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Attempted prosecution of mother who bought abortion pills for daughter ‘did not breach human rights’

The decision to prosecute a Northern Ireland mother who bought abortion pills for her underage daughter did not breach her and her daughter’s human rights, according to a shocking decision handed down today.

The High Court in Belfast found that the decision to prosecute the mother, who had faced up to five years in jail, was not in breach of her rights under the European Convention on Human Rights. Northern Ireland Humanists, which intervened in the case, known as JR76, said the ruling was ‘shocking’, adding that it is a ‘profoundly disappointing outcome.’ The judgment is not yet widely available publicly however based on media reports, the claimant has lost the case.

As it happens, last month the mother was acquitted of the criminal charges for unlawfully procuring and supplying abortion pills, because the underlying laws changed before the prosecution concluded. The Belfast Crown Court recognised the new laws passed in the UK Parliament earlier this year, which decriminalised abortion in Northern Ireland from 22 October, and also removed any outstanding prosecutions under the old laws. However, the human rights-based judicial review into the decision to prosecute continued, and that is what has today concluded.

The prosecution was brought about after the family sought medical support and then social services reported the matter to the police. The police were then supplied with the daughter’s confidential GP records without her knowledge. The judicial review of the decision to prosecute focused on the breach of doctor-patient confidentiality as well as whether the regime in Northern Ireland complied with human rights in these circumstances.

Northern Ireland Humanists coordinator Boyd Sleator said: ‘We profoundly disagree with the court’s ruling that it was legitimate to bring a criminal prosecution against the mother for procuring abortion pills for her daughter who had every right to access this care. Abortion is a health matter – not a criminal one – and while this judgment is profoundly disappointing we hope it is the last case of its kind to reach the courts in light of recent abortion legalisation. We need to ensure that upcoming reforms in Northern Ireland are delivered adequately so that all women can get access to abortion care if they need to.’

Northern Ireland Humanists awaits the full judgment, and will examine it for further implications in due course.

NOTES:

For more information contact Humanists UK press manager Casey-Ann Seaniger at casey@humanism.org.uk or 020 7324 3078.

Humanists UK is represented by solicitor Janet Farrell of Bhatt Murphy solicitors through agent solicitors Harte, Coyle and Collins in Belfast. Stephen Cragg QC, assisted by Caoilfhionn Gallagher QC and Katie O’Byrne (all barristers at Doughty Street Chambers) drafted the submissions for Humanists UK.

Read more about the acquittal decision.

Read more about Northern Ireland’s move to decriminalise abortion.

Read more about our intervention.

Northern Ireland Humanists is a part of Humanists UK, working with the Humanist Association of Ireland. Humanists UK is the national charity working on behalf of non-religious people. Powered by over 85,000 members and supporters, we advance free thinking and promote humanism to create a tolerant society where rational thinking and kindness prevail. We provide ceremonies, pastoral care, education, and support services benefitting over a million people every year and our campaigns advance humanist thinking on ethical issues, human rights, and equal treatment for all.

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