Belfast Telegraph

A Star Chamber on abortion and a minister's costly legal foray: two ill-advised propositions

By Liam Clarke

The real news is grim in Northern Ireland — soaring youth unemployment and the heartrending report of a baby girl found in the boot of a car.

Nothing could more clearly illustrate the failure of our society to provide a decent future for our young people.

Yet this is the moment when the Justice Committee considers proposals from John Larkin, the Attorney General, to turn itself into something resembling a Star Chamber to put the Marie Stopes clinic on trial.

The Attorney General proposes that it call witnesses, which he volunteers to question for them, obtain documents, use him to obtain injunctions and then possibly call in the police.

He is correct that there should be regulation of all medical facilities to guarantee compliance with the law, but is this really the way to do it?

Is it appropriate to haul doctors before a tribunal of opinionated politicians with the police at their back and the Attorney General performing the interrogations?

The issue has certain similarities as the Tennessee Monkey trial when a teacher was put on trial for teaching evolution. His name was John Scopes. It even sounds like Marie Stopes.

That was in 1925 and they made a movie out of it.

In 2012 our politicians should have the sense to dodge the bullet.

The Attorney General “believes that the opening of the Marie Stopes clinic raises important issues concerning the rule of law in Northern Ireland and as ‘guardian of the rule of law’, he is ensuring that the law in this area is complied with,” according to a spokesman.

Politicians should be cautious. They are elected to act as legislators, not inquisitors and they should consider legislating

Paul Givan, the Justice Chairman, is taking stock.

He says he will invite representatives of Marie Stopes to address the committee and seek assurances that it scrupulously follows the law and he may get the Attorney General to question them.

Edwin Poots, the Health Minister, will also be represented by the Attorney General when he goes to court in a bid to halt adoption by unmarried couples and those in civil partnerships.

This includes gay couples, and John Doherty, of the Rainbow Project, a gay advocacy group, predicts the minister is “on a fool’s errand.”

He is betting our money that he can overturn a finding by one of our most rigorous judges, Seamus Treacy, which bring us into line with UK law.

The stated grounds are that there is no right to adopt, only the right of the child to a stable home.

Yet Judge Treacy considered that at length and found no evidence that the welfare of children was best served by the current restrictions.

They leave many children in care and it was child welfare which the judge considered.

Everyone knows that the adoption law will eventually be liberalised.

Mr Poots is fighting a rearguard action, like King Canute ordering the waves to retreat. The difference is that Canute didn’t spend public money in the middle of a recession on this issue.

Mr Poots is the Health Minister. In many ways he is a good and courageous one.

In this case though, he should step back, take a deep breath and consider how much his proposed legal foray will cost and what public benefit will be achieved even in the unlikely event that his legal instincts turn out to be sharper than Justice Treacy’s.

Would the money not be better spent, for instance, on cancer drugs, home helps or kinship carers?

There is a political and legal judgment to be made here.

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