In the wake of the DPP’s publication on Wednesday of guidance about assisted suicide, the Telegraph is reporting that the Christian Legal Centre is considering launching legal action to halt the implementation of that guidance. The nub of their claim is that Lord Phillips, who had ruled in the summer that clearer guidance ought to be provided, showed in a newspaper interview in September that he was unsuitable to preside – he’d said that he felt “enormous sympathy” for terminally ill people who wanted to end their lives. Thus the CLC’s claim is that:
these remarks showed that Lord Phillips had allowed his personal views to colour his judgement in the Purdy case.
This, the CLC insists, is in violation of Article 6 of the ECHR, which guarantees a fair trial.
There’s a range of things that the CLC has not noticed. The first is that the human right to a fair trial is designed to protect… er… humans. It’s not entirely clear to me that anyone’s rights were infringed, not least because it’s not clear that there’s anyone involved in the Purdy ruling who was in a position to have had any rights infringed to begin with. Second, there’s no reason at all why being sympathetic to people in Purdy’s position would have to make any difference to a judge’s ability to interpret and apply the law, any more than why sympathy for a victim of mugging makes it less possible to try a suspect fairly. His comments certainly do not show that his judgement was clouded; they don’t even give a reason to worry that they might have been clouded. Note that Phillips didn’t say that he was sympathetic or well-disposed to Purdy’s suit; he said he felt sympathy for her and people in her position. That’s very different, and you’d have to be quite a monomaniac to miss that point.
Oh, wait. This is the CLC. Hmmm.
Third, Andrea Williams, director of the CLC, says that
[j]ustice must be seen to be done. He [Lord Phillips] should be showing a clear lack of impartiality. These are fundamental issues that affect life. They are a matter of life and death.
I suspect the idea that judges should be showing a lack of impartiality is a typo, but it’s quite an amusing one. Now, that justice should be seen to be done is is a long-standing principle of law: not only is it important that everyone has access to justice, but it’s also important that the justice system be transparent. Impoprtantly, the DPP’s guidlines contribute to this clarificatory process. My slight worry, though, is that the CLC has interpreted “seen to be done” as meaning that a criterion of justice is that it accord with expectations, which is simply not the case.
It’s also striking that a Christian group – hell, any reasonably decent person at all – should object to a judge because he’s expressed sympathy for people in difficult circumstances. If your objection to a judge’s ruling is that he has elsewhere proved himself to have human feelings, then it’s not really much of an objection.
(Have a look at the CLC’s website. It’s quite odd – note how, when the CLC wins a case, they thank God for it. I’m willing to guess that they don’t blame him when they lose, though, which seems a bit unfair…)