Ex-Lord Chancellor backs Guernsey independence over assisted dying

Ex-Lord Chancellor backs Guernsey independence over assisted dying

Lord Falconer, who held responsibility for the UK’s relationship with the Channel Islands during the period of Tony Blair’s Labour leadership, said he did not believe the Privy Council would block any new law.

He also said that any attempt to enforce the UK Suicide Act of 1961 in Guernsey could be classed as an ‘abuse of process’.

Guernsey’s States is due to debate legalising assisted dying for terminally ill residents on 16 May. The proposal, brought by the island’s Chief Minister, Gavin St Pier, has faced fierce opposition from church groups.

It has also received support, most notably from Star Trek actor Sir Patrick Stewart, who was recently pictured alongside Deputy St Pier.

This week, terminally-ill Grouville resident Roberta Tupper revealed that she was planning on travelling to a Dignitas clinic in Switzerland, and described the current laws on assisted dying as ‘barbaric’.

She was diagnosed with stage-four lung cancer just over three years ago before the disease spread to her bones and brain and she was given six months to live.

In a letter to Deputy St Pier, Lord Falconer praised Guernsey as a ‘mature, serious forward-thinking jurisdiction’, before dismissing two legal arguments against the legislation.

‘There has been an implication that the Privy Council could withhold Royal Assent. There is no precedent to support such a view,’ he wrote.

‘The Privy Council would only ever intervene in a matter which is clearly within your government’s competence were you to pass legislation which breached the United Kingdom’s international obligations.

‘For example, in the hypothetical case of your parliament passing legislation which authorised your police to torture suspects, this would be a breach of the European Convention on Human Rights. In practice, the Ministry of Justice would intervene long before the matter reached the Privy Council.’

Lord Falconer added that there were no ‘constitutional risks’ should Guernsey go ahead with creating legislation enabling the terminally ill to end their lives.

In March, Deputy Mary Lowe, president of Guernsey’s Home Affairs Committee, said that Guernsey citizens would be subject to punishment in a UK court if they were involved in assisted dying, even in the event of its legalisation locally, due to the UK Suicide Act of 1961.

However, Lord Falconer said that such a move could be considered an ‘abuse of process’.

‘I note that the extra-territorial reach of offences under the Suicide Act 1961 to British citizens wherever they may reside, has also been commented on,’ he said.

‘In my view, any prosecution of a matter which is not a criminal offence under Guernsey law would be an abuse of process, given the legitimate expectation arising from such a law.’

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