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Court of Appeal unanimously dismisses ˜right to die appeals

On 31 July 2013, the Court of Appeal dismissed the conjoined appeals in Nicklinson & Anor, R (on the application of) v A Primary Care Trust [2013] EWCA Civ 961, a case challenging the ban on assisted suicide.  The appeal was heard by the Lord Chief Justice, the Master of the Rolls and Lord Justice Elias.

Lawyers for Jane Nicklinson (on behalf of her deceased husband,Tony Nicklinson), Paul Lamb and a third man, known as ˜Martin, argued that the law as it currently stands was a breach of their Article 8 rights because anyone assisting someone to die could face prosecution.

Mr Nicklinson suffered from 'locked-in' syndrome as a result of a stroke in 2005.  He had fought for his right to die which was rejected by the High Court in 2012.  Following that decision, he refused nutrition and fluids until he died of pneumonia in August 2012.  His appeal was continued by his wife, as administratrix of his estate.  Mr Lamb has been paralysed since a road accident in 1990; he is wheelchair bound and only able to move his right hand.  ˜Martin suffered from a brainstem stroke in 2008 which has left him entirely dependent on others.  Both Mr Lamb and ˜Martin need a third party to end their lives.

Under s.2(1) of the suicide Act 1961 any person assisting someone to take their own life will be committing the offence of assisted suicide and murder if they terminate life themselves.  It is this law that the appellants sought to overturn by submitting that their right to die engaged common law principles as well as the protection of Article 8 of the ECHR.  It was submitted that the current blanket prohibition was a disproportionate interference with Article 8 and that the common law should now adapt to allow a person assisting another to die to avail themselves of the defence of necessity.  The appellants argued that the courts should take an active role in changing the law in this area rather than deferring the issues to Parliament.

Giving judgment, Lord Judge stressed that it was not the role of the judiciary to change the law and that this remained the prerogative of Parliament.  As such, the Court of Appeal dismissed the appeals.  solicitors for the appellants indicated that they may seek to take the case to the supreme Court.

A copy of the judgment can be found below:-


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