Page last updated at 14:12 GMT, Wednesday, 23 September 2009 15:12 UK

What the prosecution consider

Keir Starmer QC, the director of public prosecutions, has published a number of key factors that determine whether someone will face prosecution over assisting a suicide.

He stressed discretion would still be used and the presence of one factor would not automatically lead to a prosecution or the decision not to prosecute.

Instead, the case as a whole would have to be taken into account with the factors weighed up against each other. So what will be looked at in such cases?

Factors in favour of prosecution:

  • The victim was under 18 years of age
  • The victim's capacity to reach an informed decision was adversely affected by recognised mental illness or learning disability
  • The victim did not have a clear, settled and informed wish to commit suicide
  • The victim did not indicate unequivocally to the suspect that he or she wished to commit suicide
  • The victim did not ask personally on his or her own initiative for the assistance of the suspect
  • The victim did not have a terminal illnes, incurable disability or severe degenerative physical condition
  • The suspect was not wholly motivated by compassion
  • The suspect persuaded, pressured or maliciously encouraged the victim to commit suicide
  • The victim was physically able to undertake the act that constituted the assistance him or herself
  • The suspect was not the spouse, partners or a close relative or close personal friend of the victim
  • The suspect was unknown to the victim and assisted by providing specific information via, for example, a website or publication, to the victim to assist him or her
  • The suspect gave assistance to more than one victim who were not known to each other
  • The suspect was paid by the victim or those close to the victim for their assistance
  • The suspect was paid to care for the victim in a care / nursing home environment
  • The suspect was aware that the victim intended to commit suicide in a public place where it was reasonable to thing that members of the public may be present
  • The suspect was a member of an organisation or group, the principle purpose of which is to provide a physical environment in which to allow another to commit suicide

In most cases, Mr Starmer said, factors one to eight carry more weight than the other factors in deciding that a prosecution is needed in the public interest.

Factors against prosecution:

  • The victim had a clear, settled and informed wish to commit suicide
  • The victim indicated unequivocally to the suspect that he or she wished to commit suicide
  • The victim asked personally on his or her own initiative for the assistance of the suspect
  • The victim has a terminal illness, incurable disability or severe degenerative physical condition
  • The suspect was wholly motivated by compassion
  • The suspect was the spouse, partners or a close relative or close personal friend of the victim
  • The actions of the suspect, although sufficient to come within the definition of the offence, were of only minor assistance or influence
  • The victim was physically unable to undertake the act that constituted the assistance him or herself
  • The suspect had sought to dissuade the victim from taking the course of action which resulted in his or her suicide
  • The victim had considered and pursued to a reasonable extent recognised treatment and care options
  • The victim had previously attempted to commit suicide and was likely to try to do so again
  • The actions of the suspect may be characterised as reluctant assistance in the face of a determined wish on the part of the victim to commit suicide
  • The suspect fully assisted the police in their enquiries into the circumstances of the suicide or the attempt and his or her part in providing assistance

Factors one to seven carry more weight than the other factors in most cases, Mr Starmer said.



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