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Human Rights – Real World Example

This article gives a real example of how human rights cases are dealt with by the courts in the UK.
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This is a real example of how the courts in the UK deal with human rights issues. Please be aware that the facts relate to health issues and are potentially upsetting.

A man suffered a serious stroke, which left him substantially paralysed – he could move his head and eyes only. The man decided that he wanted to end his own life, and wished for either someone to kill him with a lethal injection, or alternatively he could kill himself using a machine which could be controlled by his eye movements.

Section 1 of the Suicide Act 1961 decriminalised suicide, but section 2 of the Act provided that assisting or encouraging someone else’s suicide is a crime.

The man applied to the High Court for a declaration that the laws on suicide at the time were inconsistent with his Article 8 right to a private and family life within the ECHR. The High Court rejected the application, so he appealed to the Supreme Court, the highest appeal court in the UK.

The Supreme Court found that the man’s Article 8 right was “engaged” meaning that the man’s rights had been interfered with by the Suicide Act, and that the Supreme Court could make a determination about whether the ban on assisted suicide was justifiable under Article 8(2). If the ban was not justifiable, it would mean that the man would succeed in obtaining a declaration of incompatibility, ie that section 2 of the Suicide Act 1961 was not compatible with Article 8 of the ECHR.

Consider the three views below for a few moments, which do you agree with? Also, which of the views below do you think reflects the Supreme Court judgment?

  1. The Supreme Court should not make a declaration that s2 of the Suicide Act was incompatible with Article 8, because this is a matter for Parliament, not the courts. Parliament, having passed the Suicide Act, and having not repealed it, had already decided.
  2. It was not yet appropriate to decide whether to make a declaration s2 of the Suicide Act was incompatible with Article 8, because this is a matter for Parliament, not the courts, but such a declaration would be possible in theory – the court should ask Parliament to decide.
  3. A declaration of incompatibility should be issued – Article 8 confers a right on an individual to decide by what means and at what point their life should end, provided the individual is capable of making such a decision without interference by others. In making no exception for exceptional cases where the wish to die reflects a freely made desire rather than being the result of undue pressure, the ban at s2 of the Suicide Act was disproportionate and incompatible with Article 8.
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Introduction to the Rule of Law

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