Nicklinson and Another, Regina (on The Application of): SC 25 Jun 2014

Criminality of Assisting Suicide not Infringing

The court was asked: ‘whether the present state of the law of England and Wales relating to assisting suicide infringes the European Convention on Human Rights, and whether the code published by the Director of Public Prosecutions relating to prosecutions of those who are alleged to have assisted a suicide is lawful. ‘
Held: The first appeal (of Nicklinson) failed (Majority seven to to two) The question of whether the current law on assisted suicide is incompatible with Article 8 lies within the United Kingdom’s margin of appreciation, and is therefore a question for the United Kingdom to decide, and the court did have the constitutional authority to make a declaration of incompatibility of section 2 of the 1961 Act with those article 8 rights. However the issues were inherently ones far better to be decided by Parliament, and Parliament’s assessment should be respected.
In the second appeal, the DPP succeeded in having the decision in favour of AM reversed. Several factors, the judgment by the DPP, the variety of cases, and the need to vary the weight to be attached to them according to the circumstances of each individual case were all proper and constitutionally necessary features of the system of prosecution in the public interest.
Lord Neuberger PSC succinctly described the responsibility of the DPP: ‘The DPP always has the right to decide that it is not in the public interest to prosecute, even where it is clear that an offence was committed; and the DPP has power to stay a private prosecution if satisfied, inter alia, that it is not in the public interest for the prosecution to proceed. All that section 2(4) does, therefore, is to rule out the bringing of a private prosecution for encouraging or assisting a suicide without the DPP’s prior consent (although it is worth noting that, before the creation of the Crown Prosecution Service (‘CPS’), it would have prevented the police prosecuting without the consent of the DPP).’
Lord Neuberger also said: ‘Where the legislature has enacted a statutory provision which is within the margin of appreciation accorded to member states, it would be wrong in principle and contrary to the approach adopted in In re G, for a national court to frank the provision as a matter of course simply because it is rational. However, where the provision enacted by Parliament is both rational and within the margin of appreciation accorded by the Strasbourg court, a court in the United Kingdom would normally be very cautious before deciding that it infringes a Convention right. As Lord Mance said in In re G, the extent to which a United Kingdom court should be prepared to entertain holding that such legislation is incompatible must depend on all the circumstances, including the nature of the subject-matter, and the extent to which the legislature or judiciary could claim particular expertise or competence.’


Lord Neuberger, President, Lady Hale, Deputy President, Lord Mance, Lord Kerr, Lord Clarke, Lord Wilson, Lord Sumption, Lord Reed, Lord Hughes


36 BHRC 465, [2015] 1 AC 657, 139 BMLR 1, [2014] WLR(D) 298, [2014] 3 FCR 1, [2014] HRLR 17, [2014] 3 WLR 200, [2014] 3 All ER 843, (2014) 139 BMLR 1, UKSC 2013/0235, [2014] UKSC 38, [2014] 3 WLR 200


WLRD, SC, SC Summary, Bailii Summary, Bailii


Homicide Act 1957, Suicide Act 1961 2, Coroners and Justice Act 2009, European Convention on Human Rights 8


England and Wales


See AlsoNicklinson v Ministry of Justice and Others QBD 12-Mar-2012
The claimant suffered locked-in syndrome and sought relief in a form which would allow others to assist him in committing suicide. The court considered whether the case should be allowed to proceed rather than to be struck out as hopeless.
At AdminNicklinson, Regina (on The Application of) v Ministry of Justice Admn 16-Aug-2012
The claimants each suffered ‘locked in syndrome’ after catastrophic health events, and were unable to commit suicide as they would have wished. In one case, the claimant would have needed assistance to travel to a clinic in Switzerland where he . .
Appeal fromNicklinson and Another, Regina (on The Application of) v A Primary Care Trust CA 31-Jul-2013
The claimant had suffered a severe form of locked-in syndrome, and would wish to die. He sought a declaration that someone who assisted him in his siuicide would not be prosecuted for murder.
Held: The position in law that voluntary euthanasia . .
CitedRex v Croft CCA 1944
A person who was present at the suicide of another and who assisted or encouraged the suicide, is guilty of murder as a principal in the second degree. The survivor of a suicide pact was properly convicted of murder. The court considered liability . .
CitedAiredale NHS Trust v Bland HL 4-Feb-1993
Procedures on Withdrawal of Life Support Treatment
The patient had been severely injured in the Hillsborough disaster, and had come to be in a persistent vegetative state (PVS). The doctors sought permission to withdraw medical treatment. The Official Solicitor appealed against an order of the Court . .
CitedInglis, Regina v CACD 12-Nov-2010
The appellant was mother of the victim. He had suffered catastrophic injuries. She had tried to end his life in a ‘mercy killing’, but was discovered, charged with attempted murder, and released on bail. On a second occasion she injected him with a . .
CitedAintree University Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust v James SC 30-Oct-2013
The hospital where a gravely ill man had been treated had asked for a declaration that it would be in his best interests to withhold certain life-sustaining treatments from him. When can it be in the best interests of a living patient to withhold . .
CitedIn Re B (A Minor) (Wardship: Medical Treatment) CA 1981
The child was born with Down’s Syndrome and an intestinal blockage. She needed the obstruction to be relieved if she was to survive. If the operation were performed, the child might die within a few months but it was probable that her life . .
CitedIn re F (Mental Patient: Sterilisation) HL 4-May-1989
Where a patient lacks capacity, there is the power to provide him with whatever treatment or care is necessary in his own best interests. Medical treatment can be undertaken in an emergency even if, through a lack of capacity, no consent had been . .
CitedIn re J (a Minor) (Wardship: Medical treatment) CA 1-Oct-1990
J was born at 27 weeks’, weighing only 1.1kg. He suffered very severe and permanent brain damage at the time of his birth, the brain tissue then lost being irreplaceable. He was epileptic and the medical evidence was that he was likely to develop . .
CitedMs B v An NHS Hospital Trust FD 22-Mar-2002
The applicant had come to suffer from a completely disabling condition, and requested that her life support machine be turned off. She did not want to live on a ventilator, and had made a living will. She was found at first to have capacity to make . .
CitedIn re B (Consent to treatment: Capacity) FD 22-Mar-2002
The claimant had suffered catastrophic injuries, leaving her unable to breathe without artificial help. She eventually decided that she wanted to refuse treatment. The health authority took this as an indication of lack of capacity, and refused to . .
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Twins were conjoined (Siamese). Medically, both could not survive, and one was dependent upon the vital organs of the other. Doctors applied for permission to separate the twins which would be followed by the inevitable death of one of them. The . .
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Article 8-1
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Positive obligations
Article 8-1
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Right to Life Did Not include Right to Death
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CitedHirst v United Kingdom (2) ECHR 6-Oct-2005
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Need for Certainty in Scope of Offence
The appellant suffered a severe chronic illness and anticipated that she might want to go to Switzerland to commit suicide. She would need her husband to accompany her, and sought an order requiring the respondent to provide clear guidelines on the . .
CitedRegina v Howe etc HL 19-Feb-1986
The defendants appealed against their convictions for murder, saying that their defences of duress had been wrongly disallowed.
Held: Duress is not a defence available on a charge of murder. When a defence of duress is raised, the test is . .
CitedAiredale NHS Trust v Bland CA 9-Dec-1992
The official Solicitor appealed against a decision that doctors could withdraw medical treatment including artificial nutrition, from a patient in persistent vegetative state.
Held: The doctors sought permission to act in accordance with . .
CitedWoolwich Equitable Building Society v Inland Revenue Commissioners (2) HL 20-Jul-1992
The society had set out to assert that regulations were unlawful in creating a double taxation. It paid money on account of the tax demanded. It won and recovered the sums paid, but the revenue refused to pay any interest accrued on the sums paid. . .
CitedRodriguez v Attorney General of Canada 30-Sep-1993
Canlii (Supreme Court of Canada) Constitutional law – Charter of Rights – Life, liberty and security of the person – Fundamental justice – Terminally ill patient seeking assistance to commit suicide – Whether . .
CitedBuckley v The United Kingdom ECHR 25-Sep-1996
The Commission had concluded, by a narrow majority, that the measures taken by the respondent in refusing planning permission and enforcing planning orders were excessive and disproportionate, even allowing a margin of appreciation enjoyed by the . .
CitedBellinger v Bellinger HL 10-Apr-2003
Transgender Male to Female not to marry as Female
The parties had gone through a form of marriage, but Mrs B had previously undergone gender re-assignment surgery. Section 11(c) of the 1973 Act required a marriage to be between a male and a female. It was argued that the section was incompatible . .
CitedRegina v Kennedy HL 17-Oct-2007
The defendant had been convicted of manslaughter. He had supplied a class A drug to a friend who then died taking it. The House was asked ‘When is it appropriate to find someone guilty of manslaughter where that person has been involved in the . .
CitedCountryside Alliance and others, Regina (on the Application of) v Attorney General and Another HL 28-Nov-2007
The appellants said that the 2004 Act infringed their rights under articles 8 11 and 14 and Art 1 of protocol 1.
Held: Article 8 protected the right to private and family life. Its purpose was to protect individuals from unjustified intrusion . .
CitedIn re P and Others, (Adoption: Unmarried couple) (Northern Ireland); In re G HL 18-Jun-2008
The applicants complained that as an unmarried couple they had been excluded from consideration as adopters.
Held: Northern Ireland legislation had not moved in the same way as it had for other jurisdictions within the UK. The greater . .
CitedGreens v The United Kingdom ECHR 23-Nov-2010
The applicants alleged a violation of article 3 in the refusal to allow them to enrol on the electoral register whilst serving prison sentences.
Held: Where one of its judgments raises issues of general public importance and sensitivity, in . .
CitedSinclair Collis Ltd, Regina (on The Application of) v The Secretary of State for Health CA 17-Jun-2011
The claimants sought to challenge the validity of rules brought in under the 2009 Act as to the placement of cigarette vending machines in retail outlets. They said it was a a national measure restricting the free movement of goods. The . .
CitedA, B And C v Ireland ECHR 16-Dec-2010
Grand Chamber – The Court considered the prohibition of abortion in Ireland: ‘The first two applicants principally complained under Article 8 about, inter alia, the prohibition of abortion for health and well-being reasons in Ireland and the third . .
CitedHaas v Switzerland ECHR 20-Jan-2011
The applicant was severely bipolar, and wanted to obtain a lethal dose of a drug to kill himself, but could not do so, because Swiss law required him to get a prescription, and, before he could do that, he needed a psychiatric assessment. Relying on . .
CitedLautsi v Italy ECHR 18-Mar-2011
(Grand Chamber) The applicants complained that the presence in all state schoolrooms of a crucifix on the wall infringed the principle of secularism. The routine presence in state school classrooms of a crucifix, which was not used for worship, . .
CitedAXA General Insurance Ltd and Others v Lord Advocate and Others SC 12-Oct-2011
Standing to Claim under A1P1 ECHR
The appellants had written employers’ liability insurance policies. They appealed against rejection of their challenge to the 2009 Act which provided that asymptomatic pleural plaques, pleural thickening and asbestosis should constitute actionable . .
CitedQuila and Another, Regina (on The Application of) v Secretary of State for The Home Department SC 12-Oct-2011
Parties challenged the rule allowing the respondent to deny the right to enter or remain here to non EU citizens marrying a person settled and present here where either party was under the age of 21. The aim of the rule was to deter forced . .
CitedAbdullah Yasa And Others v Turkey ECHR 16-Jul-2013
Article 3
Degrading treatment
Inhuman treatment
Serious injury to nose caused by tear gas canister fired by police officer: violation
Article 46
Article 46-2
Execution of judgment
Measures of a general . .
CitedSidaway v Board of Governors of the Bethlem Royal Hospital and the Maudsley Hospital HL 21-Feb-1985
Explanation of Medical Risks essential
The plaintiff alleged negligence in the failure by a surgeon to disclose or explain to her the risks inherent in the operation which he had advised.
Held: The appeal failed. A mentally competent patient has an absolute right to refuse to . .
CitedWeber and Saravia v Germany ECHR 29-Jun-2006
(Admissibility) ‘The first applicant is a freelance journalist who works for various German and foreign newspapers, radio and television stations on a regular basis. In particular, she investigates matters that are subject to the surveillance of the . .
CitedHuang v Secretary of State for the Home Department HL 21-Mar-2007
Appellate Roles – Human Rights – Families Split
The House considered the decision making role of immigration appellate authorities when deciding appeals on Human Rights grounds, against refusal of leave to enter or remain, under section 65. In each case the asylum applicant had had his own . .
CitedGillan and Quinton v The United Kingdom ECHR 12-Jan-2010
The claimants had been stopped by the police using powers in the 2000 Act. They were going to a demonstration outside an arms convention. There was no reason given for any suspicion that the searches were needed.
Held: The powers given to the . .

Cited by:

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Lists of cited by and citing cases may be incomplete.

Health, Crime, Human Rights

Leading Case

Updated: 07 August 2022; Ref: scu.527183