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R (Nicklinson) v Ministry of Justice [2014] UKSC 38

By Oxbridge Law TeamUpdated 16/03/2024 12:52

Judgement for the case R (Nicklinson) v Ministry of Justice

KEY POINTS

  • The right to respect for private life is a fundamental aspect protected under the Suicide Act 1961, specifically about the offense of assisting suicide as outlined in section 2(1). 

  • The issue of whether to ban assisted suicide falls within the United Kingdom's margin of appreciation under Article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR).

    • While acknowledging the UK's discretion in shaping its legal framework, the Supreme Court retains jurisdiction to assess whether Article 8 is violated in cases related to assisted suicide. 

    • It is necessary to recognize that mere legislative consideration does not conclusively determine the compatibility with Article 8.

    • The judiciary maintains the responsibility to independently evaluate the legal and ethical dimensions of assisted suicide, emphasizing the separation of powers within the constitutional framework.

  • In the absence of a declaration of incompatibility under section 4 of the Human Rights Act (HRA) at the current juncture.

  • The ongoing discourse on the right to respect private life in the context of assisted suicide reflects the intricate interplay between individual liberties, societal values, and the evolving understanding of human rights within the legal system.

FACTS

  • Tony Nicklinson, Paul Lamb, and someone known for these proceedings as Martin ("Appellants") appeals originated from claims presented by three men, each afflicted with severe medical conditions, leading them to desire the termination of their lives.

    • Their acute physical incapacity rendered them incapable of self-administered measures for ending their lives.

  • In the first appeal, Appellants Nicklinson and Lamb contested that Section 2(1) of the Suicide Act 1961 constituted a disproportionate interference with the Article 8 ECHR rights of individuals seeking to commit suicide but reliant on third-party assistance.

  • In the second appeal, the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) challenged the Court of Appeal's decision regarding the clarity of her 2010 policy on prosecuting cases of assisted suicide, particularly about healthcare professionals.

  • Simultaneously, AM (known as Martin) cross-appealed, questioning the scope of the aforementioned decision.

JUDGEMENT

  • The Court, dismissing Nicklinson and Martin's appeal while allowing the Director of Public Prosecutions' appeal and dismissing AM's cross-appeal, held that the decision to criminalize assisted suicide falls within the UK's wide margin of appreciation under Article 8. 

  • The mirror principle didn't apply, and the Supreme Court had the jurisdiction to decide independently.

  • Despite dissent, the Court found it institutionally appropriate to consider a declaration of incompatibility under the Human Rights Act.

    • However, it was deemed inappropriate to grant it at the time, suggesting Parliament should first consider amending Section 2.

  • In the second appeal, the Court refrained from making any order against the DPP until she had fully considered the issue.

COMMENTARY

  • The Suicide Act 1961 protects the right to private life, particularly in cases of assisted suicide under section 2(1).

  • The Supreme Court, dismissing appeals from Nicklinson and Martin, allowed the Director of Public Prosecutions' appeal and dismissed Martin's cross-appeal.

  • The Court held that criminalizing assisted suicide falls within the UK's margin of appreciation under Article 8, with jurisdiction to decide independently.

  • Despite dissent, the Court considered a declaration of incompatibility under the HRA institutionally appropriate but inappropriate at that time.

  • In the second appeal, no orders were issued against the DPP until she fully considered the issue.

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