New guidance on when someone could avoid prosecution in a ‘mercy killing’ case has been published.
The Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) set out updated public interest factors – both for and against – when weighing up whether someone should be taken to court.
Charges are less likely when a person made a “voluntary, clear, settled and informed decision” they wanted to die, and when the suspect acted reluctantly and under “significant emotional pressure”.
Amended factors in favour of prosecution include the suspect influencing the victim not to get medical treatment, palliative care or independent advice – or directly denying them access to it.
A prosecution is also more likely if the suspect was a doctor, nurse or other health professional.
As well as these updated factors, other things considered include whether the suspect stood to gain from the death, if there was violence and abuse, and if the victim was under 18.
Other factors against prosecution include when the suspect was motivated purely by compassion, when the victim was physically unable to take their own life, and if the suspect cooperated fully with police.
The CPS stressed the guidance does not guarantee someone will not be prosecuted in a mercy killing case, as each is considered on its own facts.
It said the revisions – which cover England and Wales – were designed to provide transparency and consistency.
Director of Public Prosecutions Max Hill KC said more then 1,200 responses had been received following a 12-week public consultation into homicide prosecution guidelines.
“I am grateful to all those who took the time to consider the draft guidance and send in their views on this sensitive and emotive topic,” he said.
“A prosecution will usually take place unless the prosecutor is satisfied that there are public interest factors tending against prosecution which outweigh those tending in favour,” added Mr Hill.
Sarah Wootton, head of campaign Group Dignity In Dying, said she strongly supported the clarification from the CPS.
“[It] distinguishes between malicious homicide and compassionate assistance to die and makes clear that acts of love and compassion should be treated differently to serious crimes by the criminal justice system.
“This is a victory for Dignity in Dying’s ‘Compassion is Not a Crime’ campaign and today’s guidance is a major milestone on the road to assisted dying law reform.”
She also called for further reform and for MPs to “do the right thing and introduce safeguarded, compassionate assisted dying laws”.
“This would provide choice and control for dying people, in addition to adding safeguards where there currently are none,” added Ms Wootton.