Debevoise Represents Center for Reproductive Rights in Landmark UK Supreme Court Case

7 June 2018

Debevoise & Plimpton LLP has represented the Center for Reproductive Rights in its successful intervention in the UK Supreme Court concerning the Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission’s challenge to Northern Ireland’s criminal laws on abortion.

The Supreme Court held (by a majority) that the current law prohibiting abortion in Northern Ireland is contrary to human rights. Specifically, the Court held that sections 58 and 59 of the Offences Against the Person Act 1861 and section 25(1) of the Criminal Justice Act (NI) are disproportionate and breach Article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights to the extent that they deny a lawful abortion to a woman who wishes it in cases of rape, incest and fatal foetal abnormality. Debevoise represented the Center for Reproductive Rights, which intervened in the case before the Supreme Court.

The Court however found that it was unable to issue a declaration of incompatibility under the Human Rights Act because of its separate majority finding that the Human Rights Commission did not have standing to challenge the relevant legislation in general terms without there being a specific victim bringing the proceedings. Despite this finding, the Court emphasised in its delivery of the judgment that the views of the majority on the Article 8 breach were “of cardinal importance”.

Lord Mance, Deputy President of the Supreme Court, stated that despite the Court’s findings on standing, “the present law clearly needs radical reconsideration”. Lord Kerr also reiterated also that the comprehensive discussion by the Justices in their judgments demonstrates the need for close consideration by the Northern Ireland legislature.

The Debevoise team representing the Center for Reproductive Rights in their intervention during the case was led by London partner Lord Goldsmith KC and associate Nicola Swan. The team also included associate Mark McCloskey.

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