Noel Douglas Conway v The Secretary of State for Justice Humanists UK and Others (Intervenors) The Crown Prosecution Service and Another (Interested Parties)

JurisdictionEngland & Wales
JudgeLord Justice Sales
Judgment Date05 October 2017
Neutral Citation[2017] EWHC 2447 (Admin)
CourtQueen's Bench Division (Administrative Court)
Date05 October 2017
Docket NumberCase No: CO/6421/2016

[2017] EWHC 2447 (Admin)





Royal Courts of Justice

Strand, London, WC2A 2LL


Lord Justice Sales

Mrs Justice Whipple

Mr Justice Garnham

Case No: CO/6421/2016


The Queen on the Application of:

Noel Douglas Conway
The Secretary of State for Justice
(1) Humanists UK
(2) Care Not Killing
(3) ND Yet UK
(1) The Crown Prosecution Service
(2) Attorney General
Interested Parties

Richard Gordon QC, Alexander Ruck Keene and Annabel Lee (instructed by Irwin Mitchell) for the Claimant

James Strachan QC and Benjamin Tankel (instructed by Government Legal Department) for the Defendant

Caoilfhionn Gallagher QC and Graeme L. Hall (instructed by Hodge Jones & Allen) for the 1 st Intervenor

David Lawson (instructed by Barlow Robbins) for the 2 nd Intervenor

Catherine Casserley (instructed by Fry Law) for the 3 rd Intervenor

Hearing dates: 17, 18, 19 and 20 July 2017

Lord Justice Sales



This is the judgment of the court, to which all its members have contributed.


This case concerns the issue of provision of assistance to a person with a serious wasting disease who wishes to commit suicide, so as to be able to exercise control over the time of his death as the disease reaches its final stages. It follows a line of cases which have addressed that or similar issues, in particular R (Pretty) v Director of Public Prosecutions [2001] UKHL 61; [2002] 1 AC 800 (" Pretty"), R (Purdy) v Director of Public Prosecutions [2009] UKHL 54; [2010] 1 AC 345 (" Purdy") and R (Nicklinson) v Ministry of Justice [2014] UKSC 38; [2015] AC 657 (" Nicklinson"). Permission to bring this judicial review was granted by the Court of Appeal (McFarlane and Beatson LJJ, see [2017] EWCA Civ 275), having earlier been refused by the Divisional Court (Burnett LJ, Charles and Jay JJ) at [2017] EWHC 640 (Admin).


Section 1 of the Suicide Act 1961 abrogated the rule of law whereby it was a crime for a person to commit suicide. This is a claim by Mr Conway for a declaration of incompatibility pursuant to section 4 of the Human Rights Act 1998 ("the HRA") in respect of the prohibition in the criminal law against provision of assistance for a person to commit suicide. That prohibition is contained in section 2 of the Suicide Act 1961, as amended by the Coroners and Justice Act 2009 ("section 2"). Section 2(1) provides:

"A person ("D") commits an offence if –

D does an act capable of encouraging or assisting the suicide or attempted suicide of another person, and

D's act was intended to encourage or assist suicide or an attempt at suicide."


Mr Conway is 67. He suffers from a form of Motor Neurone Disease ("MND") which he probably contracted in about 2012.


MND is a neurological disease which attacks the nerve cells responsible for controlling voluntary muscle movement. The nerve cells degenerate and die and stop sending messages to the muscles. The muscles gradually weaken and waste away. Eventually, the brain's ability to start and control voluntary movement is lost. Mr Conway has to use a wheelchair and requires ever increasing levels of assistance with daily life, eating and bodily functions. The muscles which allow Mr Conway to breathe are also wasting away. He increasingly finds it difficult to breathe without mechanical assistance in the form of non-invasive ventilation ("NIV"), which he requires for an increasing number of hours each day. The average life expectation of a person with MND is between two and five years. MND is a terrible affliction, and Mr Conway has our profound sympathy and our respect for the way in which he has been coping with it.


When Mr Conway has a prognosis of six months or less to live, he wishes to have the option of taking action to end his life at a time of his choosing. He explains:

"I would like to be able to seek assistance from a medical professional so that I may be prescribed medication which I can self-ingest to end my life successfully, if I wish to do so. If I am unable to take the medication by drinking a prescribed medication, I would also be prepared to receive medication in a different format, by activating a switch for example. I do not believe that unsupervised alternative methods of suicide are humane or acceptable and would be additionally distressing for my loved ones.

I do not wish to get to a stage where my quality of life is so limited, in the last six months of life, that I am no longer able to find any enjoyment in it. This disease is a relentless and merciless process of progressive deterioration. At some point, my breathing will stop altogether or I will become so helpless that I will be effectively entombed in my own body. I would not like to live like this. I would find it a totally undignified state for me to live in. I find the prospect of this state for me to live quite unacceptable and I wish to end my life when I feel it is the right moment to do so, in a way that is swift and dignified. …"


Mr Gordon QC for Mr Conway submits that section 2 is a blanket ban on the provision of assistance for suicide which constitutes an interference with Mr Conway's right of respect for his private life under Article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights ("ECHR"), as adopted as a Convention right for the purposes of the Human Rights Act 1998 (" HRA"), which is disproportionate and incompatible with that article. Accordingly, he submits that this court should grant a declaration of incompatibility in respect of section 2.


In the course of the hearing, Mr Gordon abandoned a distinct argument that section 2 is also incompatible with Article 14 of the ECHR.


Article 8 states:

"(1) Everyone has the right to respect for his private and family life, his home and his correspondence.

(2) There shall be no interference by a public authority with the exercise of this right except such as is in accordance with the law and is necessary in a democratic society in the interests of national security, public safety or the economic well-being of the country, for the prevention of disorder or crime, for the protection of health or morals, or for the protection of the rights and freedoms of others."


Mr Strachan QC appears for the Secretary of State. He defends the compatibility of section 2 with Article 8. However, as Mr Strachan explained, the government does not promote its own policy in relation to the question of assisted suicide. When the issue is raised in Parliament, parliamentarians are given a free vote. Thus in a real sense Mr Strachan's submissions are made on behalf of Parliament itself, to defend the human rights compatibility of Parliament's choice in 1961 to enact section 2 and then to affirm it on successive occasions over the years and to maintain it in force now.


Mr Strachan accepts that the prohibition against assisting suicide set out in section 2 represents an interference with Mr Conway's right to respect for his private life in Article 8(1). This is now clearly established by authority: see Pretty v United Kingdom (2002) 35 EHRR 1, para. 67; Hass v Switzerland (2011) 53 EHRR 33, para. 51; Purdy; and Nicklinson. As stated in Hass:

"… the right of an individual to decide how and when to end his life, provided the said individual is in a position to make up his own mind in that respect and to take the appropriate action, is one aspect of the right to respect for private life within the meaning of Article 8 of the Convention."


However, Mr Strachan submits that section 2 is compatible with Article 8 and not in violation of it because the interference with Mr Conway's right under Article 8(1) is justified under Article 8(2). The compatibility of section 2 with Article 8 was confirmed by the European Court of Human Rights ("ECtHR") in the case brought in Strasbourg after the domestic decision in Nicklinson: see Nicklinson v United Kingdom (2015) 61 EHRR SE7.


In particular, on Mr Strachan's submission, section 2 is a provision which meets the relevant standard of being "necessary in a democratic society" as a proportionate measure "for the protection of health", "for the protection of morals", and "for the protection of the rights of others." Although section 2 is a general or blanket prohibition, Parliament is entitled to regard it as necessary as a protection for the weak and vulnerable. It is also entitled to regard it as a measure which gives proper respect to the sanctity of life. Section 2 also reflects and gives reassurance to patients regarding the ethical standards which medical practitioners will apply in their cases and thereby promotes trust between doctors and patients and safeguards the provision of appropriate healthcare.


As part of his case, Mr Conway has put forward the outline of an alternative statutory scheme which he says would safeguard relevant competing legitimate interests and would sufficiently protect the weak and vulnerable in society and which therefore shows that the blanket prohibition in section 2 is an unnecessary and disproportionate interference with his rights under Article 8. The substantive criteria outlined by Mr Conway are that the prohibition on providing assistance for suicide should not apply where the individual is aged 18 or above; has been diagnosed with a terminal illness and given a clinically assessed prognosis of six months or less to live; has the mental capacity to decide whether to receive assistance or to die; has made a voluntary, clear, settled and informed decision to receive assistance to die; and retains the ability to undertake the final acts required to bring about his death having been provided with such assistance. In addition, he has outlined these procedural safeguards: the individual makes a written request for assistance to commit suicide,...

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2 cases
  • R (on the application of Conway) v The Secretary of State for Justice
    • United Kingdom
    • Court of Appeal (Civil Division)
    • 27 June 2018
  • T v Secretary of State for Justice
    • United Kingdom
    • Queen's Bench Division (Administrative Court)
    • 7 December 2017
    ...then, the Divisional Court has handed down judgment in another challenge to section 2: Conway v Secretary of State for Justice [2017] EWHC 2447 (Admin). In that case, the challenge failed and permission to appeal was refused. Mr Conway has since applied to the Court of Appeal for permissio......
2 books & journal articles
  • Mercy Killing, Partial Defences and Charge Decisions: 50 Shades of Grey
    • United Kingdom
    • Sage Journal of Criminal Law, The No. 84-3, June 2020
    • 1 June 2020
    ...Justice’ (2015) 3 EHRLR 286.128. Nicklinson (n 125).129. R (on the application of Conway) v Secretary of State for Justice [2017] EWHC 2447 (admin).130. See S Foster, ‘The Right to Die and Private Autonomy’ (2017) 22(2) Cov LJ 71–7, 71.131. Ibid 75.132. RCW 70.245.133. accessed 16 February ......
  • Assisted Suicide and the European Convention on Human Rights: A Critical Analysis of the Case Law
    • Ireland
    • Trinity College Law Review No. XXI-2018, January 2018
    • 1 January 2018
    ...and Anor) and Ors v Ministry of Justice and Ors [2014] UKSC 38 (‘ Nicklinson’ ). 4 Conway v Secretary of State for Justice [2017] EWHC 2447 (Admin) (‘ Conway’ ). 5 Carter v Canada (Attorney General) [2015] 1 SCR 331 (‘ Carter’ ) and Carter v Canada (Attorney General) 2012 BCSC 886 (‘ Carter......

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