Why was Berlinah Wallace charged with murder ?
The case is unique. The prosecution argued there was a direct causal link between Wallace’s act in hurling acid at Mark van Dongen and his decision to end their own lives by euthanasia. It claimed that when she threw the acid she intended to cause him serious damage. The physical and psychological agony he sustained drove him to euthanasia.
What did Wallace’s defence argue ?
Wallace’s team claimed she did not kill Van Dongen, but that doctors in Belgium did at the request of the victim. The defense accepted that if Van Dongen had died after refusing therapy or had taken his own life the” chain of causation” between Wallace’s attack and his death would have been intact. However, it said in this case, his option to die- combined with the actions of the Belgian physicians- amounted to an intervene cause violating the chain of causation. Richard Smith QC, representing Wallace, told the jury:” What happened in Belgium is illegal in this country .” The doctor’s act in inserting a catheter into Van Dongen’s heart” intervened and violate her responsibility”, he said.
This was a retrial. Why was the first trial halted ?
At the halfway stage of the first trial, the judge, Mrs Justice May, ruled that the murder charge should be dismissed. She was troubled by the fact that had the euthanasia happened in the UK, it would have been slaying- which in her position would have transgressed the “causal link”. The prosecution appealed and the retrial was granted.
What are the laws around the purchase of acids ?
The sale of certain types of acid and other dangerous chemicals is governed by the Poisons Act 1972, as amended by the Deregulation Act 2015. There is a distinction between ” governed” substances and” reportable substances “. A Home Office licence is needed to buy regulated substances but sulphuric acid is not one of these. Sulphuric acid is “reportable”. Retailers can sell it but are required to report suspicious transactions and significant loss and steals. Wallace’s purchase did not seem suspicious.
Is the law going to change ?
Yes. Following a spate of acid assaults, there have been calls for the government to introduce further restrictions on the sale of acid, particularly sulphuric acid. A statutory instrument comes into consequence in July that will make sulphuric acid above 15% in concentration a regulated substance. From November, members of the public will require a licence to be able to import, acquire, possess or use sulphuric acid.
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