Britain’s most senior judge has said he has “enormous sympathy” with those who choose to end their lives through assisted suicide.
Lord Phillips of Worth Matravers, the president of the newly-established Supreme Court, believes that on the issue of assisted suicide it is not possible “to say one view is right and the other wrong”.
The judge said his comments, made during an interview with The Daily Telegraph, were his personal views.
However, they are likely to cause concern to campaigners opposed to assisted suicide.
He acknowledged that he may be called upon in a “judicial capacity” to assess new guidance currently being drawn up by the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) outlining the circumstances under which he will and will not prosecute for assisted suicide.
Earlier this year Lord Phillips handed down the ruling of the Law Lords, now replaced by the Supreme Court as the highest court in the land, ordering the DPP to produce the guidelines.
The ruling followed a legal challenge from assisted suicide campaigner Debbie Purdy, who suffers from multiple sclerosis and wants to know if her husband would be prosecuted for helping her to end her life overseas.
The DPP, Keir Starmer QC, was ordered to produce a “custom-built policy statement” outlining the circumstances in which he would prosecute someone for assisting a suicide.
Lord Phillips said: “The issue in Purdy was not whether assisted suicide is a good thing or a bad thing.
“The narrower issue facing the Law Lords was whether the DPP should be required publicly to state a policy enabling people to know, more accurately, where they stood if they were considering helping a relative to go to Switzerland.”
When asked about his views on the current law, which remains intact after a failed House of Lords attempt to weaken it earlier this year, he said he was yet to see a “satisfactory” proposal for changing it.
Lord Phillips was being interviewed as he took up his new role as head of the Supreme Court.
The new Court has attracted controversy, with some critics concerned that it could lead to a clash between judges and the Government.
Lord Phillips’ comments come less than a week after Justice Secretary Jack Straw expressed his opposition to the practice of assisted suicide.
Also speaking to the Telegraph, Mr Straw said: “I’m not in favour of changing the law.
“That would give a green light to assisted suicide, and my worry has always been the potential for abuse.
“I’ve had some experience of loved ones in the terminal stages of illness. I don’t think you should give relatives that discretion.
“I just think it’s wrong to consider assisting someone in suicide. It’s not something I’m willing to contemplate.”