Campaign To Change The Law
Suicide was decriminalised in 1961 – yet the Criminal Standard of Proof, ‘beyond reasonable doubt’, remained a requirement in reaching a conclusion of suicide. PAPYRUS believes that this has perpetuated the stigma around suicide and obscured the true scale of suicide in England and Wales. That is why we have campaigned for a change in the law so that the Civil Standard of Proof, the ‘balance of probability’, is required instead, pressing for change to the Coroners and Justice Act 2009.
In 2017 the House of Commons Health Committee recommended that the Civil Standard of Proof be used in reaching a conclusion of suicide. However, there was no response to this recommendation from HM Government. Instead a breakthrough came in July 2018 when a High Court ruled that the civil standard of proof (on the balance of probabilities) should now be used by coroners in reaching a conclusion of suicide at inquest rather than the criminal standard (beyond all reasonable doubt).
Ged Flynn, PAPYRUS Chief Executive Officer:
“We are delighted that the High Court has had the courage to spell out why it was inappropriate to use the criminal standard in reaching a suicide conclusion at inquest. For several years, PAPYRUS has been pressing HM Government to change the law in this regard but the Government has had no stomach for such a change. The Health Committee of the House of Commons supported the PAPYRUS campaign to change the law and despite the Committee’s recommendation for the use of the civil standard, we have had to wait and wait for any action from the Ministry of Justice. Despite the backing of many families, alliances, organisations and leading academics in suicide prevention, the Ministry of Justice has done nothing to effect change. This is an example of the intransigence of the Ministry of Justice which has been unwilling to bring about this change, despite the demands of experts involved in the field of suicide prevention. Thankfully the Court of Appeal has seen sense.
“Suicide remains a real taboo subject, largely because it was once a crime. Despite a change in law over 50 years ago, we still talk about ‘committing suicide’ as though it were still a crime. The new ruling means that there will be more deaths recorded as suicides, hence giving us a truer picture of the numbers of people taking their own lives. More importantly, the new ruling addresses the stigma around suicide and will help people of all ages to discuss openly issues around suicide. It removes an unhelpful barrier for people to say they are having thoughts of suicide and to seek help. Stigma is what stops young people speaking about their thoughts of suicide. That’s why this judgement will ultimately save young lives.” The full High Court judgement can be found here.
An Early Day Motion on Suicide and the Criminal Standard of Proof was tabled in Parliament by one of our Patrons, Norman Lamb MP, to support a change to the law.
Suicide is a national crisis. The law must stop hiding its true extent. Stephen Habgood, PAPYRUS Chairman, explains why the law needs to be changed