The High Court has rejected a judicial review of assisted dying policy, stating that a courtroom is ‘not an appropriate forum for the discussion of the sanctity of life’.
Phil Newby, 49, who has motor neurone disease, had asked the High Court to undertake a ‘detailed examination of the evidence’ to determine whether a blanket ban on assisted dying is compatible with his human rights.
In a hearing at the end of October, Newby asked Divisional Court judges Lord Justice Irwin and Mrs Justice May to examine a large body of expert evidence from around the world and to cross-examine experts.
However, in a judgment handed down this afternoon, the judges refuse Newby’s application, stating: ‘In our judgment, there are some questions which, plainly and simply, cannot be “resolved” by a court as no objective, single, correct answer can be said to exist. On issues such as the sanctity of life there is no consensus to be gleaned from evidence.
‘The private views of judges on such moral and political questions are irrelevant, and spring from no identifiable legal principle. We struggle to see why any public conclusion judges might reach on matters beyond the resolution of evidence should carry more weight than those of any other adult citizen.’
Irwin J and May J added that ‘courts are not the venue for arguments which have failed to convince parliament’.
In response to the judgment, Phil Newby said: ’The High Court’s decision not to hear my case…is disappointing to me and the many hundreds of others who support my case. With their support, I will be fighting on to bring attention to a law that is widely thought to be cruel, so that it can be replaced by something more humane and compassionate.’
Saimo Chahal QC, Newby’s solicitor said: ‘It is important that the highest court should have an opportunity to consider issues which it is accepted are if transcendental importance to Phil and many others in his situation. An appeal will shortly be lodged in the Court of Appeal as the prospect of parliament considering the issues is non-existent.’
Last year a case brought by Noel Conway, who also suffers from motor neurone disease, was rejected by the Supreme Court. The judgment stated: 'Under the United Kingdom’s constitutional arrangements, only parliament could change this law. But the Supreme Court could, if it thought right, make a declaration that the law was incompatible with the convention rights, leaving it to parliament to decide what, if anything, to do about it.'
Campaigners for assisted dying hope judges will eventually make a declaration of incompatibility.
Newby is represented by Bindmans LLP and Brick Court Chambers. The Secretary of State for Justice is represented by the government legal department and 39 Essex Chambers.