UN committee rules on abortion prohibition – the Round-up
15 June 2016
In the news
The UN human rights committee has found that restrictive abortion laws in Ireland had subjected a woman to cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment, in violation of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.
The complaint was filed by the Center for Reproductive Rights on behalf of Amanda Mellet, who was informed during her pregnancy that her foetus had congenital defects and would die in the womb or shortly after birth. She was forced to travel abroad for an abortion, since under the Constitution of Ireland it is unlawful to terminate a pregnancy unless the life of the woman is at substantial risk.
Abortion laws have previously undergone some limited change in Ireland following the decision of the European Court of Human Rights in A, B and C v Ireland . The Court found that the lack of an effective and accessible procedure by which the third applicant could determine whether she qualified for a legal abortion violated her right to respect for private life (article 8 ECHR). However, article 8 was held not to confer a right to abortion.
Although the ruling of the UN human rights committee is not directly legally binding, it is likely to place increased pressure on the government to act to amend the Constitution and effect legislative reform. Minister for Justice Frances Fitzgerald has said that the findings should be taken “very seriously”, while Minister for Health Simon Harris has described the current situation as “utterly unacceptable”.
According to a recent poll conducted by Amnesty International, 87% of people in Ireland want expanded access to abortion. In response to the ruling of the UNHR Committee, Amnesty’s Executive Director in Ireland Colm O’Gorman said:
“The Irish public want change…the overwhelming majority consider Ireland’s near total abortion ban cruel, inhumane and discriminatory. Today’s finding shows that they are right.”
In other news
The Justice Select Committee has said that changes to court rules published in draft guidelines by the Sentencing Council could drive innocent defendants into making guilty pleas. Under the proposals defendants who plead guilty before going to trial, but not at the first opportunity, would only be entitled to a sentence reduction of a fifth rather than the current discount of a quarter. The Independent reports.
Despite identifying a number of positive measures taken by the UK government, the UN High Commissioner for Refugees together with the charity UNICEF have expressed concern that there remains “no systematic unifying approach to assessing and determining the best interests” of unaccompanied refugee children in the UK. Further information on the briefing can be found at the Justice Gap.
The Guardian: A British company has been found liable to pay compensation to workers who had been severely exploited by the firm and subjected to conditions of modern slavery. In a landmark ruling, Supperstone J held that the company had failed to pay the men the agricultural minimum wage, unlawfully withheld wages and deprived them of facilities to wash, rest, eat and drink.
The Independent: According to the human rights organisation Reprieve, Pakistan has executed more than 400 people since lifting a moratorium on the death penalty 18 months ago. Among those currently awaiting execution is Abdul Basit, a disabled man paralysed from the waist down. Campaigners say his hanging would result in prolonged and horrific suffering and would be in violation of international law.
1 Crown Office Row and Hart Publishing have announced the publication of ‘The Inquest Book: the Law of Coroners and Inquests’. The book is edited by Caroline Cross and Neil Garnham, with contributions from barristers at 1 Crown Office Row. More details can be found here.
UK HRB posts
Families separated for immigration purposes – John Hopgood, Policy and Research Manager for Bail for Immigration Detainees