Right to Die – Without Court Involvement

In a landmark ruling in the Court of Protection, Mr Justice Peter Jackson has given a ruling that effectively means that in England and Wales, decisions can be made to withdraw life-support treatment in certain circumstances without having to obtain the permission of the court.

The doctors and the relatives of the patient will need to be in agreement about the decision, and the medical guidelines will need to have been complied with.

The decision is likely to have considerable ramifications for how such cases are dealt with.

The case related to a fifty-year-old woman with Huntington’s Disease, who was minimally conscious, showed no signs of recognition or engagement with her family and had no prospects of recovery. She had suffered from the disease for over twenty-five years. She was being kept alive with a feeding tube providing nutrition and hydration. This is effectively “life-sustaining” treatment. Its withdrawal will inevitably lead to the person’s life ending.

It is anticipated that the official solicitor will seek to appeal against the decision.



Flexible Court Hours – Pilot Postponed

There has been considerable comment in the legal media relating to plans to bring in flexible court hours form 08.00 – 20.00 in certain courts in pilot areas.

Various objections had been raised to this, including for defence lawyers the failure to proffer additional funding; the problems of potentially discriminating against part-time lawyers; the requirements that would be inherent of having to  undertake even more preparation during ‘unsocial hours’; the problems of getting security firms to deliver prisoners on time; the difficulties for those reliant on public transport; the lack of consultation…   The list goes on.

Susan Acland-Hood, the chief of the HMCTS has announced that the pilot scheme has now been put back until February. She claims to have listened to the concerns expressed by court users and has stated that she wants there to be a “robust, independent valuation system in place”, accepting that they need a clear evidence base upon which to proceed. She has also said that time will be taken to engage and discuss the pilots, and consideration will be given as to how they can be improved.

It also became apparent that the efforts to find a suitable independent organisation to undertake the pilot had not so far been successful.

The prospect of flexible court hours has not, however, been completely scrapped. HMCTS will be reopening the tender process. There are plans for  further consultation further with legal professionals which will not be limited solely to those in the pilot areas. Watch this space…