Scotland’s top prosecutor is resisting calls for her to follow the example of her counterpart in England and issue guidance on assisting a suicide.
Lord Advocate Elish Angiolini QC said she would examine the English guidelines but that they would not be adopted in Scotland because Scottish law works differently.
Last week the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) for England and Wales, Keir Starmer QC, issued guidelines explaining the circumstances under which he is likely to prosecute a case of assisted suicide.
The guidelines do not change the law but set out the factors the DPP will take into consideration when applying it.
On the day Mr Starmer published his guidelines, Mrs Angiolini responded with a public statement.
She said: “The guidance issued by the Director of Public Prosecutions for England and Wales will only apply to cases where an offence of assisting suicide takes place within England and Wales. It will not apply to Scotland.
“The DPP’s guidance follows the decision of the House of Lords in the English case of Purdy. This case applies only to England and Wales and to the statutory offence of assisting the suicide of another under section 2 of the Suicide Act 1961.
“This offence does not apply in Scotland, where, depending on the particular facts and circumstances of the case, the law of homicide may apply.
“The Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal Service will give careful consideration to the implications of the DPP’s interim guidance, the outcome of his public consultation and developments in other jurisdictions.
“The Crown recognises the importance of this issue, but any change in the current law related to homicide is properly a matter for the Scottish Parliament.”
Pro-assisted suicide campaigners have since demanded that Mrs Angiolini issue her own guidance specific to Scottish law.
Lib Dem MSP Jeremy Purvis, who once launched a failed bid to have assisted suicide legalised by the Scottish Parliament, said Mrs Angiolini’s stance was “deeply disappointing”.
He said: “The position of the Lord Advocate means that there is a no-man’s-land and confusion on the specific grounds for prosecution in the types of cases for which there will be clear guidance south of the Border.
“The refusal by the Lord Advocate”, he said, “to follow the approach in England and Wales gives even greater justification for the law to be clarified by the Scottish Parliament.”
However, Mrs Angiolini received backing from the vice-convener of the Church of Scotland’s Church and Society Council.
Reverend Sandy Horsburgh said: “We hope the present legal situation in Scotland will not be changed, and that the guidance in England and Wales is not seen as setting a precedent.”
Later this year the Scottish Parliament is expected to have the opportunity to debate assisted suicide when independent MSP Margo MacDonald introduces a bill to legalise the practice for doctors.