An expert legal opinion has highlighted numerous and concerning flaws with the new abortion legislation which will come into force in Northern Ireland from 22 October, if the Assembly is not restored.
The opinion was commissioned by CARE, and written by David Lock QC, a former Labour MP and a highly respected member of the bar.
Last week, official correspondence from the Department of Justice, obtained by an FOI, revealed that senior officials recognised there will be ‘obvious difficulties’ in the period up to when the new regulations are due. This legal opinion by David Lock QC spells out what some of these ‘obvious difficulties’ are.
Among a number of crucial observations, Mr Lock makes clear that in his view, an unintended consequence of section 9 of the NI (Executive Formation) Act could be the return of unregulated backstreet abortions.
He says: “It follows that an unintended consequence of section 9 of the 2019 Act may be the possible return of unregulated ‘backstreet abortions.’”
Mr Lock also expresses doubts about whether healthcare professional who conscientiously object will be given proper protection and says in his view that a GP would come under pressure to prescribe the abortion drug requested by the patient or would have to refer the patient to another GP.
In addition, the opinion highlights major safety concerns around the new laws because unlike in England, there will no abortion specific regulation of private clinics at least between 22 October and the end of March 2020, during the so called ‘interim period’.
Mr Lock also points out that, shockingly, if a doctor seeks to provide an abortion outside a clinic, he will not be subject to any statutory regulation.
The lack of clarity around the meaning of the term “capable of being born alive” under the 1945 Criminal Justice (NI) Act 1945 which will be the only criminal statute remaining around abortion if the law is changed is also highlighted. This could lead to a deeply problematic situation for healthcare professionals seeking to understand and implement this law.
Commenting on the legal opinion, CARE NI Policy Officer, Mark Baillie said:
“Regardless of whether you support abortion or not, no-one wants a situation where vulnerable women and their babies are placed in more danger.
“Yet that is exactly what will happen if these new abortion laws come into force.
“Mr Lock is an experienced and well-respected lawyer and his opinion should be widely read by those who should be responsible for our laws.
“The only way that this deeply flawed new regime can be stopped is if NI’s political leaders find a way to do a deal, so the Assembly and Executive are restored.
“The Executive need only be formed for a day to see this abortion legislation fall.
“Time is running out and this new legal opinion should focus the minds of every politicians across NI.
“There is no greater argument for devolution than having rushed, badly drafted Westminster laws imposed on us, which will endanger women, rather than protecting them.
Notes to editors:
CARE is a well-established mainstream Christian charity providing resources and helping to bring Christian insight and experience to matters of public policy and practical caring initiatives. CARE is represented in the UK Parliaments and Assemblies.
Last week, CARE NI released emails which we were sent in which the DoJ admitted the new abortion regime would cause obvious difficulties: https://www.care.org.uk/news/latest-news/doj-officials-admit-new-abortion-regime-will-lead-obvious-difficulties
A recent survey by Lucid Talk showed that 52% of adults in Northern Ireland are opposed to the new abortion laws: https://www.care.org.uk/news/latest-news/majority-ni-oppose-new-abortion-laws-according-new-survey
About David Lock QC: David Lock was called to the Bar in 1985 and made a QC in 2011. He has appeared in the Supreme Court (most recently in July 2018), the Court of Appeal on many occasions, the High Court, the County Court, the Court of Protection, has drafted Parliamentary Bills and has advised individuals, companies and government bodies in a variety of international jurisdictions. He has vast trial experience, including cross-examining expert and lay witnesses, but also has a wide-ranging public law and appellate practice. David took silk in 2011 and since then has appeared in a series of high profile administrative and public law cases, acting for public bodies and against them. David is joint editor (with Hannah Gibbs) of the leading practitioner’s book, “NHS Law and Practice” and his technical expertise as a public lawyer has been recognised by his appointment as one of the joint editors (along with David Blundell) of the leading journal “Judicial Review”. David was appointed as a member of the Equality and Human Rights Commission’s ‘A’ panel in May 2019. This panel of counsel plays an important role in helping the Commission to achieve its objectives which include reducing inequality, eliminating discrimination and protecting human rights. He was Labour Member of Parliament for Wyre Valley from 1997 to 2001.