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Case details

REFERENCE by the Attorney General for Northern Ireland - Abortion Services (Safe Access Zones) (Northern Ireland) Bill

Case ID: 2022/0077

Case summary

Issue

Is clause 5(2)(a) of the Abortion Services (Safe Access Zones) (Northern Ireland) Bill outside the legislative competence of the Northern Ireland Assembly because it disproportionately interferes with the rights of persons who wish to express their opposition to the provision of abortion treatment services in Northern Ireland?

Facts

Section 11(1) of the Northern Ireland Act 1998 (“the 1998 Act”) permits the Attorney General for Northern Ireland to make a reference asking the Supreme Court to determine whether a provision of a Bill would be within the Northern Ireland Assembly’s legislative competence.

This reference concerns the Abortion Services (Safe Access Zones) (Northern Ireland) Bill. The Bill makes provision for the establishment of safe access zones around abortion clinics and other premises which provide sexual and reproductive health services, in order to protect the people who use and work in those premises. Clause 5 of the Bill criminalises certain behaviour in a safe access zone. Under clause 5(2)(a), it is an offence to do anything, intentionally or recklessly, in a safe access zone which has the effect of influencing a person attending an abortion clinic or other protected premises for protected purposes. There is no defence for those who act with reasonable excuse.

Section 6(2)(c) of the 1998 Act states that a provision of a Bill is outside the competence of the Northern Ireland Assembly if it is incompatible with the rights protected by the European Convention on Human Rights. These include the rights to freedom of thought, conscience and religion, freedom of expression and freedom of assembly and association guaranteed by Articles 9, 10 and 11 of the Convention. The Supreme Court is asked to decide whether clause 5(2)(a) of the Bill is outside the Northern Ireland Assembly’s legislative competence because it disproportionately interferes with these rights.

Parties

Appellant(s)

Attorney General for Northern Ireland

Respondent(s)

Lord Advocate

Appeal

Justices

Lord Reed, Lord Kitchin, Lord Burrows, Lady Rose, Lord Lloyd–Jones, Lord Carloway, Dame Siobhan Keegan

Hearing start date

19 July 2022

Hearing finish date

20 July 2022

Watch hearing
19 July 2022 Morning session Afternoon session
20 July 2022 Morning session Afternoon session
 

Future Judgment Update

Please note that appeal in the matter of REFERENCE by the Attorney General for Northern Ireland - Abortion Services (Safe Access Zones) (Northern Ireland) Bill has been heard by the Supreme Court and is currently awaiting judgment.

As soon as the judgment hand-down date is confirmed, it will be published on the Future judgments page of this website. As a very broad indication, judgments tend to follow between three to nine months after the conclusion of the appeal hearing, although in some cases it may be earlier than that. Information about judgment hand-downs is usually announced one week in advance. We are unable to give any indication of the likely hand-down date for judgments not listed on the Future judgments page.