Court of Appeal hears regulations introduced by UK government to order comprehensive abortion services in NI are ‘invalid’


REGULATIONS introduced by the UK government to order comprehensive abortion services in Northern Ireland are legally invalid, the Court of Appeal has been told.

The lawyer for a pro-life group also claimed that subsequent amendments cannot rehabilitate legislation that has been deemed a “corpse”.

Earlier this year the High Court ruled the Secretary of State was entitled to impose a deadline on the Stormont executive to introduce a centralized system for abortions.

The Society for the Protection of Unborn Children (SPUC) is seeking to overturn the decision as only elected representatives in Northern Ireland are expected to speak on the matter.

The case represents the latest stage in a protracted legal battle over abortion laws in Northern Ireland.

In 2019, MPs passed a law to decriminalize dismissals at a time when decentralization had collapsed. But a centralized model for operating in the north was not put in place due to a stalemate at Stormont.

The liberalized regime change introduced by Westminster follows a report by the UN Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW), which concluded that their rights were violated by limited access to services.

Under the terms of the Northern Ireland (Executive Training etc) Act 2019, former Secretary of State Brandon Lewis was to implement the CEDAW recommendations in Northern Ireland.

Section 9 of the law imposed specific obligations on it regarding the provision of abortion and post-abortion services.

Amid the continuing stalemate, an instruction has been issued under the Abortion (Northern Ireland) Regulations 2021 for the Department of Health to have comprehensive services in place by March this year.

Mr Lewis’s successor, Chris Heaton-Harris, has also pledged his commitment to the move.

In a challenge to the legality of the 2021 settlement, the SPUC says constitutional provisions enshrined in the Good Friday Agreement meant the Secretary of State went beyond his legal authority.

The group is appealing a finding that Section 9 of the 2019 Act conferred “wide and sweeping powers” as part of parliamentary sovereignty.

John Larkin KC questioned whether the legislation was designed to replace or guarantee the restoration of devolution.

The lawyer insisted that the changes introduced earlier this year illustrated the shortcomings of the 2021 regulations.

“Our argument is simply that the directive has no effect. It has no normative weight,” he told the court.

Dismissing suggestions that the legislative changes made his point academic, Mr Larkin said: “The 2021 regulations are dead and you can’t graft a healthy arm onto a corpse.

“Invalids from the start, they could not be cured afterwards.”

During the presentations, a comparison was made between other provisions of the law in order to demonstrate the constraints imposed on the Secretary of State.

With this argument introduced for the first time, a lawyer representing the Secretary of State asked for more time to take instructions before proceeding with the appeal.

Chief Justice Dame Siobhan Keegan adjourned the proceedings after stressing the importance of the case.

She said: ‘It is very unfortunate that we are doing this, but we need to ensure that this case is fully and properly argued to allow us to decide.’

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