North rights body welcomes ruling on same-sex adoption
Edwin Poots: ‘disappointed’ by court ruling refusing leave to appeal
The Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission welcomed a decision by the UK Supreme Court to reject an attempt to overturn a court ruling in favour of same-sex and unmarried couples adopting.
Northern Ireland Minister for Health Edwin Poots tried to challenge an appeal court’s decision that paved the way for gay and lesbian couples to adopt children in the North. At present a single gay or lesbian person can adopt in Northern Ireland but a couple in a civil partnership cannot.
A challenge to the legislation was mounted by the commission, which was supported by an unidentified lesbian woman who wants to enter into a civil partnership and be able to adopt her partner’s biological child.
The commission challenged the law on the grounds that certain provisions were unjustifiably discriminatory to those in homosexual relationships, in contravention of the European Convention on Human Rights.
The Court of Appeal in Belfast ruled in the commission’s favour and against Mr Poots’s department in June. The department then applied for permission to appeal to the Supreme Court on a point of law, but last week it rejected that application.
The judicial review initiated by the commission looked at the compatibility of the Adoption Order (NI) 1997 with the European Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms.
The law in Northern Ireland meant that single men and women, regardless of their sexual orientation, could apply to adopt in Northern Ireland, and that married couples could apply to adopt. However, unmarried heterosexual couples, same sex couples, and couples in civil partnerships were not eligible to be considered for adoption in Northern Ireland.
The commission noted that this was in direct contrast to the rest of the UK, where couples (including unmarried heterosexual, same sex and civil partners) can apply to adopt.
Prof Michael O’Flaherty, a member of the commission, said it brought the case to ensure the best interests of children in Northern Ireland would be protected. “Unmarried couples, those in same sex relationships and civil partnerships are eligible to be considered to be adoptive parents,” he said. “All of the judgments and [the] rejection by the Supreme Court to hear a further appeal confirmed that the law in Northern Ireland was out of step with the United Kingdom’s human rights obligations.”
In a statement, Mr Poots said he was disappointed by the court ruling. “It is with disappointment that I note that the request for leave to appeal to the Supreme Court has been refused,” he said.
“I am currently carefully considering the implications for the Adoption and Children Bill, which is currently being drafted and which I intend to introduce in the Assembly next year.”
The commission argued that the aim of adoption legislation was the promotion of the best interests of the child. It questioned whether it could be legitimately be regarded as necessary and proportionate to that aim to prevent all unmarried couples, including mixed-sex ones, from being eligible to be considered for adoption, regardless of the merits of the individual case.
It was argued that this position engaged article 8 and article 14 of the European convention on human rights, which relate to privacy and discrimination, respectively. The first of these, on the right to privacy, states that everyone has the right to his private and family life, his home and his correspondence.
It also sets out that there shall be no interference by a public authority with the exercise of this right except in certain limited circumstances.