Update on assisted suicide case

June 30th, 2015

Stransham-Ford v Minister of Justice and Correctional Services and Others (GP) (unreported case no 27401/15, 4-5-2015) (Fabricius J)

The High Court in Pretoria has granted leave to appeal its 30 April judgment regarding the assisted suicide case.

In the appeal application, Judge Hans Fabricius granted the government and the Health Professions Council of South Africa leave to appeal his earlier ruling in which he gave Cape Town advocate, Robin Stransham-Ford, who was terminally ill, permission to have a doctor assist him in dying. Mr Stransham-Ford (65) died of prostate cancer hours before the judgment was delivered.

Leave to appeal was granted in terms of s 17(1)(a)(ii) of the Superior Court Act 10 of 2013, which states: ‘Leave to appeal may only be given where the judge or judges concerned are of the opinion that –

(a)(i) …

(ii) there is some other compelling reason why the appeal should be heard, including conflicting judgments on the matter under consideration.’

According to Judge Fabricius, the compelling reason is ‘the necessity to develop the common law’.

Mr Stransham-Ford’s lawyer, Sally Buitendag told De Rebus that her team welcomes the appeal. She said: ‘We think it is the right step for the matter to be decided by a higher court due to the high public interest grounds involved in this case.’

The spokesperson for the Justice Department, Mthunzi Mhaga said this ruling was most welcome. He said: ‘We made it clear when the judgment was delivered that it has far reaching implications and how it is to be interpreted and possibly abused by others and, therefore, in the absence of a legislative framework that regulates assisted suicide, it is important that the Supreme Court of Appeal makes a pronouncement on it, which is why we felt the judgment engrossed on legislative powers of parliament because parliament makes the laws, not the courts especially on matters of this nature.’

Leave to appeal was granted on 2 June and the debate regarding assisted suicide will now move to the Supreme Court of Appeal in Bloemfontein.

Nomfundo Manyathi-Jele, nomfundo@derebus.org.za

This article was first published in De Rebus in 2015 (July) DR 23.