4 Baroness Flather debates involving the Ministry of Justice

Assisted Dying Bill [HL]

Baroness Flather Excerpts
2nd reading
Friday 22nd October 2021

(2 years, 8 months ago)

Lords Chamber
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Baroness Flather Portrait Baroness Flather (CB)
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My Lords, forgive me for not standing. If I stand, noble Lords will have to pick me up, so it is better that I keep sitting.

Each situation is very personal to who you are dealing with and to make rules and regulations is very difficult because each situation is also different. It will be extremely difficult to make rules and regulations that cover everything. Of course, we must try, because without that, we cannot have this law. However, I would very much appreciate allowing people to add something to whatever is put together.

I feel very strongly that the whole concept of assisted dying has been taken away by being mixed up with suicide. It is not about suicide, although I see no reason why one should not be allowed to commit suicide. It is your body and your life—if you want to take it, you take it. But we do not want that to happen, so we want to give people a choice, which is important.

It is also important that there is somewhere in this country similar to Dignitas. Whatever one says about Dignitas—there are many stories on television about individuals who have gone there having a bad time —it is very simple, nice and straightforward. If we try to block every little hole in the system, we will end up with a very complex system and still not have blocked the holes.

It would also be helpful if each of us put down our own wishes for the end of life, whether we want this or do not want that, as that will help the doctors, the carers and the families.

Arbitration and Mediation Services (Equality) Bill [HL]

Baroness Flather Excerpts
Friday 23rd October 2015

(8 years, 8 months ago)

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Baroness Flather Portrait Baroness Flather (CB)
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My Lords, I am sure that your Lordships have heard everything about the noble Baroness, Lady Cox, but that will not stop me from saying my piece. I have been fortunate enough to have her as a very close friend, and I have been working with her on this legislation, which she desires to bring in. She has undertaken so much work; I sometimes wonder whether she eats and sleeps at times. To be honest, I have never seen her eat—and of course I would not see her sleep. It is wonderful that she has got the Bill to this stage, and it is for us to make sure that at least the best of it comes out.

We just heard from the noble Lord, Lord Anderson, that this is a women’s issue. It is not. We should be very careful not to mark it as a women’s issue, because it is an issue for the country and for all of us. We should not have any parallel system in this country. It is incorrect, and it works against the ethos of what we have been used to. So it is an issue for all of us. Yes, it is a particular issue for women, because they are deprived of rights, but it is an issue for men as well because they must show other men that they have to behave properly.

I am sure that all noble Lords remember the retired Bishop of Rochester, Michael Nazir-Ali, who has made a special study of sharia. He would tell noble Lords that there is no doubt whatever that discrimination is built into sharia. I saw him yesterday and said, “I’ve been quoting you”. “Oh”, he said, “what have you been saying?”. I said, “You’ve been saying that you said that there is inequality in sharia”. “It’s true”, he replied. Therefore, let us be clear that even religious practices that may be more hidden from our eyes may also impact badly on women.

For that reason I am very nervous of sharia, because it does not fit in with this country. If people come to live here they have some duty to conform. If you look at some of the urban areas where large numbers of Pakistanis have settled, there is no desire to integrate—to become part of the nation. If we can do anything to make that happen, obviously that would be a good thing. If they do not integrate, in time they will become a state within a state, and we should guard against that very fiercely so that they do not start building their whole community system on the basis of how they have been brought up.

I also point out that the term “culture” has been very damaging. “Oh, it’s their culture”, people say. Do noble Lords know what culture means? It is usually something you practise. It does not mean that all the things you practise are culture—they are just social practices. Because we call it culture and give it that status, we do not like to go against it. Social workers say, “But it’s their culture”. What do they mean? What about our culture? We want our culture to be practised in our country. I have adopted this country as my own, so I can say that in my country I want my culture to be practised, not the culture of an Islamic country. This is very important when you look at the issues of grooming or other issues where everybody is so scared to say anything in case they upset the “culture”.

My friend Sir Malcolm Grant, who is chairman of NHS England, told me that he asked his team to look at heart disease in Muslim communities. They said, “Oh, but it’s very sensitive to ask them these questions”. My goodness—you ask us those questions and it is all right, but it is sensitive if you ask them? Why do you want to have two levels? What you do with us you should be able to do with any other group living in this country. Either they are part of this country or they are not.

This is the biggest thing I want to fight against. We need them to start thinking of integration and to make some commitment to this country. We treat them as a special group—we must not touch them, and so on. On halal meat, we do not know whether it is pre-stunned or not. Why do we not know this? Cutting the head off an animal is not much good. They showed it on television; my husband saw it, but thank goodness, I did not. However, I have stopped eating halal meat. I would like to; if they told me it was pre-stunned, I would. We could easily do these things.

Women married under British or sharia law can get a British divorce but not a sharia divorce. One women whom I met through the noble Baroness waited for six years for a sharia divorce. I said to her, “Why? You’ve got the British divorce”. She said, “If I go to Pakistan, he’ll come and take the children away”. I will not go on, because I have run out of time. I ask noble Lords to please give the Bill a fair wind.

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Lord Sheikh Portrait Lord Sheikh
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No. Under sharia law he does not have to do that. If sharia councils make unfair decisions, these must be dealt with on a case-by-case basis. I feel that there must be a mechanism to deal with such cases and that we should put in place an appeals procedure.

Baroness Flather Portrait Baroness Flather
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Is the noble Lord saying that there is equal treatment of women and men under sharia or is he saying that whatever sharia prescribes is correct? I am not sure; I think he is saying that whatever sharia prescribes is correct and proper. However, is there not discrimination against women?

Lord Sheikh Portrait Lord Sheikh
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It depends on what the noble Baroness means by discrimination.

Baroness Flather Portrait Baroness Flather
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I see that the noble Lord has not found that out yet.

Lord Sheikh Portrait Lord Sheikh
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That might be amusing to the noble Baroness but it is not amusing to me.

Baroness Flather Portrait Baroness Flather
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It is not funny to me—I am a woman.

Lord Sheikh Portrait Lord Sheikh
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I will continue. In the same way as sharia councils cannot claim to make legally binding decisions, some religious decisions have no place in English law. In any case, mainstream courts are not able to deal with matters of religious custom. If Muslims or those from any other religious group wish to undertake mediation or even arbitration according to a set of religious principles, they should be free to do so and there should of course be no coercion. I would like to see the UK Board of Sharia Councils become a prominent, self-regulatory body of which every sharia council should be encouraged to become an accountable member. I have spoken to heads of sharia councils and I know that there is enthusiasm for this.

There are problems affecting Muslim women who are denied religious divorces and women who enter into religious marriages with no legal protection. If there are problems with some practices, it is incumbent on the Muslim community to deal with the issues and take remedial action. We must work together with the community to find the solutions. This Bill will not help us to achieve this.

Assisted Dying Bill [HL]

Baroness Flather Excerpts
Friday 18th July 2014

(9 years, 12 months ago)

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Baroness Flather Portrait Baroness Flather (CB)
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My Lords, I thank all the people who have written to me. Reading all those letters has been a slightly life-changing experience. As other noble Lords have said, both the pain expressed in them and the opposing arguments have been extremely valuable, and I thank every single person who wrote.

I have always supported similar Bills. When we had the first debate on the Bill brought forward by the noble Lord, Lord Joffe, I said that if my disabled husband asked me to help him to die and there was no legal provision, I would still do it out of compassion and love and it would not matter what happened to me. He received two e-mails the next day to say, “Watch out for that woman”. But he is still here; he was here today. Incidentally, he wanted me to tell disabled people here and everywhere that he is tetraplegic. He was diagnosed with MS in 1983 and he has been getting progressively more disabled but he says that disabled people should always have exactly the same rights as able-bodied people and it will be their choice.

The Bill is about choice; it is not about forcing. Somehow or other it seems to have taken on a sort of hue of people being forced into asking to die. I have no intention of asking to die, but I do not want to go through a whole lot of pain. Medical science has made great progress. What has happened as a result is not just that things can be cured, as there are many things that cannot be cured, but that we can be kept lingering on for very much longer than used to be the case only a little while ago. It was seen as futile to keep people going on with life when life itself was not life. I still believe that to get rid of all pain we will have to be put in the twilight zone. I do not think that is life. I would not like to be in the twilight zone to say that my pain has gone.

We have had a few words about faith and how the faith communities should get together. As a woman, I tell you that I do not have much faith in faith. Women have not been protected by any of the faiths. Faith communities are free and able and can do what they like. This law is not about forcing anybody—I beg your pardon: this Bill. I am just being optimistic. This Bill is not about forcing anybody. This Bill is not about coercing anybody. In fact, when the time comes to debate it, we should have some system of monitoring decisions, which would be very much better for people who are worried about the possibility.

The noble Lord, Lord Tebbit, talked about vultures. I can tell him that there are plenty of vultures now, perhaps even more than there are likely to be if we pass the Bill. We talk about Shipman. Another Shipman could not happen if we brought this Bill in. It would not be possible for us to have another Shipman.

I am running out of time and I have so much more to say. I listened to the lady who is in charge of implementing the Oregon scheme. I was hugely impressed by her. She said she started by being against and that bit by bit she realised the need for it. She said that only half the people take the medication which is given to them. She said something which I would like your Lordships to think about carefully. They do not take it because they have a plan. They know what is going to happen, if they need it. They have a plan. I think every human being needs a plan in their life for their death.

Legal Systems: Rule of Law

Baroness Flather Excerpts
Thursday 10th July 2014

(10 years ago)

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Baroness Flather Portrait Baroness Flather (CB)
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My Lords, in thanking the noble and learned Lord, Lord Woolf, for initiating this debate, I want to share some personal memories. I think I have known the noble and learned Lord longer than anyone else in this Chamber. We were at UCL. He was a year senior to me, but I had the great good fortune to know him from my student days. I must have been one of the luckiest law students in the country, because the other person with whom I shared dinners in Inner Temple was the noble and learned Baroness, Lady Butler-Sloss. In those days, to students like me Law Lords were gods. You never imagined that you might be able to sit next to one or two, listen to them speak and have their friendship. I thank all my great friends who have been wonderful to me and have given a lot of value to my life.

I want to say a few words about India because I think it is worth mentioning. When India was under the rule of the East India Company, there were three major presidencies and they all had separate laws. It was a big muddle. No legal system applied everywhere but for 200 years there were appeals to the Privy Council, which is quite amazing. One or two islands may still have appeals to the Privy Council. What could say more about the esteem in which the British legal system is held? People still feel that if they can have this as a last point, they should keep it.

Eventually, of course, there was the Law Commission chaired by Lord Macaulay which marked the beginning of the proper legal system in India. It is still going on. It has been slightly updated but basically it is the common law. Not only that but, as has already been mentioned, many of the former colonies took the system on and, from the period when Lord Macaulay did the work, countries such as Malaysia and Singapore have the same law still. There is a reason why this common-law system has lasted. It has lasted because it has value. Nothing which has no value can last. People think it is something that should continue; they do not wish to change it into something else.

In India there was one difference. There were a lot of personal laws. There was a Hindu law, a Muslim law and possibly a Christian law and a number of different personal laws about things such as marriage, adoption and inheritance. I fear that we might be starting to allow that in this country. Every country should have a single system of law and not allow people who come from different backgrounds and have different social attitudes to start developing their own laws. That is not only against the basis of common law but against the interests of this country. All laws should apply to everybody equally and should be enforced properly. India is a secular country and there are a number of religions. This is not a secular country. It behaves like one but it has a state religion. If there has to be a religious law, it can only be a Christian one. We have no personal laws dictated by religion and that is a very good thing. I think it should apply to everybody else as well.

I want to say a few words about the noble and learned Lord, Lord Woolf. He did the review of civil procedure. I think it is amazing that a report got enacted so quickly. That is not the fate of all reports. It must have been of value to have been enacted. He put down eight points and they are so sensible and so clear that even Parliament thought it was good idea to enact it.

I want to mention another thing, which is again personal. I had the great good fortune of knowing the mother of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Phillips of Worth Matravers. She was a friend and she liked me. One day—it was State Opening—when I came in from that end where the judges were sitting, first the noble and learned Lord, Lord Woolf, got up to greet me, and then the noble and learned Lord, Lord Phillips. By the time I got to a seat they said to me, “We thought maybe all the judges were going to stand up to greet you”.