The background will be well known to readers. Mrs Nicklinson, widow of Tony Nicklinson, who was suffering from locked-in syndrome and wished to end his life, complained that the domestic courts had failed to determine the compatibility of the law in the UK on assisted suicide with her and her husband’s right to respect for private and family life under Article 8 ECHR. Mr Lamb, who is paralysed and also wishes to end his life, brought a complaint about the failure to provide him with the opportunity to obtain court permission to allow a volunteer to administer lethal drugs to him with his consent.
The ECtHR declared Mrs Nicklinson’s application inadmissible as manifestly ill-founded, concluding that Article 8 did not impose procedural obligations that required the domestic courts to examine the merits of a challenge brought in respect of primary legislation. In any event, it was of the view that the majority of the UK Supreme Court had, in fact, examined the substance of Mrs Nicklinson’s complaint:
“… With the exception of Baroness Hale and Lord Kerr, they concluded that she had failed to show that developments since Pretty meant that the ban could no longer be considered a proportionate interference with Article 8 rights … The fact that in making their assessment they attached great significance … or ‘very considerable weight’ … to the views of Parliament does not mean that they failed to carry out any balancing exercise. Rather, they chose – as they were entitled to do in light of the sensitive issue at stake and the absence of any consensus among Contracting States – to conclude that the views of Parliament weighed heavily in the balance” .
In the case of Mr Lamb:
“… before the Supreme Court the applicants pursued grounds of appeal concerning the prohibition on assisted suicide only. The agreed statement of facts and issues before the Supreme Court records their decision not to pursue the argument that the offence of murder was incompatible with their Article 8 rights and to argue exclusively the points arising in respect of section 2(1) [of the Suicide Act 1961] … The second applicant has not explained why he did not pursue before the Supreme Court his argument that there should be a judicial procedure to authorise voluntary euthanasia in certain circumstances” .
On that basis, the ECtHR declared Mr Lamb’s application inadmissible for non-exhaustion of domestic remedies.