The Good Law Project’s latest suit ‘fails in its entirety’. Should they not be obliged to say so?

17 Feb

We have written about the Good Law Project before. Last year, for example, an article by our editor was cited as evidence in one of their (many) cases. In 2020, we looked at how the Government tripped itself up over expanding Heathrow, following another case in which the GLP was involved.

As we noted in that piece, the expanding role of the courts in policymaking is not solely the fault of ‘activist lawyers’. Much of the blame rests with politicians, breezily insisting that their successors must “have regard to” this or that, creating a vague obligation it is up to the judges to enforce.

Nonetheless, Jolyon Maugham and the GLP are undoubtedly enthusiasts for the trend, pursuing an energetic campaign of litigation against the Government and funding it with appeals for public donations. This week, a ruling from the High Court has put that model in some jeopardy.

One wouldn’t think it to look at the GLP’s own output. After all, the ruling declared that the Secretary of State breached a public sector equality duty when appointing Dido Harding and Mike Coupe, the head of Test and Trace.

In their publicity, Maugham’s outfit claim that: “In reaching this conclusion, the Court accepted the argument made by race equality think tank the Runnymede Trust and Good Law Project”. But let’s have a look at the judgment itself, specifically paragraph 126:

“The collective effect of the conclusions set out during this judgment is that the claim brought by Good Law Project fails in its entirety. The claim by the Runnymede Trust
fails on Grounds 1 and 3; it succeeds on Ground 2 only to the extent that the decisions on the process to be used when appointing to the positions of Interim Chair of NIHP in
August 2020, and Director of Testing at NHSTT in September 2020 were made without compliance with the public sector equality duty.” (Our emphasis.)

Isn’t that curious? It certainly seems difficult to trace a plausible route from that to the GLP’s claim that the Court accepted its arguments, which might give potential donors a misleading impression about the group’s efficacy.

Nor is this the only area where some suggest the GLP is misrepresenting the case. Barbara Rich, a barrister, points out that one of its directors was trying to claim that the Prime Minister “broke the law”, when in fact the court found he played no role in the appointments. Here’s the judgment again, paragraph 135:

“On behalf of the Defendants, it is first submitted that no remedy should be granted as against the first Defendant, the Prime Minister, since it is clear on the facts as found by
this Court that he played no part in the two appointments which are under consideration: the appointments of Baroness Harding in August 2020 and Mr Coupe in September
2020. We agree and indeed it appears to be common ground that only the Secretary of State is the relevant Defendant for the purpose of any remedy to be granted.”

(On the same theme: in their official response, the GLP refer to Dido Harding as “the wife of Boris Johnson’s Anti-Corruption Tsar John Penrose MP”, alluding to their allegation that “personal or political connections with the decision-maker” played a role in the appointment. What did the judges think? “The evidence provides no support for this at all.” (Par 95).)

The idea that the GLP might, for all its pretensions, be a grubby political operation will probably not come as a surprise to many readers. And if it is misrepresenting its track record, that does raise interesting questions about the law governing crowd-funding.

But the ruling also poses a more direct danger to their entire model. In parts 55-59, the court takes a cold, hard look at the question of whether or not the GLP actually has the ‘standing’ that would allow it to even bring a suit – and concludes that “the Runnymede Trust has standing to bring the public sector equality duty challenge, but the Good Law Project does not.” (Par 59.)

In the course of so doing, the judges explicitly attack the idea that any individual or private company, “even with a sincere interest in public law issues, would be regarded as
having standing in all cases” (par 57), and state that “it cannot be supposed that the GLP now has carte blanche to bring any claim for judicial review no matter what the issues and no matter what the circumstances.” (Par 58).

Yet that is, at root, precisely its modus operandi. If Maugham and co can’t keep finding legitimate litigants to piggyback on, their ability to keep generating even defeats to spin might be in serious doubt.

Georgia L. Gilholy: The Government must not ignore another opportunity to acknowledge the Uyghur genocide

8 Dec

Georgia L. Gilholy is a Young Voices UK contributor and a volunteer for the Foundation for Uyghur Freedom.

Tomorrow Sir Geoffrey Nice QC will deliver the Uyghur Tribunal’s judgment on the question of ongoing atrocities and possible genocide in China’s Northwest province of Xinjiang, after months of investigation.

While the determination of the tribunal, which consists of an independent body of experts, lawyers and activists, will not legally bind the British or any other state to take action, or even acknowledge their conclusion, it is vital that this extensive series of hearings and reports spur the UK government to finally acknowledge the process of genocide that is evidently underway in Xinjiang, and push for action against the regime accordingly.

Tomorrow’s determination follows last week’s leak of a major cache of documents to the tribunal that further cement the growing body of evidence suggesting the Chinese government’s mission to culturally and demographically eliminate the Uyghur Muslim minority.

These damning new transcriptions of leaked Chinese state documents are thought to date to around 2014, the same year as a terrorist attack alleged to have been carried out in Beijing by Uyghur separatists.

Adrian Zenz, one of the academics who verified the documents, said the new files’ material demonstrates how “the personal influence of Xi on many details of this atrocity is significantly greater than we realized.”

These new documents lay out the party’s official contempt for what they deem “religious interference” in matters of “secular life,” in other words, their justification for placing brutal restrictions on the perfectly legitimate and public role of faith in the life of the Uyghur community. These complaints have been followed by officials categorising the growing of an “abnormal” beard, wearing a veil or headscarf, prayer, fasting or not drinking alcohol as “signs of extremism” in many cases.

In one previously confidential speech, Xi claimed that “population proportion and population security are important foundations for long-term peace and stability,” a phrase that was repeated verbatim in 2021 by a senior Xinjiang official complaining that the Han Chinese population of southern Xinjiang was “too low” at 15%- alluding to the CCP’s forthwith acceleration of targeted migration, family separation and forced marriage in its quest to eliminate the areas’ unique culture.

Since 2017, at least a million Uyghurs and members of other Turkic Muslim minorities have been transferred into a leviathan of ‘transformation through education’ camps in the region. Detainees are subjected to political indoctrination, forced labour, coerced into renouncing their religion and culture and, are in many instances subjected to torture, rape, and organ harvesting. Women in and outside the camps are regularly the victims of forced sterilisation and abortion.

As Newcastle University expert Joanne Smith Finley, who was sanctioned by the regime earlier this year, told the Associated Press in 2020, “It’s not immediate, shocking, mass-killing on the spot type genocide, but slow, painful, creeping genocide…These are direct means of genetically reducing the Uyghur population.”

In November Beijing announced more restrictive rules, set to be rolled out in the province from January 1 2022, under which every community will be divided into ‘grid’ units to be monitored by officials 24/7. Notably, these guidelines were mandated from the very top echelons of the Party, including President Xi himself.

The new rules also call for tighter control of the already tightly restricted media reports out of the province, and further limitations on Internet use. Severe punishment of officers not judged to deliver the expected level of enforcement on locals is also mandated.

For all the new foreign secretary and indeed her predecessor’s talk of an alliance between “freedom-loving” nations, and the importance of combatting China, the British government is yet to even acknowledge that genocide is being executed in Xinjiang, claiming that it is the sole job of “competent national and international courts” to determine genocide, and not MPs or ministers.

Yet in March they blocked plans to allow national courts to examine the matter by rejecting the genocide amendment to the Trade Bill. The amendment would have permitted the UK High Court to issue a preliminary ruling on whether a genocide was occurring. MPs would then be permitted to decide on any related policies.

The idea of an international court investigating the matter at all – nevermind transparently – is a fantasy. Beijing would never be brought to the International Court of Justice as it has never accepted its jurisdiction. Nor is there any possibility of an International Criminal Court investigation at the UN Security Council, given that the People’s Republic is a permanent member with the ability to veto any proposals it dislikes.

In May, the British Parliament became the third legislature in the world to adopt a resolution labelling China’s repression in Xinjiang a genocide, after Canada and the Netherlands. While the motion passed unopposed the government abstained, and last month the government reaffirmed that it will not “make determinations in relation to genocide” in response to the Foreign Affairs Select Committee’s recommendation that it do so.

It is as clear that a comprehensive international strategy is required to hold Beijing to account, as it is that this strategy is a long way from being decided or enacted. Moreover, of course any acknowledgment of genocide must be followed up concrete action such as cracking down on imports that can be traced to Xinjiang and other areas where forced labour is at play in China, and sanctioning complicit officials.

Yet the first step toward solving a problem is accepting the fact that there is one in the first place, and it is scandalous that the British government has not taken even this minor step.

There is surely a dehumanisation inherent in our culture of piety towards remembering past genocides and atrocities, encapsulated by the oft-repeated phrase “Never Again”, while we continue to avoid any action or acknowledgement of ongoing crises.

We cannot let our decision to acknowledge or take action on genocide remain dependent on toothless international institutions.

When tomorrow’s determination is delivered, the British government ought to be listening very carefully.

Tom Hunt: Soft sentencing is causing voters to lose faith in the justice system. And it’s up to the Government to put it right.

18 Jun

Tom Hunt is the Conservative MP for Ipswich.

The Conservative Party, with the inroads made into the “Red Wall” seats, has a great opportunity to better align itself with some of the deeply held views of both our traditional voter base and the Labour converts who have grown fed up at what might be described as the Labour Party’s “softness”.

When it comes to law and order, it is undeniable that our voters are in favour of firm policies to tackle crime and antisocial behaviour. My constituents are also routinely outraged when sentencing is soft and when they feel that prisoners are being allowed to get away with crimes from behind bars.

They rightly feel that justice isn’t being served in these instances, and it is an affront to them as law abiding citizens. Many of them believe that the criminal justice system is completely broken, and they have lost faith and trust in it.

But whatever the reasons for this, whether it is lax guidance handed down by the Sentencing Council, an increasing tendency within the judiciary to vastly mitigate sentences, or a lack of enforcement within individual prisons, the public ultimately look to the Government as being responsible.

When they see, every day, people being handed soft sentences for some of the most horrid crimes, they do not consider judicial independence or make the distinction between different independent institutions, but rather they look to the Prime Minister, to the Home Secretary, and to their MPs to rectify the problem.

How then are we to rectify this? How do we ensure that the public continues to trust that we are the party of law and order?

There are two examples of heinous crimes which have outraged my constituents in Ipswich. To say that these two cases have cut through within the consciousness of my constituents would be an understatement.

One is the killing of Richard Day by Andrea Cristea, who punched him in the neck and was seen laughing over his body as he searched his pockets for money. Shockingly, Cristea, convicted of the manslaughter of Day was in the end given only a four-year sentence. With time spent on remand and automatic halfway release, he will be behind bars for only 10 months.

People in Ipswich are asking how this is possible. There really does seem to be a huge disconnect between the justice expected by the public and what is handed down in courts. Unfortunately, the judiciary appear very much out of touch with public sentiment (we need only look to the High Court’s Napier Barracks decision to see another prominent example of them being cut-off from the opinion of the public).

There was also the brutal killing of 17-year-old Tavis Spencer-Aitkens by a gang of five. In this case, four of the killers were convicted for murder and one for manslaughter however upon appeal one murderer, Kyreis Davies, had his sentence brought down from life to 16 years. This is because Davies was 16 at the time.

Polling has shown that there is a natural inclination towards harsher sentencing and stricter punishment when it comes to violent crime. We need to give our voters some credit and push hard for the tougher punishment which they are asking for. I appreciate that we may not be able to go as far as many would like. We have an independent judiciary after all. But then it falls on us as politicians to make some noise about it and to push for legislation which will encourage harsher sentences being handed down.

Something needs to be done, and we cannot simply say to the public that it is the fault of some independent body which they have never heard of. They feel as though they are being let down by politicians and so many have completely lost faith in the justice system.

We also need to clamp down on the perception that once convicted for some of the most heinous crimes, the punishment itself is overly soft. Unacceptably, the killers of Tavis have been able to further outrage the public and torment Tavis’ family from behind bars. Each of the five killers have at some point used social media from behind bars. One particularly egregious repeat offender, Callum Plaats, at one occasion boasted on Snapchat about how he will only serve half of his 14-year sentence – “five years left, light work”.

This criminal usage of social media has caused an extraordinary amount of pain and suffering to the family of Tavis who lose faith in the justice system with every post. No victims of violent crime should ever have to be taunted by these criminals serving time. The Government has given me assurances that it is tackling this issue, but it is clear that we have a large problem with how the public perceives these inadequacies throughout the whole of the justice system at every level.

In parliament I have been active alongside Sir Iain Duncan Smith and a number of my other colleagues on a campaign to change the law on pet theft which is a crime that has exploded this year over the pandemic. I had written to the sentencing council asking them to amend their guidelines so that judges could better take into account the emotional trauma to both the owners and the animals for a crime like this, but they could not understand the huge public feeling on this issue and refused to take it any further. Unfortunately, institutions such as the Sentencing Council are cut off and divorced from public sentiment, and we need to find a way to grapple with this.

A group of MPs are now pushing to introduce a new law on pet theft which will see harsher sentencing and introduce a number of measures to deter criminals from illegally trafficking stolen pets.

We saw with the Release of Prisoners Order 2020 that measures ending the halfway release of those sentenced to over seven years for serious violent crimes and sexual offences such as rape were hugely popular. This was then extended in the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill which similarly ended the automatic halfway release of those who have been sentenced to over four years for these types of crimes. This is exactly the type of thing we as Conservative politicians should be pushing for in all areas more widely.

It’s not just the right thing to do as representatives of a public who are asking for it, but it is a matter of political imperative. The reality is that like on so many other issues such as immigration, on law and order the Conservative Government is on trial. If we are to hold on to our new voters, we need to show them that we do actually care about the policies which matter to them.

We cannot just rest on our laurels and imagine that getting Brexit done and being the party of patriotism will continue to resonate if the voters cannot see material change in areas such as law and order.

It is simply not enough for us to say, “we cannot deal with this because it is in the hands of some other body”. We must act now to restore faith and public trust in our justice system – whether that means looking at the role of the Sentencing Council or how we instruct the judiciary going forward, all options should be on the table.

Benedict Rogers: Amendments to the Government’s Trade Bill can help Britain stand up to genocidal regimes

7 Dec

Benedict Rogers is co-founder and Chair of Hong Kong Watch, co-founder and Deputy Chair of the Conservative Party Human Rights Commission.

Sixteen year-old Khalida lay prostrate on the floor of her bamboo hut in a refugee camp. She could barely even lift her head when I entered. She had been shot multiple times and left for dead, hidden among hundreds of corpses. At least 300 had been killed in her village alone, she told me, including her father, two sisters and a brother. Her 18-year-old brother Mohammed had escaped before the attack and returned only when it was safe to do so. Amidst the carnage and corpses, he found his sister, still alive, and carried her to Bangladesh.

Khalida was a victim of a genocidal campaign against the Rohingyas that forced over 700,000 people to flee across the border to Bangladesh, left thousands were killed, unknown numbers of women and girls raped, babies and children thrown into fires and villagers lined up and shot.

Today, another genocide is unfolding. It doesn’t involve guns and burning villages, but instead forced sterilisations, forced abortions, forced organ harvesting, slave labour, mass surveillance, separation of millions of children from their families and the internment of at least a million people. It entails the suppression of language, religion and cultural identity. It is the genocide of the Uyghurs in China.

Earlier this year the Conservative Party Human Rights Commission held an inquiry on human rights in China. Our report will be released in the new year. One Uyghur witness told us in our first hearing that the Chinese Communist Party regime aims to “wipe out” three categories of Uyghur: “intellectual Uyghurs, rich Uyghurs and religious Uyghurs”. Fifteen members of her entire family were in the concentration camps in Xinjiang – or East Turkestan as Uyghurs prefer to call it.

China’s state media has said that the goal in regard to the Uyghurs is to “break their lineage, break their roots, break their connections and break their origins.” As the The Washington Post put it, “It’s hard to read that as anything other than a declaration of genocidal intent.” Leaked high-level Chinese government documents speak of “absolutely no mercy”.

For the Jewish community in particular, comparisons with the Holocaust are rare and sensitive. So it is significant that Marie van der Zyl, the President of the Board of Deputies of British Jews, wrote to the Chinese ambassador in London Liu Xiaoming saying: “Nobody could … fail to notice the similarities between what is alleged to be happening in the People’s Republic of China today and what happened in Nazi Germany 75 years ago: People being forcibly loaded onto trains; beards of religious men being trimmed; women being sterilised; and the grim spectre of concentration camps.” The late Lord Sacks, the former Chief Rabbi, Tweeted in a similar vain, and The Jewish News has twice run the Uyghur story on its frontpage – the only British newspaper to do so.

And yet the international community has so far proven impotent in the face of these atrocities. No one has been brought to justice for these crimes, which continue with impunity. The words “never again” have been uttered after every genocide in recent decades, but have proven all too hollow.

Today, the House of Lords has a chance to take a step towards rectifying that. An amendment to the Government’s Trade Bill by a cross-party group of peers offers a simple proposition: Britain should not trade with genocidal regimes.

But who determines a genocide? The British government’s response has always been that the recognition of genocide is a matter for “judicial decision”, not for politicians. Fine. The problem, however, is that the international judicial system does not work – particularly where China is concerned. Despite the mounting evidence of atrocity crimes against the Uyghurs, and a growing number of international experts acknowledging that it points to genocide, China would never allow a referral to the International Criminal Court at the UN Security Council. The system is hamstrung.

Lord Forsyth of Drumlean, the former Conservative Cabinet minister, Lord Hope of Craighead, former Supreme Court Justice, Baroness Helena Kennedy QC, Director of the International Bar Association’s Human Rights Institute, Lord Alton of Liverpool and Baroness Falkner of Margavine, both crossbenchers, and others have come up with a solution. The amendment before the House of Lords would allow for the High Court of England and Wales to make a “preliminary determination” on genocide. This ingenious solution breaks the logjam while remaining consistent with the government’s view that it is for judges to decide.

The consequence of a preliminary determination of genocide by Britain’s courts, under this amendment, would be that bilateral trade deals with genocidal states would be revoked or prohibited. As Sir Geoffrey Nice QC, who led the prosecution of Slobodan Milosevic, argues, “this is manifestly proportionate. No well-ordered state would want to be trading with a genocidal state.”

How does this affect past genocides? It doesn’t. The amendment applies only to genocides occurring after this bill comes into force, and only to those considered by the High Court to be “ongoing at the time of its coming into force”.

Does it violate our multilateral trade commitments? No, because it only applies to bilateral agreements.

Does it prevent further action by the United Nations? Not at all – indeed, precisely because it requires a “preliminary determination” by our courts, it strengthens the case for a full determination through the international system – potentially resulting in a prosecution.

As Nice says, “it would also discourage, and probably significantly reduce, casual and often instrumental assertions that genocide is being committed.”

The amendment now has the support of the Labour Party frontbench, the Liberal Democrats’ defence spokesperson Baroness Smith of Newnham and many Conservative peers. The Bishop of St Albans officially supports it too, and the rest of the bishops’ bench is expected to pile in on it.

The Government now has a choice. It can resist it but face defeat in the House of Lords, and a significant rebellion when it goes to the House of Commons. Or it can show moral courage and leadership and back – or at least accept – the amendment now, and send the world a clear message that Britain won’t be complicit with the “crime of crimes”.

If Britain leads on this, others will follow and we have a chance at long last to make the 1948 Genocide Convention mean something more than words. For as Labour’s spokesman Lord Stevenson of Balmacara put it, “if we care about our moral values as a nation, we should have no grounds not to support the amendment.” I hope every Conservative Peer – and every MP when it reaches the House of Commons – will back it.

Matt Vickers: The killing of Andrew Harper. Why I, alongside 22 other MPs, wrote to the Attorney General last Friday.

5 Aug

Matt Vickers is the MP for Stockton South.

The images of Henry Long, Albert Bowers and Jessie Cole laughing during their trial for the killing of PC Andrew Harper truly pierced the public consciousness. Their sniggering and pride in the devastation they caused has desperately angered the British people, and last week’s manslaughter verdict feels out of step with such a brutal crime.

On August 15, 2019, PC Harper was called to the scene of the attempted theft of a quad bike. The three teenage boys involved sped away in their car, PC Harper became tangled and was dragged for over a mile, before dying on the road. His killers swerved time and time again, violently trying to shake him off, yet they claim they were unaware he was even stuck to the car.

Such a crime against one of our brave police officers must surely be met with only the strongest and toughest of sentences. Anything less beggars’ belief and flies in the face of justice.

It is for this reason I, alongside 22 other MPs, wrote to the Attorney General last Friday. We are urging her to refer the case to the Court of Appeal and recommend that a full life-term should be served. Faith in public order is integral; for our justice system to work we must protect those who work to uphold and defend it.

Just take a few moments to read Lissie Harper’s open letter, published on Facebook. PC Harper’s wife’s letter is both eloquent and direct, devastated yet composed:

“I implore you to hear my words, see the facts that are laid out before us, and I ask with no expectations other than hope that you might help me to make these changes be considered, to ensure that Andrew is given the retrial that he unquestionably deserves and to see that the justice system in our country is the solid ethical foundation that it rightly should be. Not the joke that so many of us now view it to be.”

His innocent loved ones have been left without closure; a common-sense approach to justice is needed. Unfortunately, many would say the ultimate aim of securing a retrial is unlikely, and I would be choosing to overlook significant legal precedents if I was to say otherwise.

It is very rare for “not guilty” verdicts to be overturned, regardless of how intense external pressures and public demand may be. In this instance, there is a potential road to a retrial, but it is uphill and scattered with obstacles. The High Court would be able to order a retrial if one of the defendants was acquitted because of “intimidation of, or interference with, a witness or juror”.

From the very beginning of the trial, there were allegations of attempts by supporters of the accused to distort the trial. At one stage, the presiding judge ordered extra security measures to protect the jury, following information from the police thatan attempt is being considered by associates of the defendants to intimidate the jury”. This alone creates the space for an investigation into the conduct of the trial from the Crown Prosecution Service. It could potentially be crucial.

It is obvious that PC Harper was a wonderful man. He had the sense of public duty to serve, even when his shift was up and he was due to head home.

We must stand alongside those who run towards danger to protect us at times like this. The intuitive recognition of what is right and what is wrong is something the people of this country have at their core; it is this very spirit and hunger for justice that must now be harnessed.

Andrew Mitchell: I used to be adamantly opposed to all forms of assisted dying. Here’s why I changed my views.

22 Jul

Andrew Mitchell was International Development Secretary from 2010 to 2012. He is the MP for Sutton Coldfield.

The All Party Group on choice at the end of life – composed of members of both the Commons and the Lords – held its first ever virtual meeting last week.

That more than 60 members of Parliament chose to attend at 9am is an eloquent testimony to the seriousness with which Members of Parliament are examining the issue. At the meeting I agreed to be the co-Chair of the group along with my Labour colleague Karin Smyth, the Member of Parliament for Bristol South.

When I entered the House of Commons in 1987, I was adamantly opposed to all forms of assisted dying. But over the years (perhaps it is part of the ageing process) I have completely changed my mind.

Let me explain why.

It is first and foremost because of my experience as a constituency MP. I have sat in my office in the Royal Town of Sutton Coldfield and heard stories from so many of my constituents. Often with tears pouring down their faces, they have given me deeply intimate details of the last days of someone they loved but who died a miserable and sometimes very painful death.

By the end of these meetings, often with tears coursing down my own face, I was invariably left with two overwhelming feelings: the first is that we would not let an animal we loved be treated in such a way and, second, I do not myself wish to go through the sort of end of life experience that my constituents have so often eloquently described.

And just as I would not want it for myself, I no longer want members of my family or those I represent in Parliament to have to navigate so awful an end.

I believe the time is approaching when Parliament must examine this again. This is not a party political issue subject to whipping; it is an issue of conscience where members of the House of Commons hold different views reached entirely honourably on the basis of their own personal beliefs.

Assisted dying could be the great liberal reform achieved by this government. Public support for assisted dying is overwhelming and consistent across all parts of society. Out of the British public, 84 per cent support assisted dying including 86 per cent of Conservative voters. Of Conservative Party members, 67 per cent support assisted dying. It is interesting also to note that 79 per cent of people of faith and 86 per cent of people with disabilities support assisted dying.

Support is also highest in the North East, East Midlands and Yorkshire and Humber. It is lowest in London. So this is not a liberal metropolitan issue; it is one that unites the country.

Assisted dying is legal in 10 states in the United States of America (some for more than 20 years), two states in Australia, nationwide in Canada and likely to be nationwide in New Zealand later this year. It is interesting to note that in no country with legalised assisted dying has the law been repealed. And in Britain we now have the opportunity to look at the differing legislative approaches in all of these countries, evaluate them, and deliver the best possible results for our constituents.

Consider these facts:

  • Everyday 17 people in the UK will die in pain and distress that cannot be prevented by even the very best palliative care.
  • Hospices now acknowledge that some dying people are in so much pain medication doesn’t work.
  • One Britain travels to Switzerland for assisted dying every week at a cost of around £10,000, the expense, the difficulty of traveling when terminally ill and the challenges of obtaining the necessary documentation put this option out of the reach of all but a few.
  • Those who accompany their loved ones to Switzerland run the risk of police prosecution. Ann Whaley, married to her husband Geoffrey for more than 60 years, was interviewed under caution by police officers.
  • Around 300 terminally ill people take their own lives every year behind closed doors. The effect of these suicides on their family and on responders can be devastating. Some of them have gone wrong, which has added to the immense distress. Mavis Eccleston helped her husband of almost 60 years, Dennis, who was dying in agony to take his own life and was later prosecuted for murder. She was acquitted by a jury but only after 18 months of investigation. This brought huge distress to her and her family.

There is also a risk in maintaining the status quo as attitudes among the public change. The increased reporting of cases undermines public confidence in the law. Almost half of police and crime commissioners including five Conservative PCC’s have called on the Government to review the law saying the current law does not protect vulnerable people.

The medical profession’s views are shifting too: the Royal College of Physicians moved its position to neutrality in 2019 and the Royal College of General Practitioners who surveyed their membership this year found a surge in support for assisted dying – 41 per cent compared to just five per cent in 2013.

As assisted dying becomes more established and understood in other English-speaking countries, demands in the UK for the law to change will continue to grow.

Many of us hope that the Health Select Committee under Jeremy Hunt, its distinguished and experienced Chair, might consider an inquiry which took evidence from the various sections of society that are most affected: dying people and their families, police officers, healthcare professionals and coroners, so that the issue can be explored further.

The Health Select Committee will currently be heavily preoccupied with the Covid crisis but perhaps in due course they may feel this is a subject which they are well placed to examine.

So finally, what are the modest changes those of us who want reform are seeking?

  • We want to give people who are terminally ill (and also in the final months of their lives) the option of dying on their own terms. We want this to be an active choice by a rational person to end their own life as they wish.
  • The change in the law we propose would contain stringent safeguards to protect people; it would only be accessible to mentally competent adults.
  • Two doctors would assess the person making the request to ensure that they met the eligibility criteria under the law. They would explain all other care options in full.
  • A High Court judge would examine the person’s request and make sure that it was being made voluntarily – free from any pressure or coercion.
  • Once the request was approved, a doctor would be able to prescribe life-ending medication for the person who would then take it themselves under the supervision of a doctor or another healthcare professional.
  • Healthcare professionals who wanted to exercise conscientious objection would, of course, be able to do so.
  • There would be clear reporting procedures for doctors as well as monitoring through an annual report published by the Government.

The law change that we propose is based on one that has operated in Oregon in America for 23 years. We would like to add additional safeguards built in to make it right for the UK. There have been no cases of abuse of Oregon’s law and no extension of its eligibility criteria throughout these 23 years. This model of assisted dying legislation has since been adopted in nine other US states and passed by lawmakers in Australia and New Zealand.

Wherever you stand on this issue, let us now have a calm and measured debate on the best way forward. I believe this is a reform whose time is approaching.