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 Howesdespite 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
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?