Assisted Suicide — Question for Short Debate

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 8:35 pm on 5th March 2014.

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Photo of Lord Carlile of Berriew Lord Carlile of Berriew Liberal Democrat 8:35 pm, 5th March 2014

My Lords, I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Jay, for instigating this debate and for the way in which she introduced it. I am going to say something that I did not intend to say, because I have been so shocked by what the noble and learned Lord, Lord Falconer, has just said. He has demonstrated a scant and incomplete understanding of what the Director of Public Prosecutions does in these cases. What actually happened here is that the then Director of Public Prosecutions, Sir Kier Starmer, as I understand it determined these guidelines personally and with enormous care as a result of more than 5,000 representations. There is no case that shows that the guidelines have not worked well. The idea that they are not led by compassion is completely unrealistic. The Crown Prosecution Service considers every case on the basis of all the evidence placed before it. Everybody who is interviewed under caution in relation to such a case has the opportunity to tell their story in full, and is able to make extraneous representations—for example, through their solicitors. As a result, the former DPP and the present DPP consider every case on its facts, and apply the guidelines one by one. If there is an issue of compassion, then it is applied to that case.

The noble and learned Lord should not forget—indeed, the House should not forget—that there is a very important constitutional protection here, and that is the power of the Attorney-General or the DPP, as is appropriate in any given case, not to prosecute. That is exactly what is applied here compassionately in an interpretation of the law that works well and should not be changed.