Media By: Anurag Deb


Abortion in Northern Ireland: at the interface between politics and law

22 March 2021 by

Campaigners hold a pro-choice banner as the protest for the legalization of abortion in Northern Ireland
© Charles McQuillan/Getty Images

Abortion reform in Northern Ireland has had a fraught history, to say the least. Matters appeared to finally come to a head when in 2019, the UK Parliament enacted the Northern Ireland (Executive Formation etc.) Act 2019 (2019 Act), which created a duty on the Secretary of State to implement abortion reform by following the report of the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination of Women (CtteEDAW). Nearly two years and two statutory instruments later, Stormont finds itself mired in fresh controversy as long-term abortion facilities in Northern Ireland have yet to be commissioned. So the obvious question arises: what happened?

The route to legal change

At the outset, it should be remembered that when abortion reform was enacted in Great Britain in 1967, it was not extended to Northern Ireland – which was, at that time, the only devolved administration in the UK (with healthcare firmly devolved to Stormont). Nor was abortion reform extended to Northern Ireland when Direct Rule began in 1972. Until 2019, abortions were mostly illegal under sections 58 and 59 of the Offences Against the Person Act 1861 and section 25(1) of the Criminal Justice Act (Northern Ireland) 1945. The only exception to this sweeping regime was the so-called “Bourne exception”, derived from the summing up of evidence in the criminal case off in which Mr Justice Macnaghten had said that an abortion may be lawfully carried out “in good faith for the purpose only of preserving the life of the mother”.


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Re B: soldiers and the criminal process in Northern Ireland

16 March 2021 by

Free Derry Corner as it originally appeared © BBC 2011.

Re B’s application [2020] NIQB 76 was a challenge to a decision to prosecute a soldier for offences going back to 1972. Part of the small but politically divisive cohort of prosecutions arising out of the Troubles in Northern Ireland, Re B provides a classic example of how courts approach the issue of fairness in criminal prosecutions for historic offences.

“B” is a former soldier of the British Army who had been serving in Northern Ireland. On 31 July 1972, the Army launched “Operation Motorman” to clear so-called “no-go” areas in Belfast and Derry, which had become highly problematic and dangerous for security forces at the time.

In the early hours of 31 July 1972, B was part of a company of soldiers deployed in the Creggan Heights area of Derry. He was armed with a 7.62 x 51 mm calibre General Purpose Machine Gun. At around this time, three local people were also in the area: Thomas Hegarty, his brother Christopher Hegarty and their cousin Daniel Hegarty. At some time shortly after 4.15 am, there was a burst of machine gun fire. When it stopped, Daniel Hegarty lay dead on the street, having been shot twice in the head. He was 15 years old. Christopher Hegarty was also wounded in the shooting, but survived.


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