Belfast Telegraph

Government distances itself from Attorney General John Larkin over Austrian lesbian case

By Liam Clarke

The Westminster government has written to the European Court of Human Rights distancing itself from an attempt by Northern Ireland’s Attorney General to intervene in an adoption case involving two Austrian lesbians.

A letter from the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, obtained by this paper, has said that the intervention by John Larkin does not represent the views of the UK Government.

Earlier this year it emerged that Mr Larkin had intervened in a European Court of Human Rights case brought by two gay Austrians seeking to adopt a child.

In a submission Mr Larkin has argued that regions like Austria and Northern Ireland should be allowed to opt out of same sex adoption law which is now becoming more widespread in Europe.

But it has now emerged that the Foreign Office letter states that Mr Larkin had not applied for or received permission from the British Government to make his submission.

The Attorney General has been at the heart of a political storm for the past week after it emerged that he had written to the Stormont Justice Committee inviting them to investigate Northern Ireland’s first private abortion clinic.

Mr Larkin moved to make it clear that his offer was in his capacity as Attorney General, not in a personal capacity as Peter Robinson, the First Minister, had believed. It also emerged that Mr Larkin has attempted to intervene to halt a judicial review of the A5 road development.

A spokesman for the Attorney General denied that the government’s position on the European gay adoption case constituted a rebuff. “The Court accepted the Attorney's application to intervene in the X and Others v Austria case,” he added.

But the letter to the Strasbourg Court is fairly brusque in tone and does not endorse Mr Larkin’s actions.

“I wish to make it clear that it does not represent the views of the UK Government, nor does it reflect the position throughout the United Kingdom” an official from the Foreign Office wrote on 26 September.

She made it clear that Mr Larkin had not notified the government, adding “we reserve the right to make any further comments on the general issue in due course”.

The letter points out that the UK is a high contracting party to the European Convention on Human Rights, which Northern Ireland is not. It explains that “a wide range of policy areas have been transferred to the devolved administrations”.

The government’s position was re-iterated on in a written House of Lords answer from Lord Wallace, the Advocate General for Scotland, speaking on behalf of the UK Attorney General’s Office.

Lord Laird had asked him whether the government had been told of Mr Larkin’s intervention, whether they approved it whether “they accept that he has the power to intervene as Attorney General”.

Lord Wallace replied: “The Government have made it clear to the European Court of Human Rights that the intervention does not represent the views of the UK Government and that our position as to the Attorney-General's entitlement to intervene is reserved.”

Edward Garnier QC, a former Solicitor General and Conservative Party MP, has questioned Mr Larkin’s approach.

He said it was plain that “the UK Government is not happy with John Larkin’s approach to the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg in the Austrian case. Northern Ireland does not have direct relations with Austria nor with the Court”.

“No matter what the merits of Mr Larkin’s arguments may or may not be on the law relating to adoption we can achieve a lot more for every part of the United Kingdom if we advance in a united fashion,” he added.

Mr Garnier continued: “I fear that that the role of the Attorney General for Northern Ireland is unclear.”



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