Britain’s top court says cannot rule on Northern Ireland abortion law

Pro-abortion protesters stage a demonstration calling for abortion to be legalised in Northern Ireland outside Belfast city hall in Belfast on May 28, 2018

London (AFP) – Britain’s Supreme Court on Thursday said it could not rule on an appeal against Northern Ireland’s strict abortion laws, but that it would have declared them incompatible with human rights laws otherwise. 

By a majority decision, the justices said that the Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission (NIHRC), which brought the appeal, did not have the power to “institute abstract proceedings of this nature”.

“It follows that the Supreme Court has no jurisdiction in these proceedings to give relief in respect of the challenge Northern Ireland abortion law,” the ruling added.

However, the court also said that a majority of justices would have ruled the current Northern Ireland law incompatible with the European Convention on Human rights (ECHR), raising the pressure on London and Belfast to change their legislation.

“I would have concluded without real hesitation … that the current state of Northern Ireland is incompatible with Article 8 of the Convention, insofar as it prohibits abortion in cases of fatal foetal abnormality, rape and incest, but not insofar as it prohibits abortion in cases of serious foetal abnormality,” said judge Jonathan Mance.

This view was shared by four of the seven judges.