Fri, Jun 08, 2018 - Page 6 News List

UK top court says it cannot rule on N Ireland abortion

AFP, LONDON

The British Supreme Court yesterday said it could not rule on an appeal against Northern Ireland’s strict abortion laws, but added that it would have declared them incompatible with human rights laws otherwise.

By a majority decision, the justices said that the Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission, which filed the appeal, did not have the power to “institute abstract proceedings of this nature.”

“It follows that the Supreme Court has no jurisdiction in these proceedings to give relief in respect of the challenge to Northern Ireland abortion law,” the court said.

However, the court added that a majority of justices would have ruled current Northern Ireland law incompatible with the European Convention on Human rights, raising the pressure on London and Belfast to change their legislation.

“I would have concluded without real hesitation ... that the current state of Northern Ireland is incompatible with Article 8 of the convention, insofar as it prohibits abortion in cases of fatal fetal abnormality, rape and incest, but not insofar as it prohibits abortion in cases of serious fetal abnormality,” judge Jonathan Mance said.

This view was shared by four of the seven judges.

Unlike in mainland Britain, abortion is illegal in Northern Ireland, carrying a potential life sentence, except when a woman’s life is at risk or there is a permanent or serious danger to her mental or physical health.

The commission in October last year argued that the current law subjects women to “inhuman and degrading” treatment, causing “physical and mental torture” as it bans abortion in cases of rape, incest or serious fetal anomaly.

The devolved Northern Ireland Assembly voted in February 2016 against legalizing abortion in cases of fatal fetal abnormality, rape or incest.

Sinn Fein and the Social Democratic and Labour Party, the two major parties representing Northern Ireland’s Irish Catholics, and the cross-community Alliance Party, back overturning the ban.

Belfast’s High Court in December 2015 ruled that the law was incompatible with Article 8 of the convention — the right to respect for private and family life — due to the absence of exceptions in cases of fatal fetal abnormalities and pregnancies resulting from sexual offenses.

However, three of Northern Ireland’s most senior judges overturned that decision in June last year, saying that it was a question for the elected assembly, not the courts.

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