Select Committee on Culture, Media and Sport Written Evidence

Memorandum submitted by PAPYRUS


Three recent developments have given fresh impetus to the need for action to regulate suicide websites

  A1.  The Law Commission reported existing law "adequate" in 2006. However, two recent cases of direct online promotion of suicide have failed to be brought before a jury due to the limitation of the 1961 Suicide Act. In the case of R v Howes—despite considerable attempts to groom for suicide, the case failed and the judge expressed "the greatest unease" but found himself "bound in law" (April 2007). The second case if Kevin Whitrick (March 2007) who died while filming himself online and being "encouraged" by a number of people. The police did not prosecute.

  We believe that these cases clearly indicate a weakness in existing legislation.

  The second report of the Law Commission Participating in Crime deals with revision of language and we believe will not make any substantive difference to bringing cases to court.

  A2.  PAPYRUS has recorded 30 cases of suicide in the UK since 2001 in which the internet has played a significant role by providing detail of method and also direct encouragement through chatrooms. Eight of these cases are under 18 years, the youngest just 13 years old. Two additional cases of attempted suicide after accessing Internet sites have resulted in serious brain damage. These young people were not protected by current legislation.

  A3.  A YouGov survey in January 2008 demonstrated overwhelming public support (81%) across age ranges, social groups and geographical regions for the law to be amended to ensure it is illegal to groom young people online to take their own lives. This is in addition to two petitions presented to Downing Street.

In View of the Above could the Government Respond to the Following?

  B1.  Does the government still consider the law an adequate protection for the young and vulnerable and if so what evidence is there to support their view?

  B2.  How many cases of successful prosecution for online promotion of suicide have there been?

  B3.  The government has promised to "Look carefully at the Law Commission recommendations... to consider if they make it easier to catch the sort of sites and behaviour that are causing concern". When will a decision be made?

  B4.  The Suicide Prevention Strategy for England aims to reduce suicide by 20% by 2010 but currently it looks unlikely that this aim will be achieved. Will the government consider a revision of legislation to assist the work of the Suicide Prevention Strategy for England?

  B5.  Non-legislative ways of reducing Internet related suicide promoted by the government, the industry and other groups appear to be failing. Kite marking schemes and classification of video games are to be welcomed but they will not help to regulate online suicide promotion. If a revision of the law is rejected, what other initiatives can they suggest?

  B6.  Australia has legislated to make the online promotion of suicide very much more difficult and the UK government indicated that they would monitor its effectiveness. What has been the result of that monitoring?

  B7.  Would the government also look at the situation in Japan where the combined efforts of government, ISPs and police has significantly reduced Internet related suicide.

  B8.  Will the government consider establishing an independent body to review complaints about life threatening Internet sites originating outside the UK, with the power to instruct ISPs to take them down?

  B9.  In view of the continuing loss of young life to Internet related suicide, the considerable public support for a review of legislation, concern expressed by the judge in the Howe's case, and calls for action by Coroners, would the Secretary of State be willing to meet with PAPYRUS to consider how we can move forward on this issue?

February 2008

previous page contents next page

House of Commons home page Parliament home page House of Lords home page search page enquiries index

© Parliamentary copyright 2008
Prepared 31 July 2008