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Date set for appeal against 'incompatible' Northern Ireland abortion law ruling

By Alan Erwin

Published 12/02/2016

David Ford
David Ford

Appeals against a ruling that abortion law in Northern Ireland is incompatible with human rights legislation will be heard in June.

Stormont's Justice Minister David Ford and Attorney General John Larkin QC are both challenging the landmark High Court verdict.

Lord Chief Justice Sir Declan Morgan today set aside four days to hear all further legal arguments in the case.

Northern Ireland's Human Rights Commission, who issued the original proceedings against the Department of Justice, is also mounting a cross-appeal to grounds on which it was unsuccessful.

The body is seeking findings that the current laws are inhuman, degrading and discriminatory.

Last year a judge held that the provisions for abortion breached the European Convention on Human Rights.

He ruled that the failure to provide exceptions to the ban for fatal foetal abnormalities (FFAs) and victims of rape or incest contravenes entitlements to respect for private and family life.

Unlike other parts of the UK, abortions are currently only legal in Northern Ireland within the region to protect the woman's life or if there is a risk of serious damage to her well-being.

Judicial review proceedings were issued after the Department of Justice launched a public consultation on amending the criminal law.

That process concluded with a recommendation for new legislation dealing with cases of FFA.

But with no proposed changes covering pregnancies resulting from sexual crime, the Commission claims the consultation does not go far enough.

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

Unlike other parts of the UK, abortions are currently only legal in Northern Ireland within the region to protect the woman's life or if there is a risk of serious damage to her well-being.

Judicial review proceedings were issued after the Department of Justice launched a public consultation on amending the criminal law.

That process concluded with a recommendation for new legislation dealing with cases of FFA.

But with no proposed changes covering pregnancies resulting from sexual crime, the Commission claimed the consultation does not go far enough.

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

Following Mr Justice Horner's first determination in the case he made a formal declaration that the legislation is incompatible with the UK's obligations under the Human Rights Act.

During the legal battle arguments were also made on behalf of the Attorney General, the Catholic Bishops in Northern Ireland, and Sarah Ewart - a woman from Northern Ireland who went to England for an abortion after learning her unborn baby had no chance of survival.

The court heard claims that the current near-blanket ban is inhuman and discriminatory.

Counsel for Commission argued that traumatised women and girls being forced to cross the Irish Sea for pregnancy terminations are victims of the legislation in Northern Ireland. More than 800 were said to have made the journeys in 2013.

Five of those were aged under 16, the court heard. Two years earlier 19 girls in that age group made the trip.

Now the case will go before the Court of Appeal at a hearing set to begin on June 20.

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