1. ITV Report

Supreme Court to consider Northern Ireland's strict abortion laws

The Supreme Court will hear a challenge by the NIHRC against the ruling of the appeal judges. Photo: PA

The UK’s highest court will consider Northern Ireland’s controversial abortion laws on Tuesday.

Following earlier legal rulings in Northern Ireland, the Supreme Court in London will focus on the law that forbids abortion in cases fatal foetal abnormality or where the pregnancy arises through rape or incest.

Northern Ireland, unlike the rest of the UK, is not subject to the 1967 Abortion Act, and the procedure remains illegal except if the woman’s life is at risk, or there is a permanent or serious danger to the mother’s mental of physical health.

Anyone that carries out an unlawful abortion faces life imprisonment.

The Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission (NIHRC), which launched a judicial review proceedings in 2014, argues that the current law's effect on women contravenes their rights under the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR).

The Belfast High Court declared in 2015 Ireland’s criminal abortion law was incompatible with Article 8 of the ECHR, the right to respect for private and family life, because of the absence of exceptions in cases of fatal foetal abnormalities and pregnancies resulting from criminal offences.

That decision was overturned by appeal judges in June this year, who said the issue should go before the UK's Supreme Court.

The Supreme Court will hear a challenge by the NIHRC against the ruling of the appeal judges.

Leading the panel of seven judges, Lady Hale, along with deputy Supreme Court president Lord Mance, are being asked to make findings on two issues:

  • Is the current legislation incompatible with Article 8 and other articles which provide protection from torture and inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment and from discrimination, including on the ground of sex?
  • Does the Northern Ireland Act 1998 entitle the NIHRC to bring the proceedings under the Human Rights Act 1998 to seek a declaration of incompatibility?

Stormont has argued the commission does not have legal power to bring the case and says it has failed to identify an unlawful act.

The hearing is due to last for three days.