The Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) is seeking feedback on a proposed amendment to homicide legal advice to help prosecutors consider the public interest when dealing with suspects in fatalities involving failed suicide pacts and so-called “mercy killings.”
On Friday, January 14th, a 12-week consultation began and will end on Friday, April 8th.
The consultation lays out a number of “public interest elements” that must be taken into account when deciding whether or not to prosecute in such circumstances.
It’s more likely that a prosecution will be required if:
The victim was under the age of 18; the victim lacked the mental ability (as defined by the Mental Capacity Act 2005) to make an informed decision to end their life; and the victim was a minor.
The victim had not made a voluntary, clear, settled, and informed decision to end their life; the victim had not clearly and unequivocally communicated their decision to end their life to the suspect; the suspect was not solely motivated by compassion; for example, the suspect was motivated by the possibility that they or someone close to them stood to profit in some way from the victim’s death; the suspect pressured the victim or did not take reasonable precautions; the suspect pressed the victim or did not take reasonable precautions; the suspect
the suspect has a history of violence or abuse against the victim; the suspect was unknown to the victim; the suspect was paid for their actions; the suspect purposefully used excessive violence or force, causing unnecessary or prolonged suffering; the suspect was acting in his or her capacity as a medical doctor, nurse, or other healthcare professional, a professional caregiver [whether for payment or not], or as a person in authority, such as a prison offender; the suspect was acting in his or her capacity as a medical doctor, nurse, [This factor does not apply simply because someone was functioning in a capacity indicated within it: it only applies where the suspect and the victims had a relationship of care such that it was required to evaluate whether the suspect had any control over the victim.]
It is less likely that a prosecution will be necessary if:
The victim had made a voluntary, clear, settled, and informed decision to end their life; the suspect was solely motivated by compassion; the victim was seriously physically ill and unable to carry out the act; the suspect’s actions may be characterised as hesitant, in the face of the victim’s determined wish to end their life; the suspect attempted to take their own life at the same time, as part of a suicide pact; the suspect reported the victim’s death; the suspect reported the victim’s death
These and other elements will be examined by prosecutors when applying the public interest test in circumstances where they believe there is sufficient evidence to establish a reasonable probability of conviction.
The proposed amendment to legal guidelines on murder and manslaughter does not decriminalise any crimes, and a suspect is not immune from prosecution if they claim it was a “mercy killing” or a failed suicide pact. The instruction excludes ‘assisted dying’ and other analogous situations, which are dealt with individually in the legislation.