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Campaigner vows to win war after right-to-die court defeat

Published 16/07/2015

Jane Nicklinson, whose late husband Tony suffered locked-in syndrome, and Paul Lamb (left) were seeking a right-to-die ruling
Jane Nicklinson, whose late husband Tony suffered locked-in syndrome, and Paul Lamb (left) were seeking a right-to-die ruling

The widow of right-to-die campaigner Tony Nicklinson has said her family's legal battle has ended after losing their case in the European Court of Human Rights - but vowed to win the war.

Jane Nicklinson, whose 58-year-old husband died three years ago after suffering from locked-in syndrome, said they would succeed in legalising assisted dying in the UK.

The mother-of-two, from Melksham, Wiltshire said: "It is just very disappointing and I was gutted when I heard the result.

"We can't go any further as a family but I will be there to support anyone else who takes on the case.

"One day we will win - I am convinced of it."

Mrs Nicklinson spoke out after the Strasbourg court rejected the case brought by her family and a paralysed former builder, Paul Lamb.

They went to the European Court of Human Rights after the Supreme Court - the highest court in the UK - rejected their claim in June last year.

The court was asked to decide whether a prohibition on assisted suicide - outlined in the 1961 Suicide Act - was compatible with the European Convention on Human Rights.

The Supreme Court judges ruled against Mr Lamb and Mrs Nicklinson, both 58, by a seven-two majority, following a hearing in London.

But five of the nine justices concluded that the court had the "constitutional authority" to declare that a general prohibition on assisted suicide was incompatible with the human right to private and family life enshrined in the convention.

In the landmark ruling Lord Neuberger, president of the Supreme Court, said that if MPs and peers did not give serious consideration to legalising assisted suicide, there was a "real prospect" a future legal challenge would succeed.

Mrs Nicklinson, who took up her husband's campaign following his death, said: "Yet again the courts have not gone our way; they said it is down to Parliament, which is what the Supreme Court said.

"That's the end of the road for our personal fight but it is not the end of the road for the case because I know for a fact the solicitors are looking for someone else to take over the case.

"It is very, very disappointing but over the last six years we have got an awful lot further than anyone thought.

"Most people thought we wouldn't get our case heard in the High Court but the fact we have got to the European Court of Human Rights is pretty amazing.

"Next time round for the legal team a lot of the groundwork will have been done and it should be a little bit easier.

"But it will carry on as there is an awful lot of public support for us out there and it is just a shame the courts don't agree with us.

"The Supreme Court wasn't completely against us and I don't think anyone really expected that.

"A year after our Supreme Court judgment Parliament still hasn't even attempted to tackle this.

"So if they are not going to tackle it and the Supreme Court said that if Parliament will not get to grips with this maybe the courts will. They have the power to.

"Maybe when the next case comes along and Parliament still hasn't done anything about it, maybe the courts will make a decision."

Mr Nicklinson died in 2012 days after losing a High Court case to allow doctors to end his life.

The civil engineer was paralysed from the neck down following a stroke in 2005 and described his life as a "living nightmare".

He could only communicate using a special computer which tracked his eye movements, and consistently said he wanted to die.

But because he would need a doctor to administer a lethal injection, the former rugby player was unable to even travel to Switzerland for assisted dying, and he mounted a long legal challenge to overturn centuries-old laws on murder and manslaughter.

Mr Lamb, who comes from Bramley, Leeds was left paralysed after a road accident more than 20 years ago.

Lawyer Saimo Chahal, who represents the Nicklinson family, said: "The judgment is disappointing but not the end of the road. It's the end of the first chapter but I suspect that a new one will start soon.

"Many people are dissatisfied with the current state of the law on assisted dying.

"Parliament does not look as if it will change the law any time soon and so the path is cleared for another legal challenge."

Although right to die campaigners were disappointed with the court ruling, it was welcomed in some quarters.

Mark Atkinson, interim chief executive of charity Scope, said: "Many disabled people will be reassured by this judgment.

"Although many people will sympathise with these cases, we must remember that the current law on assisted suicide protects the lives of disabled people in Britain."

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