
The Court identified the origin of the case as being that the Claimant has a prognosis of six months or less to live and wishes to have the option of taking action to end his life peacefully and with dignity, with the assistance of a medical professional, at a time of his choosing, whilst remaining in control of the final act that may be required to bring about his death. However, Section 2(1) of the 1961 Suicide Act makes it a criminal offence to provide encouragement or assistance for a person to commit suicide.
Mr Conway therefore sought a declaration of incompatibility under section 4 of the HRA , on the basis that the ban on assisted suicide was a disproportionate interference with his right to respect for his private life under Article 8 of the Convention (“Article 8”).
Conway, R(on the application of) v The Secretary of State for Justice EWCA Civ 275
The Court of Appeal has overturned the refusal of the Divisional Court to allow a motor neurone disease sufferer to challenge section (1) of the Suicide Act. He may now proceed to seek a declaration under section 4(2) of the Human Rights Act 1998 that the ban on assisted dying is incompatible with the European Convention on Human Rights. The background to this appeal can be found in my post on the decision from the court below, which focussed on the vigorous dissent by Charles J.
Briefly, Mr Conway wishes to enlist the assistance of a medical profession to bring about his death in a peaceful and dignified way at a time while he retains the capacity to make the decision. His family respect his decision and choices and wish to support him in every way they can, but his wife states she would be extremely concerned about travelling to Switzerland with Mr Conway so he can receive assistance from Dignitas.
The main argument in support of the permission to appeal was that it was self-evident from the division of opinion in the Divisional Court that there would be a realistic prospect of success. Mr Conway’s legal team also argued that the issues raised about Mr Conway and those in a similar position to him were of general public importance and that this was a compelling reason for the appeal to be heard. Continue reading →
Conway, R (On the application of) v The Secretary of State for Justice  EWHC 2447 (Admin) – read judgment
This case concerns the issue of provision of assistance to a person with a serious wasting disease who wishes to commit suicide, so as to be able to exercise control over the time of his death as the disease reaches its final stages. See our previous post on it here and here. It follows a line of cases which have addressed that or similar issues, in particular R (Pretty) v Director of Public Prosecutions  UKHL 61;  1 AC 800 (“Pretty“), R (Purdy) v Director of Public Prosecutions  UKHL 54;  1 AC 345 (“Purdy“) and R (Nicklinson) v Ministry of Justice  UKSC 38;  AC 657(“Nicklinson“). Permission to bring this judicial review was granted by the Court of Appeal (McFarlane and Beatson LJJ, see  EWCA Civ 275), having earlier been refused by the Divisional Court (Burnett LJ, Charles and Jay JJ) at  EWHC 640 (Admin
Section 1 of the Suicide Act 1961 abrogated the rule of law whereby it was a crime for a person to commit suicide. In this hearing Mr Conway sought a claim for a declaration of incompatibility pursuant to section 4 of the Human Rights Act 1998 in respect of the prohibition in the criminal law against provision of assistance for a person to commit suicide. That prohibition is contained in section 2 of the Suicide Act 1961. Continue reading →
In Noel Douglas Conway v The Secretary of State for Justice  EWCA Civ 16, the Court of Appeal gave an unusually detailed judgment granting permission to appeal against the decision of the Divisional Court in Conway, R (on the application of) v Secretary of State for Justice  EWHC 640, refusing permission for the applicant to judicially review the criminalisation of physician-assisted suicide under the Suicide Act 1961.
The Divisional Court had held that that Parliament had recently examined the issue following the Supreme Court decision in the 2014 Nicklinson case , and two out of three judges concluded that it would be “institutionally inappropriate” for a court to declare that s.2(1) of the Suicide Act was incompatible with the right to privacy and autonomy under Article 8 of the ECHR.
In the almost three years since the Supreme Court delivered its reasons in Nicklinson (in which a majority refused to issue a declaration that the blanket ban on assisted suicide in s 2(1) of the Suicide Act 1961 was incompatible with Article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights (‘ECHR’)), similar questions of compatibility concerning analogous bans have been considered by courts in Canada, South Africa and New Zealand. Additionally, California and Colorado have introduced legislation permitting physician-assisted suicide (taking the total to six States in the US which permit physician-assisted suicide), France has introduced legislation enabling patients to request terminal sedation, and Germany’s Federal Administrative Court this month handed down judgment confirming that the right to self-determination encompasses a right of the ‘seriously and incurably ill’ to, in ‘exceptional circumstances’, access narcotics so as to suicide.
Given news of a new challenge by Noel Conway to the compatibility of s 2(1) of the Suicide Act with Article 8 (the application for permission to review was heard by the Divisional Court yesterday with judgment reserved), it is, then, a propitious time to re-examine a particularly dubious aspect of the majority’s reasoning in Nicklinson namely, its characterisation of the declaratory power, not least given the potential for such reasoning to deleteriously affect the new challenge. Continue reading →
Conway, R (on the application of) v Secretary of State for Justice  – read judgment
A man suffering from motor neurone disease has been refused permission to appeal to the Supreme Court in his bid to be allowed to choose when and how to die. He is now wheelchair bound and finds it increasingly difficult to breathe without the assistance of non-invasive mechanical ventilation (NIV). His legal campaign to win such a declaration, on his own behalf and others in a similar position, has met with defeat in the courts (see our previous posts on Conway here,here and here). As the Supreme Court noted in their short decision, Mr Conway
could bring about his own death in another way, by refusing consent to the continuation of his NIV. That is his absolute right at common law. Currently, he is not dependent on continuous NIV, so could survive for around at least one hour without it. But once he becomes dependent on continuous NIV, the evidence is that withdrawal would usually lead to his death within a few minutes, although it can take a few hours or in rare cases days.
But Mr Conway doesn’t see this as a solution to his difficulties, since he cannot predict how he will feel should ventilation be withdrawn, and whether he will experience the drowning sensation of not being able to breathe. Taking lethal medicine, he argued, would avoid all these problems.
In his view, which is shared by many, it is his life and he should have the right to choose to end it in the way which he considers most consistent with his human dignity.
The Intelligence and Security Committee found that the UK had allowed terrorism suspects to be treated unlawfully.
Following a three-year investigation, it published two reports examining the extent to which Britain’s intelligence agencies were aware of the mistreatment of suspects. The reports found no evidence that British officers took part in the torture themselves. Neither was there clear evidence of a policy which sought to deliberately overlook mistreatment.
However, the Committee found that British intelligence officers had witnessed prisoners being tortured. They had seen detainees being mistreated at least 13 times, were told by prisoners that they were being abused at least 25 times and were informed of ill-treatment by foreign agencies 128 times. British agents also threatened detainees in nine cases.
Despite being aware of the mistreatment from an early stage, UK agencies continued to provide questions for interrogations. The Committee chairman, Dominic Grieve, said that the UK had tolerated ‘inexcusable’ actions.
Furthermore, British agencies assisted in the rendition of suspects to countries with ‘dubious’ human rights records. MI5 and MI6 subsidised, or offered to subsidise, the rendition of individuals on three occasions. They also provided information for the rendition of 28 people, proposed/ agreed to rendition in 22 cases and failed to stop the rendition of 23 others (including cases involving British nationals). Continue reading →
Conway, R (on the application of) v Secretary of State for Justice  EWHC 640 – read judgment
Noel Douglas Conway, 67, is a victim of motor neurone disease. He has just been refused permission to seek judicial review of the criminalisation of physician-assisted suicide under the Suicide Act 1961. The High Court considered that Parliament has recently examined the issue following the Supreme Court decision in the 2014 Nicklinson case , and two out of three judges concluded that it would be “institutionally inappropriate” for a court to declare that s.2(1) of the Suicide Act was incompatible with the right to privacy and autonomy under Article 8 of the ECHR. Charles J dissented (and those who are interested in his opinion might want to look at his ruling last year in the case of a minimally conscious patient).
Background facts and law
The claimant, whose condition worsens by the day, wishes to enlist the assistance of a medical professional or professionals to bring about his peaceful and dignified death. But Section 2(1) of the Suicide Act criminalises those who provide such assistance. The question of whether someone would be prosecuted for assisting suicide is governed by a detailed policy promulgated by the Director of Public Prosecutions. That policy was formulated in 2010 in response to the decision in R. (on the application of Purdy) v DPP  UKHL 45, and was refined in 2014 following the decision of the Supreme Court in Nicklinson. A similar declaration of incompatibility had been sought in Nicklinson, but by a majority of seven to two the court refused to make the declaration on the grounds that it was not “institutionally appropriate” to do so. The court, however, encouraged Parliament to reconsider the issue of assisted dying.
In the instant case, the court had to determine whether the circumstances which led the Supreme Court to refuse to grant the declaration in Nicklinson had changed so that a different outcome was now possible.
The Court concluded – with an interesting dissent from Charles J – that this was a matter for parliament. A declaration of incompatibility would be institutionally inappropriate in the light of the recent Parliamentary consideration of Nicklinson. The claim was unarguable and permission was refused.
There’s a lot to cover this week, as the Round Up looks at (among other things) Strasbourg’s view on forced labour in Greece, the High Court’s latest decision on assisted dying, a mooted Hillsbrough law, Katie Hopkins’ twitter fiasco receiving short shrift in the courts and, inevitably, the triggering of Article 50.
In July 2018 Noel Conway, who suffers from motor neurone disease, lost his claim for a declaration that the UK’s ban on assisted suicide was a disproportionate and unnecessary interference with his right to autonomy under Article 8. The Supreme Court refused to hear his appeal.
The European Court of Human Rights has upheld the Belgian ban on Islamic burqas and other full-face veils by ruling that it does not violate human rights.
In doing so the Court has held by its position in S.A.S v. France (2014), where it ruled that a similar ban in France was lawful. In these latest cases the Court was asked to rule on the lawfulness of such bans in Belgium, where the applicants argued it was in violation of Articles 8 (right to respect for private and family life) and 9 (freedom of thought, conscience and religion) of the European Convention on Human Rights.
This case concerned the compatibility of a Belgian law introduced on 1st June 2011 which banned the wearing in public places of clothing which partially or totally covers the face. The applicants, Samia Belcacemi and Yamina Oussar both claimed that they had chosen to wear the niqab (a veil which totally covers the face except for the eyes) because of their religious beliefs, and that the restriction on doing so had violated their human rights. Ms Oussar in particular argued that since she has decided to stay at home and wear the veil there has been a restriction on her private and social life. Continue reading →
The Court of Appeal last week partially granted an application for judicial review of the cuts to Legal Aid in certain categories of prison law. The judgment may change the face of legal representation for prisoners across the UK.
With an election on
the horizon, a coalition of 29 women and human rights organisation has published
a manifesto for women and girls. Their stated goals are to “end violence
against women and girls”; “secure women’s equal representation in politics”; “promote
equality in the workplace and in the home”; “invest in public services”; and “lift
women and children out of poverty”. To
achieve these goals, they propose measures including a new ‘Violence Against
Women and Girls’ bill to lay before Parliament; funding for high-quality sex
and relationships education; improvements to the criminal justice system
regarding allegations of rape and sexual assault; equal pay; increased maternity
pay and maternity allowances; an end to pregnancy discrimination; and a strengthening
of the law on sexual harassment at work, creating a duty on employers to
prevent harassment from occurring. The manifesto is available here.
against internet intermediaries and ‘surveillance capitalism’ continues this
week. Amnesty International have released a report entitled ‘Surveillance Giants’,
which analyses in detail the human rights threats posed by Facebook, Google,
and other technology corporations. The report is available here. Meanwhile,
in the courts, Singh LJ granted Ed Bridges permission to appeal the facial
recognition judicial review which he lost in September, noting that Mr Bridges’
appeal had a reasonable prospect of success.
We have finished an overhaul of the Convention rights pages to reflect recent political and legal developments since they were last reviewed. The most important of these is the vote to leave the European Union and what implications this might have for the UK’s obligations under the European Charter of Fundamental Rights and Freedoms. For the moment I have left in place the editorial material matching each of the Charter rights with the Convention rights but the Charter and the role of the ECJ in UK legal affairs may be one of the first features of the post-Brexit landscape to change (see Marina Wheeler’s post on how that court might have overstepped the mark with the Charter, and David Hart’s discussion on the topic of ECJ muscle-flexing here, here and here).
The Labour MP Harriet Harman has proposed a change in the law that would prevent rape complainants from being cross-examined in court about their sexual history.
Harman claims that the introduction of a complainant’s sexual history as evidence has “no evidential value.” Describing the practice as “outdated”, Harman said that “it’s based on the old notion that there were two sorts of women – those who were ‘easy’ and those who were virtuous – and if you were easy, you would have sex with anybody, because you were that sort of woman.”
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