04/04/24

Encouraging and Assisting Suicide

Encouraging and Assisting Suicide
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Whilst the act of encouraging or assisting another to commit suicide remains a subject of considerable controversy, with some considering it, in certain circumstances, a compassionate act, others fear its potential for abuse. Regardless, it remains a criminal offence in the United Kingdom under section 2 of the Suicide Act 1961 (‘the Act’).

It continues to be the case that an individual who commits or attempts to commit suicide is not guilty of any criminal offence.

Helen Holder outlines the nature of the offence.

Assisted Suicide | The Nature of the Offence

Criminal liability for complicity in another’s suicide.

Section 2 of the Act provides that a person commits an offence by:

  • carrying out an act capable of encouraging or assisting the suicide of another person, and
  • that act was intended to encourage or assist suicide or an attempt at suicide.

The offence may be committed whether or not a suicide or an attempt at suicide occurs.

Acts capable of encouraging or assisting a suicide.

The Act does not specify those acts which would specifically encourage or assist a suicide and such deliberations are for a Jury to decide when considering the evidence presented by the Prosecution to the Court.

However, it is recognised that such an act could include anything such as providing information, advice, physical assistance or helping a person travel abroad to a clinic providing an assisted dying facility.

Prosecuting Offenders

The Crown Prosecution Service (CPS), before bringing a prosecution, must consider whether:

  • the available evidence is strong enough to bring a successful prosecution, and, if it is,
  • would it be in the public interest to do so.

The evidence must be considered first and if it does not meet the requirements, the case must not proceed, however serious or sensitive the case may be.

The CPS indicates that a prosecution is more likely when, inter alia:
the victim:

was under 18 years of age,

  • did not have the capacity (as defined by the Mental Capacity Act 2005) to reach an informed decision to commit suicide,
  • had not reached a voluntary, clear, settled, and informed decision to commit suicide,
  • had not clearly and unequivocally communicated his or her decision to commit suicide to the suspect,
  • did not seek the encouragement or assistance of the suspect personally or on his or her own initiative.

the suspect:

  • was not wholly motivated by compassion e.g. stood to gain in some way from the death of the victim,
  • pressured the victim to commit suicide,
  • did not take reasonable steps to ensure that any other person had not pressured the victim to commit suicide,
  • had a history of violence or abuse against the victim,
  • was unknown to the victim and encouraged or assisted the victim by providing specific information via, for example, a website or publication,
  • gave encouragement or assistance to more than one victim who were not known to each other,
  • was paid by the victim or those close to the victim for his or her encouragement or assistance.

Additionally, the CPS suggests that a prosecution is less likely when:

  • the victim had reached a voluntary, clear, settled, and informed decision to take their life,
  • the suspect was wholly motivated by compassion,
  • the actions of the suspect, although sufficient to come within the definition of the offence, were of only minor encouragement or assistance,
  • the suspect had sought to dissuade the victim from taking their life,
  • the actions of the suspect were in the face of a determined wish on the part of the victim to commit suicide,
  • the suspect supported the Police during the investigation.

Sentence Upon Conviction

This offence can only be tried in the Crown Court, and, upon conviction, an offender will be liable to imprisonment for up to fourteen years.

How Can We Help?

It is evident that any occurrence involving suicide, attempted suicide, or self-harm is profoundly distressing for everyone involved, requiring careful and sensitive handling. The team at KANGS has comprehensive experience in supporting clients facing such situations and understands the immense pressure on individuals and their families.

If you need legal advice or assistance, we are here to help, please do not hesitate to reach out using the details below.

Tel:       0333 370 4333
Email: info@kangssolicitors.co.uk

We provide an initial no obligation consultation from our offices in London, Birmingham, and Manchester. Alternatively, we provide initial consultations by telephone or video.

Hamraj Kang

Hamraj Kang
Senior Partner

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Helen Holder

Helen Holder
Partner

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