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New guidance planned after assisted suicide ruling

The senior prosecutor in Northern Ireland is to produce new interim guidance following a landmark legal ruling on assisted suicide.

Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) for Northern Ireland Sir Alasdair Fraser said changes to the policy would heed the views of the public.

Multiple sclerosis sufferer Debbie Purdy has said the historic House of Lords ruling backing her call for a policy statement on when prosecutions over assisted suicide would be brought would provide key safeguards to protect the vulnerable.

A spokesman for Sir Alasdair said: “While cases of this nature will be few, the director intends to produce an interim policy, in consultation with the Attorney General (Baroness Scotland QC), which will be the subject of a public consultation exercise.”

Ms Purdy took her case to the Lords because she wants to know what would happen to her Cuban husband Omar Puente if he helped her travel abroad to end her life.

The couple were at the House of Lords on Thursday to hear five Law Lords unanimously back her call for a policy statement from the DPP for England and Wales, Keir Starmer QC on the circumstances in which a person such as Mr Puente might face prosecution for helping a loved one end his or her life abroad.

Sir Alasdair's office said it was not part of his function to change the law.

The Code for Prosecutors provides guidance in Northern Ireland as to how decisions as to prosecution should or are likely to be taken in the public interest. Its application ensures predictability and consistency of decision-taking and people broadly know where they stand.

The DPP representative added: “The same cannot be said where the offence in contemplation is aiding or abetting the suicide of a person who is terminally ill or severely and incurably disabled, who wishes to be helped to travel to a country where assisted suicide is lawful, and who, having the capacity to take such a decision, does so freely and with a full understanding of the consequences.”

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