Appeal on abortion law clocks up £100,000 bill
The Justice Department has spent more than £100,000 defending Northern Ireland's abortion law against legal action taken by the Human Rights Commission.
Lord chief justice Sir Declan Morgan and two other Court of Appeal judges are considering their judgment following a hearing last June.
In November last year the High Court found that the current restrictive law is incompatible with human rights. The Department of Justice and Attorney General are appealing the finding.
The department said it had spent £102,217 on legal fees for the High Court and Court of Appeal challenges as well as court costs. It responded to a question from Green Party Assembly member Clare Bailey.
She said: "I am disappointed that over £100,000 of public money has been squandered on this unnecessary court case, which was started by the previous justice minister.
"The High Court has ruled that our abortion laws are not compliant with human rights legislation and it is a disgrace that, instead of making our laws compliant, the ruling was appealed."
She said 833 women from Northern Ireland travelled to England last year to access healthcare that is denied to them here.
"I trust women. I will be working to ensure that women are not criminalised when accessing healthcare, including safe, legal abortions, when they need it."
The commission had repeatedly advised the DoJ that the existing law violates the human rights of women and girls.
Two years ago the department published a public consultation on allowing for terminations in cases of lethal foetal abnormality. In the commission's view the department had not committed to making the changes necessary, failing to deal with serious malformation of foetus.
In November 2015, the Belfast High Court found in the commission's favour, ruling that current law was incompatible with human rights. In June 2016 the Department of Justice and attorney general appealed the judgement.
Amnesty International's Northern Ireland director Patrick Corrigan said: "The existing abortion laws in Northern Ireland date back to 1861 - before the invention of the lightbulb - and are some of the most restrictive and punitive to be found anywhere in Europe.
"They ride roughshod over the rights of women and girls and are in desperate need of reform.
"Rather than pursuing endless, costly litigation through the courts in a futile attempt to defend bad law, the Northern Ireland Executive should be pursuing legislation to bring the region into line with international human rights standards.
"Every day that it fails to do so is a further breach of the rights of women in the region."