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Landmark barristers win ground-breaking Northern Irish abortion rights challenge

DATE: 30 Nov 2015

The High Court of Northern Ireland (Horner J) has today said that Northern Irish abortion law is contrary to the Human Rights Act, giving  judgment in In the matter of the Law on Termination of Pregnancy in Northern Ireland. The case involved a challenge to the legality of Northern Irish abortion law by the Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission. The Commission sought a declaration that, in criminalising abortion without any exception for cases of serious foetal abnormality, rape and incest, the law in Northern Ireland was in breach of Articles 3, 8 and 14 of the European Convention on Human Rights. 

Horner J allowed the claim. He held that, although there was no breach of Articles 3 or 14, the current state of the law in Northern Ireland did breach Article 8 of the Convention, by failing to make exceptions for cases of fatal foetal abnormality at any stage in the pregnancy and for cases of rape and incest up until the point that the foetus was capable of living independently of the mother. The case is ground breaking in terms both or article 8 and abortion, and the relevance of article 2 to abortion.  His ruling is also important in establishing that the Commission had standing to bring the claim. He has invited further submissions as to whether to make a declaration of incompatibility or whether the relevant statutory provisions can be read down. 

Nathalie Lieven QC and David Blundell appeared on behalf of the Claimant, the  Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission.