Noel Conway wins right to challenge law on assisted dying

Last month the High Court denied Noel Conway permission to seek judicial review of the criminalisation of physician assisted suicide under section 2(1) of the Suicide Act 1961. Conway was seeking a declaration that the 1961 Act was incompatible with his rights under articles 8(1) and 14 of the European Convention on Human Rights. Mr Conway is 67 years old and suffers from motor neurone disease – his wish is to decide the timing and manner of his death, in his final six months of life.

Mr Conway’s legal team appealed the decision and the hearing took place on 11 April 2017. His appeal was successful and the decision overturned – Mr Conway’s case will now proceed to a full hearing in the High Court.

This is not the first time this issue has been brought before the court – in 2014 the Supreme Court had to consider a similar declaration of incompatibility with section 2(1) the Suicide Act and article 8 of the ECHR in the case of Nicklinson v Ministry of Justice. In Nicklinson by a majority of seven to two the court refused to make the declaration of incompatibility it being “institutionally inappropriate” to do so. The question of whether someone will be prosecuted for assisting suicide is governed by the Director of Public Prosecution’s policy note which was updated in 2014 following the decision in Nicklinson. The DPP’s note controls the practical application of the statutory provision although it too has been subject to parliamentary debate.

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