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Pro-Life campaigner denied access to legal redress over Purdy decision

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Issued on behalf of the Christian Legal Centre

Press Release

For Immediate Release

12 February 2010

Pro-Life campaigner denied access to legal redress over Purdy decision

A DISABLED Dorset woman has failed in her attempt to challenge the unanimous decision made by members of the House of Lords to clarify the law on assisted dying.  She blames Lord Phillips for ‘politically interfering’ in the legal process.

The judgment in Debbie Purdy’s case, made by five law lords at the end of July 2009, found that the law on assisted suicide needs to be clarified. Alison Davis, the director of ‘No Less Human’ and a long-standing campaigner against assisted suicide, believes that the judgment is based on an apparent “bias” which Lord Phillips demonstrated in his comments to a national newspaper not long after the outcome of the case.

Ms Davis said: “During the course of her case, Ms Purdy successfully argued that the current law relating to assisted suicide was not sufficiently clear, and, as such, could offer no assurance that her husband would not be prosecuted if he helped Ms Purdy to take her own life. Ms Purdy, who suffers from MS and has planned to end her life with her husband’s help, was elated that the law would be clarified. However, lawyers have warned that the decision made by the House of Lords usurps the power of Parliament to make law.”

As a result of the case the Director of Public Prosecutions, Kier Starmer QC, produced draft guidelines as to when an individual could be prosecuted for helping a person to die. The guidelines were criticized as creating a ‘checklist’ for people who wanted to assist with a person’s suicide without facing criminal penalties, and many fear that the implementation of the guidelines could cause the most vulnerable in our society, the elderly and the terminally ill, to feel as though they have a duty to die. The final guidelines are due to be published within the next few weeks.

Ms Davis, who suffers from several debilitating illnesses and is wheelchair-bound, once entertained thoughts of euthanasia before being persuaded that her life really did have value. She said: “Had assisted suicide been legal several years ago, I am sure I would not be around today; such was my desperation to escape pain by ending my own life. However, I am now more determined than ever to demonstrate that there is an alternative to choosing death, and I work tirelessly to campaign against laws which seek to destroy the sanctity of life.”

Ms Davis believes the decision in Ms Purdy’s case was tainted because Lord Phillips, one of the law lords presiding over the case, let his personal beliefs about assisted suicide colour his judgment. His opinions became public knowledge in an interview with the Daily Telegraph newspaper on 10 September 2009, barely a month after the judgment, where he said “I have enormous sympathy with anyone who finds themselves facing a quite hideous termination of their life as a result of one of these horrible diseases, in deciding they would prefer to end their life more swiftly and avoid that death as well as avoiding the pain and distress that might cause their relatives.”

Ms Davis said: “When assuming his role as one of the highest judges in the land his personal opinions should have formed no part of the deliberations in Ms Purdy’s case, particularly given the nature of the matter being decided. I, along with many others, felt I had to question the apparent impartiality of the decision given the issues at stake, and the decision by Lord Phillips to have his opinions published.”

Ms Davis consulted the Christian Legal Centre and attempted a legal strategy which was the first of its kind, simply because there was no other route by which to challenge the decision made in Ms Purdy’s case. Ms Davis sent a petition to the Supreme Court, seeking to have Ms Purdy’s case reconsidered.

However, Ms Davis was notified in a letter dated 15 December 2009 that although it was assumed that she would have standing to present the petition to challenge the decision made by the House of Lords, her case was dismissed because Lord Phillips’ words “could not establish apparent bias”.  This leaves Ms Davis with no route by which to challenge a situation where personal beliefs have muddied the waters of legal discernment.

Ms Davis concluded:  “We are left with a decision which makes a radical departure from the current law on assisted suicide, and one which will have serious repercussions for the most vulnerable members of our society. As a disabled woman with few resources, what can I do now do to continue to fight for the law on assisted suicide to remain unchanged?

“Access to justice has been denied to me and to the many that feel that the decision in Ms Purdy’s case was biased; however there is no avenue to challenge the leader of the Supreme Court over his apparent failure to comply with his judicial duties. It is a bizarre state of affairs when what was formerly the highest court in the land delivers an impartial judgment, and there is no legal recourse to seek redress.”


For further information:

Andrea Minichiello Williams: 0771 2591164


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