North’s Government defends handling of abortion

Court of Appeal told a landmark ruling on terminations had taken a ‘wrong turn’

The Northern Ireland Department of Justice has said it has committed no unlawful act in its handling of its abortion regime, the Court of Appeal in Belfast has heard.

Judges were also told that a landmark High Court ruling that the North's near-blanket ban on abortions breaches the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR) went further than Strasbourg jurisprudence.

Counsel for the department argued the verdict had taken “a wrong turn” in holding that the foetus has no right to life.

Unlike other parts of the UK, terminations are currently only legal within the region in order to protect the life of the mother or if there is a risk of serious damage to her well-being.


Last year, the High Court ruled that the failure to provide exceptions for cases of fatal foetal abnormalities and victims of rape or incest breaches entitlements to respect for private and family life.

Mr Justice Mark Horner also made a formal declaration that the legislation is incompatible with the UK's obligations under the Human Rights Act.

His decision is now being appealed by both the department and Attorney General John Larkin QC.

During the second day of the new court case over the North’s abortion laws, judges queried whether new guidelines on terminations provided sufficient clarification.


The Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission, which issued the original proceedings, has mounted a cross-appeal in an effort to have the regime declared inhuman, degrading and discriminatory.

It took its legal action after the department began a public consultation on amending the criminal law, which concluded with a recommendation for legislation dealing with cases of fatal foetal abnormality.

The commission insists the consultation did not go far enough, as there were no proposed changes in relation to pregnancies resulting from sexual crime.

It was also seeking to have terminations legalised in cases of rape or serious foetal malformation.

In court on Tuesday, Tony McGleenan QC, for the department, said its view was that it had committed “no public law wrong and engaged in no unlawful act that would warrant the intrusive remedies sought by the applicant”.

He contended that there is no imperative under the ECHR to modify the Offences Against the Person Act 1861 governing abortion law.

Pressed on a finding that the foetus has no Article 2 right to life, Mr McGleenan said: “The judge took a wrong turn.”

The appeal continues.