THE debate on the Assisted Suicide (Scotland) Bill has drawn attention to an alarming lack of clarity in Scots law.
When the Justice Committee reported on the Bill in January, it found itself unable to give any detail about the legal rules applicable to assisting a suicide in Scotland, offering a discussion of English law instead. The absence of either case law or legislative authority in Scotland means that the response to almost any question about the Scottish law applicable to assisted suicide must be only that prosecution is "possible" or "cannot be ruled out".
This legal uncertainty is only made worse by the absence of any published prosecutorial guidance. Despite a clear ruling in England that human rights legislation requires prosecutors to issue guidance about the circumstances in which they will prosecute people who assist suicide, no such guidance has ever been issued in Scotland. And English law, at least, has in the Suicide Act 1961 a reasonably clear statement of the circumstances in which assisting suicide may amount to a criminal offence. Scots law lacks even that.
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A person dealing with this most troubling of ethical dilemmas must simply wait and see what the Lord Advocate chooses to do - and how the courts respond - after the fact. Individuals dealing with unbearably tragic circumstances deserve better than this. This shameful state of affairs should embarrass any legal system. While views will differ on whether the current provisions of the Assisted Suicide (Scotland) Bill are the appropriate way of addressing the moral conundrums with which it is concerned, we hope that MSPs will allow the Bill to pass Stage 1 in the hope that further debate on its provisions may result in clarification of the law or that, if the Bill falls, the matter is not allowed to drop.
Ilona Cairns, University of Aberdeen; Dr Liz Campbell, University of Edinburgh; Professor James Chalmers, University of Glasgow; Dr Sarah Christie, Robert Gordon University; Dr Andrew Cornford, University of Edinburgh; Dr Sharon Cowan, University of Edinburgh; Professor Antony Duff FBA FRSE, University of Stirling; Professor Peter Duff, University of Aberdeen; Sarah Elliston, University of Glasgow; Professor Lindsay Farmer, University of Glasgow; Professor Pamela Ferguson, University of Dundee; Dr Chloe Kennedy, University of Edinburgh; Professor Fiona Leverick, University of Glasgow; Dr Claire McDiarmid, University of Strathclyde; Professor Gerry Maher QC, University of Edinburgh; Professor Sandra Marshall, University of Stirling; Professor Donald Nicolson OBE, University of Strathclyde; Joanne Ramsey , University of Glasgow; Dr Elizabeth Shaw, University of Aberdeen; Andrew Tickell, Glasgow Caledonian University; Shanti Williamson, University of Glasgow,
c/o My Life My Death My Choice, 2 Walker Street, Edinburgh.