The continuing implications of the ‘crime’ of suicide: A brief history of the present

Tait, Gordon & Carpenter, Belinda (2016) The continuing implications of the ‘crime’ of suicide: A brief history of the present. International Journal of Law in Context, 12(2), pp. 210-224.

View at publisher


The long history of suicide as a criminal offence still has a significant contemporary effect on how it is perceived, conceptualised and adjudged. This is particularly the case within countries where suicide is largely determined within a coronial system, such as Australia, the UK and the US. This paper details the outcomes of a study involving semi-structured interviews with coroners both in England and Australia, as well as observations at inquests. It focuses around the widely held contention that the suicide rates produced within these coronial systems are underestimations of anywhere between 15 to 50 per cent. The results of these interviews suggest that there are three main reasons for this systemic underestimation. The first reflects the legacy of suicide as a criminal offence, resulting in the highest standard of proof for findings of suicide in the UK, and a continuing stigma attached to families of the deceased. The second is the considerable pressure brought to bear upon coroners by the family of the deceased, who, because of that stigma, commonly agitate for any finding other than that of suicide. The third involves the rise of ‘therapeutic jurisprudence’, wherein coroners take on the responsibility of the emotional well-being of the grieving families, which in turn affects the likelihood of reaching a finding of suicide. The conclusions drawn by the paper are also twofold: first – with respect to the stigma of suicide – it will take a lot more than simple decriminalisation to change deeply held social perceptions within the community. Second, given that suicide prevention programmes and policies are based on such deeply questionable statistics, targeted changes to coronial legislation and practice would appear to be required.

Impact and interest:

0 citations in Scopus
Search Google Scholar™

Citation counts are sourced monthly from Scopus and Web of Science® citation databases.

These databases contain citations from different subsets of available publications and different time periods and thus the citation count from each is usually different. Some works are not in either database and no count is displayed. Scopus includes citations from articles published in 1996 onwards, and Web of Science® generally from 1980 onwards.

Citations counts from the Google Scholar™ indexing service can be viewed at the linked Google Scholar™ search.

Full-text downloads:

10 since deposited on 12 Jul 2016
10 in the past twelve months

Full-text downloads displays the total number of times this work’s files (e.g., a PDF) have been downloaded from QUT ePrints as well as the number of downloads in the previous 365 days. The count includes downloads for all files if a work has more than one.

ID Code: 96826
Item Type: Journal Article
Refereed: Yes
Keywords: Suicide, Coroners, Inquests, Crime
DOI: 10.1017/S1744552316000021
ISSN: 1744-5531
Divisions: Current > Research Centres > Crime & Justice Research Centre
Current > Schools > School of Cultural & Professional Learning
Current > QUT Faculties and Divisions > Faculty of Education
Current > QUT Faculties and Divisions > Faculty of Law
Current > Schools > School of Justice
Copyright Owner: Copyright 2016 Cambridge University Press
Deposited On: 12 Jul 2016 22:53
Last Modified: 14 Jul 2016 07:44

Export: EndNote | Dublin Core | BibTeX

Repository Staff Only: item control page