Purdy, Regina (on the Application of) v Director of Public Prosecutions and others: CA 19 Feb 2009

The claimant suffered a debilitating terminal disease. She anticipated going to commit suicide at a clinic in Switzerland, and wanted first a clear policy so that her husband who might accompany her would know whether he might be prosecuted under the 1961 Act.
Held: The court considered the Code for Crown prosecutors, and other Guidance offered by the respondent. The claimant’s article 8 rights were engaged.
The decisions of the House of Lords and ECHR in the Pretty case were inconsistent, and the court considered whether the House’s decision in Pretty remained binding. This had been settled in Kay v Lambeth LBC. The Court of Appeal should leave the House to reassess its decision save in very exceptional cases. This was not such a case. Nor did the Countryside Alliance case amount to a re-assessment of Pretty by the House.
The offence was clearly stated, and the requirement for consent to a prosecution did not make it less so: ‘The absence of a crime-specific policy relating to assisted suicide does not make the operation and effect of section 2(1) of the 1961 Act unlawful nor mean that it is not in accordance with law for the purposes of Article 8(2). Like this Court the DPP cannot dispense with or suspend the operation of section 2(1) of the 1961 Act, and he cannot promulgate a case-specific policy in the kind of certain terms sought by Ms Purdy which would, in effect, recognise exceptional defences to this offence which Parliament has not chosen to enact.’
Lord Judge CJ said: ‘their Lordships intended to give the Court of Appeal very limited freedom, only in the most exceptional circumstances, to override what would otherwise be the binding precedent of the decision of the House. They clearly required more than the bare fact of the same parties being involved in order to bring the case within the very narrow confines of the very exceptional case, one of an extreme character, or of wholly exceptional circumstances, with the emphasis added by us to phrases from their Lordships’ speeches. We are not seeking to be released from these strictures. The structure of judicial precedent, designed over the years, has served us well. The decisions of the European Court do not bind us. The decisions of the House of Lords do. By-passing or finding an alternative route around the decisions of the House of Lords, on the basis of the jurisprudence of the European Court would, in the ultimate analysis, be productive of considerable uncertainty. Therefore if the strictures are too tight, it is their Lordships who, if they think it appropriate, must release the knot. As it is, and in any event, we cannot bring this case within the required degree of exceptionality.’

Lord Judge CJ, Ward LJ, Lloyd LJ
Times 24-Feb-2009, [2009] EWCA Civ 92, [2009] 1 Cr App R 32, (2009) 159 NLJ 309, [2009] WLR (D) 62, (2009) 106 BMLR 170, [2009] UKHRR 1005
Bailii, WLRD
Suicide Act 1961 1 2(4), European Convention on Human Rights 8
England and Wales
CitedSmedleys Limited v Breed HL 1974
The defendant company had sold a can of peas. A caterpillar was found in it.
Held: Despite having shown that they had taken all reasonable care, the defendant was guilty of selling food not to the standard required. The defence under the Act . .
CitedPretty v The United Kingdom ECHR 29-Apr-2002
Right to Life Did Not include Right to Death
The applicant was paralysed and suffered a degenerative condition. She wanted her husband to be allowed to assist her suicide by accompanying her to Switzerland. English law would not excuse such behaviour. She argued that the right to die is not . .
CitedRegina (on the Application of Pretty) v Director of Public Prosecutions and Secretary of State for the Home Department HL 29-Nov-2001
The applicant was terminally ill, and entirely dependent upon her husband for care. She foresaw a time when she would wish to take her own life, but would not be able to do so without the active assistance of her husband. She sought a proleptic . .
CitedRegina v Hough CACD 1984
The court considered the purpose of section 2 of the 1961 Act. Lord Lane CJ observed: ‘It is clear . . that Parliament had in mind the potential scope for disaster and malpractice in circumstances where elderly, infirm and easily suggestible people . .
CitedSchloendorff v Society of New York Hospital 1913
(USA) The libertarian principle of self-determination allows that ‘Every human being of adult years and sound mind has a right to determine what shall be done with his own body, and a surgeon who performs an operation without the patient’s consent . .
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 . .
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 . .
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 . .
CitedPractice Statement (Judicial Precedent) HL 1966
The House gave guidance how it would treat an invitation to depart from a previous decision of the House. Such a course was possible, but the direction was not an ‘open sesame’ for a differently constituted committee to prefer their views to those . .
CitedRJM, Regina (on the Application of) v Secretary of State for Work and Pensions HL 22-Oct-2008
The 1987 Regulations provided additional benefits for disabled persons, but excluded from benefit those who had nowhere to sleep. The claimant said this was irrational. He had been receiving the disability premium to his benefits, but this was . .
CitedKay and Another v London Borough of Lambeth and others; Leeds City Council v Price and others and others HL 8-Mar-2006
In each case the local authority sought to recover possession of its own land. In the Lambeth case, they asserted this right as against an overstaying former tenant, and in the Leeds case as against gypsies. In each case the occupiers said that the . .
CitedCassell and Co Ltd v Broome and Another HL 23-Feb-1972
Exemplary Damages Award in Defamation
The plaintiff had been awarded damages for defamation. The defendants pleaded justification. Before the trial the plaintiff gave notice that he wanted additional, exemplary, damages. The trial judge said that such a claim had to have been pleaded. . .
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 . .
CitedGhaidan v Godin-Mendoza HL 21-Jun-2004
Same Sex Partner Entitled to tenancy Succession
The protected tenant had died. His same-sex partner sought a statutory inheritance of the tenancy.
Held: His appeal succeeded. The Fitzpatrick case referred to the position before the 1998 Act: ‘Discriminatory law undermines the rule of law . .
CitedX (Minors) v Bedfordshire County Council; M (A Minor) and Another v Newham London Borough Council; Etc HL 29-Jun-1995
Liability in Damages on Statute Breach to be Clear
Damages were to be awarded against a Local Authority for breach of statutory duty in a care case only if the statute was clear that damages were capable of being awarded. in the ordinary case a breach of statutory duty does not, by itself, give rise . .
CitedRegina v Sectretary of State for the Home Department ex parte Razgar etc HL 17-Jun-2004
The claimant resisted removal after failure of his claim for asylum, saying that this would have serious adverse consequences to his mental health, infringing his rights under article 8. He appealed the respondent’s certificate that his claim was . .
CitedDunbar (As Administrator of Tony Dunbar Deceased) v Plant CA 23-Jul-1997
The couple had decided on a suicide pact. They made repeated attempts, resulting in his death. Property had been held in joint names. The deceased’s father asked the court to apply the 1982 Act to disentitle Miss Plant.
Held: The appeal was . .
CitedLondon Street Tramways v London County Council HL 25-Apr-1898
House Decisions binding on Itself
The House laid down principles for the doctrine of precedent. When faced with the hypothesis that a case might have been decided in ignorance of the existence of some relevant statutory provision or in reliance on some statutory provision which was . .
CitedRegina v Boyd, Hastie, Spear (Courts Martial Appeal Court), Regina v Saunby, Clarkson, English, Williams, Dodds, and others HL 18-Jul-2002
Corts Martial System Complant with Human Rights
The applicants were each convicted by courts martial of offences under civil law. They claimed that the courts martial were not independent tribunals because of the position of the president of the court, and that it was wrong to try a serviceman by . .

Cited by:
Appeal fromPurdy, Regina (on the Application of) v Director of Public Prosecutions HL 30-Jul-2009
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 . .

Lists of cited by and citing cases may be incomplete.

Crime, Human Rights, Constitutional

Leading Case

Updated: 10 November 2021; Ref: scu.295117