NIHRC Chief Commissioner Professor Michael O'Flaherty stated:
"The Human Rights Commission welcomes today's landmark ruling. Through this case the Commission has sought to protect the best interests of the child. Given the high numbers of children in care, who need a family in Northern Ireland, the importance of this case in widening the pool of prospective parents cannot be overstated. We are therefore delighted with this outcome.
It brings Northern Ireland law in line with the rest of the UK and means that couples who are not married, those in civil partnerships and same sex couples will be now be allowed to apply to adopt. Mr Justice Treacy agreed with the Commission that preventing someone from even being considered to adopt because of their relationship status is a discriminatory practice."
Further information: For further information please contact Claire Martin (028) 9024 3987 (office).
Notes to editors
1. Judicial Review taken by the Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission on the [Compatibility of the Adoption Order NI 1987 with the ECHR]. The judgment was delivered today in the High Court.
2. There are currently over 2,500 children in the care system in Northern Ireland according to Health and Social Care Northern Ireland. Latest statistics from March 2012.
3. Statistics obtained from the Northern Ireland Guardian Ad Litem Agency state there were 134 completed cases involving adoption proceedings in April 2011 – March 2012 where guardians had been appointed. (N.B. Cases may involve several children).
4. The Judicial Review looked at the compatibility of the Adoption Order (N.I) 1997 with the European Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms (ECHR).
5. The current law in Northern Ireland means that:
6. Single men and women, regardless of their sexual orientation can currently already apply to adopt in Northern Ireland.
7. Married couples can apply to adopt.
8. However unmarried heterosexual couples, same sex couples, and couples in civil partnerships are not eligible to be considered for adoption in Northern Ireland
9. This is in direct contrast to the rest of the UK- where couples (including unmarried heterosexual, same sex and civil partners) can apply to adopt.
Why NIHRC took case:
1. The Commission has powers to bring human rights cases it in its own name (under amendment to the Northern Ireland Act 1998 by the Justice and Security (Northern Ireland Act) 2007).
2. NIHRC engaged in correspondence with the Department for some time on the issue before it commenced judicial review proceedings.
3. The Re P case in the House of Lords in 2008 decided that being unmarried should not be a bar to applying to adopt a child in Northern Ireland.
4. The current adoption law in Northern Ireland engages Article 8 and Article 14 of the European Convention on Human Rights.
Article 8: Right to privacy
(1) Everyone has the right for his private and family life, his home and his correspondence.
(2) There shall be no interference by a public authority with the exercise of this right except such as is in accordance with the law and is necessary in a democratic society in the interests of national security, public safety or the economic well-being of the country, for the prevention of disorder or crime, for the protection of health or morals, or for the protection of the rights and freedoms of others.
Article 14: Discrimination
The enjoyment of the rights and freedoms set forth in this convention shall be secured without discrimination on any ground such as sex, race, colour, language, religion, political or other opinion, national or social origin, association with a national minority, property, birth or other status.
The United Nation's Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC) The UK ratified the Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC) on 16 December 1991. States parties to the Convention are obliged to develop and undertake all actions and policies in the light of the best interests of the child.