Update on legal proceedings related to assisted dying survey

We are satisfied that our decision-making process in connection with the assisted dying survey was robust and appropriate.

In March 2019 a handful of our members and fellows brought judicial review proceedings against the Royal College of Physicians(RCP) in connection with our decision to survey our UK members on what position the RCP should adopt regarding assisted dying.

On 21 March 2019, permission to proceed with the application for judicial review was refused by Mrs Justice Laing DBE on both procedural and substantive grounds. In a nutshell, the Administrative Court concluded that:

  1. The RCP’s decision was not a decision of a public law nature that is amenable to judicial review;
  2. Permission to bring charity proceedings from the Charity Commission pursuant to section 115 of the Charities Act 2011 had not yet been granted; and
  3. It was unarguable that the RCP decision was either procedurally unfair or irrational.

The RCP position on assisted dying was decided at a meeting of the RCP Council (its main professional decision-making body) on 21 March 2019 following discussion of the results of the survey to which 6885 members responded. The majority of voting members of Council present voted for the RCP to adopt a neutral position (36:1).

Following Mrs Justice Laing’s Order, the Claimants applied for the Administrative Court decision to be reconsidered at an oral hearing, but then discontinued the proceedings before the hearing took place. The RCP understands that they did so because the Charity Commission had refused to give them permission to bring charity proceedings against the RCP.

The RCP understands that:

  1. The Claimants have subsequently made an application before the High Court to obtain leave to bring legal proceedings against the RCP despite the Charity Commission’s refusal;
  2. By an Order dated 22 October 2019 the Claimant’s application was granted; and
  3. The Claimants have expressed an intention to issue new legal proceedings about substantially the same matters that were previously raised in the Administrative Court before the Chancery Division of the High Court.

As the RCP has not yet been served with the new proposed claim, we are not in a position to comment on it. The RCP will of course consider the claim carefully if it is brought.

The RCP is satisfied that its decision-making process in connection with the survey on assisted dying was robust and appropriate.

Contrary to certain media reports, the RCP has not so far received any letter of concern or warning from the Charity Commission in connection with the survey on assisted dying or our broader governance arrangements. If and when it is, it will, naturally be reviewed with care.

As we have said before, it is clear that there is a range of views on assisted dying in medicine, just as there is in society. Adopting a neutral position means that we can reflect the differing opinions among our membership, neither supporting nor opposing a change in the law. We won’t be focusing on assisted dying in our work and will continue championing high quality palliative care services.