Stormont’s chief legal adviser has said Northern Ireland Secretary Brandon Lewis exceeded his powers in introducing liberalising abortion regulations in March.
Under the European Convention on Human Rights protection must be given to the rights of those opposed on religious or philosophical grounds, attorney general John Larkin QC, said, and it is doubtful that this was adequate in this case.
“This is of political and legal significance and, given that the relevant judgment call is best made by a local legislature, it may be inappropriate for the provision to have been so limited in light of the changed political context,” the Attorney General said in written evidence to a House of Lords committee.
Regulations to allow abortions were introduced last month after MPs in Westminster passed a law last year during the hiatus in the devolved Assembly at Stormont.
“In my view, it is disproportionate in the Northern Irish context (and therefore contrary to article 9 of the Convention) to require those who undertake ancillary, administrative and managerial tasks to act contrary to their conscience for service maintenance reasons as set out in the consultation response (particularly when the anticipated impact could be avoided through commissioning a dedicated service).
“Providing for broader conscience protection in regulation 12 would have been possible and would have assisted with Convention compliance by health and social care trusts.”
Former Police Ombudsman Baroness Nuala O’Loan said in her submission that the regulations were gravely flawed.
“It is both deeply controversial in Northern Ireland because of its implications for people, doctors, nurses and midwives, and because it is my submission that the Secretary of State has acted beyond his competence and the regulations ‘imperfectly achieve the policy objective’.
“It was also preceded by a flawed consultation process.”