Should we have guidelines on the likelihood of prosecution in relation to assisted suicide in Scotland? Yesterday the Director of Public Prosecutions for England & Wales, as required by the House of Lords in the Debbie Purdy case, set out a quite detailed list of factors to be taken into account in that jurisdiction, by way of interim guidelines, together with a consultation on a more permanent version planned to be completed by the spring.
Our own Lord Advocate, while confirming that the Crown Office in Scotland will give "careful consideration" to the DPP's guidelines, was otherwise at pains to emphasise that they are specfically directed at the Suicide Act and the House of Lords decision, neither of which forms part of Scots law.
Any change in the law, she added, has to be a matter for the Scottish Parliament.
That is clearly so, but then the DPP made it clear that he is not purporting to change the legal position either.
Is there any reason why we should not have some indication of how Crown Office would approach such a case in Scotland? If anything, even disregarding the DPP's guidellines, the legal position on assisted suicide is clearer in England than in Scotland, which depends on an application of the common law of homicide and, clearly, the Crown's interpretation of when it is in the public interest to prosecute.
Especially given that human rights considerations formed a significant plank of the Lords' reasoning in Purdy, it would be surprising if there were not some duty on the Crown analogous to that identified by the House in that case - and someone prepared sooner or later to seek a judicial ruling on the point.
With the likelihood of a bill from Margo MacDonald in the near future to legalise assisted dying over quite a wide spread of cases - each type sure to be fought over as a matter of controversy - it would be much more satisfactory if we can have a proper yardstick by which to debate whether the law as it stands can be applied fairly and sensitively.
While some groups criticised parts of the DPP's guidelines as being too wide, that overlooks that they are only guidelines, have to be read and applied as a whole, and cannot truly be judged except in the light of experience of how they are applied. Would it not be preferable if Scotland also had the chance of benefiting from such an experience?