Les Allamby: Lack of Executive cannot be used as excuse to deny women their human rights
The Supreme Court of the United Kingdom concluded yesterday that Northern Ireland's laws on termination of pregnancy are incompatible with human rights.
Although the court also ruled that the Commission did not have the ability to take the case without a victim, and could not issue a binding ruling, the judgment represents a landmark victory for women and girls in Northern Ireland.
The Commission took the case because it believed that the refusal to allow access to abortion in cases of fatal foetal abnormality, rape and incest violated rights protected under the European Convention on Human Rights.
Because of the understandable pressure and strain on any pregnant woman or girl seeking a termination in the above cases, the Commission decided to bring the case in its own name rather than to ask a woman to shoulder the burden of fighting a legal case while in a crisis. Both the High Court and the NI Court of Appeal ruled that the Commission did have the ability to take the case without a victim.
The highest court in the UK has agreed with the Commission, and all of the judges indicated that the current law in Northern Ireland is deeply unsatisfactory. In his judgment, the former Lord Chief Justice of Northern Ireland, Lord Kerr, noted that the current law does not take any account of a woman's right to autonomy and increases the distress of women and girls who are already in an extremely vulnerable position. The President of the court, Lady Hale, noted that the current law has already been found to violate the UK's international human rights obligations, and Lord Mance described the present position as "untenable" and the law in need of "radical reconsideration".
With the publication of this judgment, the Commission will now consider its next steps.
However, it is absolutely clear that there is an obligation on elected representatives to remedy this unacceptable situation speedily.
In recent weeks, the issue of termination has been under the spotlight after the referendum in the Republic of Ireland and the increased focus on Northern Ireland's laws by the Westminster Parliament.
As he delivered judgment, Lord Kerr stated that the conclusions of the court should be the subject of "close consideration" by those who could decide to change the law.
The Commission supports this view, and in the absence of a government at Stormont, believes that this obligation must fall to the UK Government and Westminster Parliament.
The absence of a devolved administration cannot be used as an excuse to deny women and girls in Northern Ireland their human rights.