In Northern Ireland, the Troubles are not the only part of its troubled past and present. In March this year, the Stormont administration found itself mired in controversy over women’s reproductive rights and access to abortion services. In April, a fresh controversy arose: a legislative ban on so-called “gay conversion therapy”. On 18 March 2021, Ulster Unionist Party MLAs Doug Beattie and John Stewart tabled a private member’s motion in the Northern Ireland Assembly calling for a legislative ban on the practice. The motion was debated on 20 April, with one amendment ringfencing religious activities from the proposed ban, taking centre-stage.
To characterise the debate which followed as polarising would be to put it mildly. The Assembly Hansard for 20 April records angry, frustrated exchanges between MLAs who called for safeguarding the LGBTQ community from harmful practices (condemned by the UN Human Rights Council as creating “a significant risk of torture”) and MLAs who called for safeguarding the free exercise of religion.
In the event, the DUP amendment failed and the UUP motion was passed unamended by 59 votes to 24, providing Communities Minister Deirdre Hargey MLA with a strong mandate to bring legislation to ban conversion therapy in Northern Ireland. However, that was not the end of the matter. In the immediate aftermath of the Assembly vote, the DUP signalled its intent to block legislation unless “robust protections for churches” were included. Eight days after the vote, the Northern Ireland First Minister and DUP leader Arlene Foster MLA faced significant rebellion in the party against her leadership and announced her intention to resign both the leadership of the DUP and the First Ministership. The extent to which the motion to ban conversion therapy played a part in the rebellion against Foster remains a matter for debate, especially given concerns about the impact of the DUP’s political stance on the very recently enacted access to abortion and same-sex marriage in Northern Ireland.
As many around the world celebrated the International Day against Homophobia, Biphobia and Transphobia on 17 May, the events of the past month were a reminder of how different the story of LGBT equality was in Northern Ireland, compared to Great Britain.
In the latest in the protracted investigation into the death of Pearse Jordan, the Northern Ireland Court of Appeal has upheld the verdict of a Coroner who found himself unable to decide all the relevant facts – Re Theresa Jordan  NICA 34. The case raises issues around the appropriate burden and standard of proof in inquests, particularly after a significant passage of time.
On 25 November 1992, Patrick Pearse Jordan was shot and killed at Falls Road, Belfast, by an officer of the Royal Ulster Constabulary, referred to in proceedings as “Sergeant A.” Mr Jordan was unarmed and was shot in the back. Three inquests have subsequently been held into his death. Continue reading →
Conor Monighan reviews the Administrative Law Bar Association (ALBA) Summer Conference 2018
Brexit update – Chair: Mr Justice Lewis; Speakers: Professor Alison Young (Sir David Williams Professor of Public Law, University of Cambridge) and Richard Gordon QC
Professor Alison Young
Is it inevitable that domestic law will alter drastically after Brexit? According to Professor Young, it is entirely possible that little change will occur.
First, the CJEU will continue to have an influence on domestic law. This is because section 6(2) of the EU (Withdrawal) Act 2018 states courts/ tribunals ‘may have regard’ to CJEU decisions (including those made after exit day) if they think it appropriate.
Second, the fundamental rights enshrined in the Charter of Fundamental Rights will probably not disappear. Although Section 5(4) of the Act states that the Charter will no longer be part of domestic law, paragraph 106 of the Explanatory Notes says “those underlying rights and principles will also be converted into UK law”. Arguably, this means lawyers will still be able to use case law in which these general principles were referred to. However, a limitation to reliance on fundamental principles is set out by s.3(1) of the Schedule to the Act. This states no court/ tribunal may disapply law because it is incompatible with any of the general principles of EU law. Continue reading →
In a landmark moment for women’s rights, the Irish electorate has voted in favour of abolishing the 8th Amendment by a stunning two-thirds majority of 1,429,981 votes to 723,632.
Whilst abortion has long been illegal in Ireland under the Offences Against the Person Act 1861, the notorious 8th Amendment, which gives the foetus’ right to life absolute parity with that of the woman carrying it, was enacted after a 1983 referendum lobbied for by pro-life activists. By virtue of the amendment:
“The state acknowledges the right to life of the unborn and, with due regard to the equal right to life of the mother, guarantees in its laws to respect, and, as far as practicable, by its laws to defend and vindicate that right.”
Lawyers for Yes emphasised that the amendment created ‘absolute legal paralysis in dealing with crisis pregnancies’ and had to be repealed if women in Ireland were to receive ‘appropriate’ and ‘compassionate’ healthcare. Also on the UKHRB, Rosalind English shares a powerful analysis of the extraordinary nature of the legal obligations imposed on women’s bodies by this provision.
The Queen’s speech suggests a slowing of the Government’s plans to replace the Human Rights Act with a British Bill of Rights. But recent comments from the Scottish Human Rights Commissioner suggest the Conservatives may be considering removal of HRA protections in relation to English and reserved UK-wide matters only, leaving the Human Rights Act in place in the other devolved areas of the UK.
by David Scott
Much ink has been spilled over the Government’s proposals. This article will take a narrow look at Scotland’s relationship with the Human Rights Act, and how devolution may be a future thorn in the Government’s side.
But wait! I thought the Human Rights Act was enshrined in the Scotland Act. Doesn’t that protect the Human Rights Act in Scotland?
Mr Finucane, a Belfast solicitor who had represented a number of high profile IRA and INLA members including Bobby Sands, was murdered in front of his family by loyalist paramilitaries in one of the most notorious killings of the Troubles. His death was mired in controversy due to the collusion between the security forces and his killers. Mr Justice Stephens stated at the outset of his judgment that
It is hard to express in forceful enough terms the appropriate response to the murder, the collusion associated with it, the failure to prevent the murder and the obstruction of some of the investigations into it. Individually and collectively they were abominations which amounted to the most conspicuously bad, glaring and flagrant breach of the obligation of the state to protect the life of its citizen and to ensure the rule of law. There is and can be no attempt at justification.
Gareth Lee v. Ashers Baking Co Ltd, Colin McArthur and Karen McArthur  NICty 2 – read judgment here.
In a claim popularly dubbed the ‘gay cake’ case, which has attracted international attention, District Judge Brownlie of the Northern Ireland County Court held yesterday that it was unlawful direct discrimination on grounds of sexual orientation for a bakery owned by two Christians to refuse to bake a cake which had printed on it a picture of ‘Bert and Ernie’ and the caption ‘Support Gay Marriage’ .
The parties approached the claim from very different standpoints. The Plaintiff, Mr Lee, argued that Mr and Mrs McArthur refused to bake the cake because he was gay. The Defendants argued that they did not know what Mr Lee’s sexual orientation was and it would have made no difference if they had. They would have happily served him a cake of any kind. Rather, they objected to the message on the cake because they felt they would be promoting or supporting a cause which they disagreed with, going against their consciences. They would have refused to bake the same cake for a customer of any sexual orientation.
Janowiec and Others v Russia (Applications nos. 55508/07 and 29520/09) – read judgment
The European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) has held that it had no competence to examine complaints relating to the adequacy of Russia’s criminal investigation into events that had occurred prior to the adoption of the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR) in 1950: namely the Katyń Massacre of 1940.
The applicants were relations of 12 victims of the Katyń Massacre. They had been executed by the NKVD together with over 20,000 other former Polish Army officers, government officials, and landowners. A criminal investigation into the deaths ran from 1990 until 2004 when the Chief Military Prosecutor decided to discontinue ‘Criminal Case no. 159’ on the grounds that any alleged suspects were dead.
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