CaseSnappy Blog

Decoding Judgements: Exploring Rights in R (Purdy) v Director of Public Prosecutions

11 August 2023 | CaseSnappy Team

A couple clasping hands.


Welcome back to the "Decoding Judgements" series by CaseSnappy, where we bring you clear, concise summaries of landmark court cases. Our case this week is R (on the application of Purdy) v Director of Public Prosecutions [2009] UKHL 45, a case that sparked intense debate over individuals' rights regarding assisted suicide.

A Matter of Life and Choice: Facts of the Case

At the heart of this case was Debbie Purdy, a woman living with multiple sclerosis, a degenerative disease that affects the central nervous system. Purdy sought clarity from the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) on the legal implications for her husband if he were to assist her in travelling to Switzerland, where assisted suicide is legal, for her to end her life. The DPP refrained from giving specific guidance, which led Purdy to take legal action.

Definitions and Implications: Issues in the Case

The crucial issue of this case was whether the DPP's refusal to provide a clear interpretation of the law on assisted suicide infringed on Purdy's right to respect for private life under Article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR). Purdy argued that without guidance, she could not make an informed choice to end her life.

Clarifying Doubts: The Decision

The House of Lords ruled in favour of Purdy, determining the DPP should provide clarity on prosecuting cases of assisted suicide. It held that this lack of clarity was a violation of Purdy's rights under Article 8 of the ECHR. The judgment instructed the DPP to identify factors to consider when deciding to prosecute for assisted suicide, such as the motivation of the person assisting, the deceased's final actions, and the overall circumstances.

As Lord Hope stated in a key passage: "A law which confers a discretion is not in itself inconsistent with [the requirement of foreseeability], provided the scope of the discretion and the manner of its exercise are indicated with sufficient clarity to give the individual protection against interference which is arbitrary".

CaseSnappy: Making Sense of Legal Conundrums

The Purdy case sheds light on the necessity for clear guidelines concerning assisted suicide, as well as highlighting the intersection between law and ethics. As we dissect complex legal decisions, CaseSnappy aims to make the field accessible to students, professionals, and the curious mind.

Join us for another edition of "Decoding Judgements" next week, as we continue to unravel remarkable cases. Register for free with CaseSnappy today, and enjoy our broad collection of case summaries.

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