Suicide pacts

A suicide pact is defined in section 4(3) of the Act as, 'a common agreement between two or more persons having for its object the death of all of them'. So, obviously, we are talking about prosecuting a survivor, and importantly the burden of proof is on the survivor to show that he was indeed acting in pursuance of a suicide pact, otherwise the charge could well be murder. Killing in pursuance of a suicide pact is closely related to the offence of aiding and abetting suicide under section 2(1) Suicide Act 1961.

Section 2(2) provides that, if on an indictment for murder or manslaughter it is proved that the accused aided and abetted, counselled or procured the suicide of the person in question, the jury may find him guilty of that offence i. e. the one for which he is charged. This section was at the heart of the Diane Pretty litigation. In PRETTY v DPP [2001] UKHL 61 – HL, their Lordships ruled that the Director of Public Prosecutions had correctly refused to undertake not to prosecute in a case where Dianne Pretty, a sufferer of motor neurone disease, wished her husband to assist in her suicide.

Diane died in May 2002. If, on the other hand, the accused aided and abetted a killing by a third person – someone else – that is still potentially murder, but will be reduced to manslaughter under section 4 of the Homicide Act 1957 if it was done in pursuance of a suicide pact, that is to say that the accused had intended to die as well. Now, do you think it right that someone who survives a suicide pact should be convicted of manslaughter? Frankly, I don't have the answer because this is a moral issue. However, it raises an interesting point.

In my introduction to Module 1, which was meant to be a general hello, I mentioned that I wanted you to look at the law with a wide angled lens. What I meant was that, for example, the facts of a situation may impact on more areas of law than just the one that you are studying. So, as a matter of general interest only, let's sign off with a brief look at DUNBAR v PLANT (1998) FLR 157 – CA. In this civil case, the appellant and the deceased were both in their early twenties when they met, they moved into a flat and later bought a house together.

They were engaged to be married but when events took a turn for the worse they agreed to a suicide pact. The appellant survived despite numerous attempts to kill herself which left her with horrific injuries. Now, the survivor had clearly committed an offence and it is a general principle of law that a person who kills another should not benefit therefrom. The point here was that the survivor stood to inherit property from the deceased and the deceased's father commenced the action to prevent the survivor from inheriting.

As it happened, rightly in my view, the Court of Appeal exercised their discretion under section 2 Forfeiture Act 1982 and allowed the survivor to inherit. EXAM TECHNIQUE Before, we leave the topic of homicide assaults, I want to say a few words about how you should approach any exam question on homicide. You are going to have to decide whether the offence the defendant has committed is murder or manslaughter because that is the offence that you should discuss. This is best done by starting with murder. If that does not fit, then go to manslaughter. OK? You will find the Homicide Chart here to be indispensable.