Human Rights Commission supports Sarah Ewart case

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Human Rights Commission supports Sarah Ewart case

The Human Rights Commission will today (30 January 2019) intervene in the Sarah Ewart case. Sarah Ewart has been granted leave to judicially review Northern Ireland termination of pregnancy laws in Northern Ireland and their incompatibility with Article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights, the right to private and family life. This case follows on from the Commission’s Supreme Court Case in June 2018 that found Northern Ireland laws are contrary to human rights standards.

Chief Commissioner Les Allamby commented:

“We would like to acknowledge Sarah’s braveness in taking forward this legal challenge. We already know that our existing termination of pregnancy laws run contrary to human rights standards, the Supreme Court ruled clearly on this in June last year. Moreover, four Royal Colleges told the joint Department of Health and Justice review of termination and fatal foetal abnormality that they cannot properly meet their professional duty to provide care to women under the current law. Ideally, Sarah should not have had to take this individual case as the matter should have been resolved by the Westminster Parliament. It is completely unacceptable that women and girls continue to face being criminalised in what should be solely a healthcare matter. Healthcare professionals should be able to provide the medical assistance women and girls may need in crisis pregnancies and not face the threat of prosecution. We are intervening in today’s case as we want the violations of Sarah’s human rights to be addressed and the many other women and girls, who deserve better, to be protected in the future.”

There are four other interveners in this case: Humanists UK, Amnesty International, Center for Reproductive Rights and Precious Life. The case is being held in the High Court in the Royal Courts of Justice and is listed for hearing at 9.45am on 30 January 2019 and 31 January 2019.


Further information

Interviews available with Chief Commissioner Les Allamby. Contact Claire Martin to arrange on 07717731873.

Notes to Editors:

1. In its intervention in the Sarah Ewart case the Human Rights Commission has focussed on highlighting to the court: international law and particularly the Convention Eliminating Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) and the Inquiry that the CEDAW Committee carried out into Northern Ireland’s termination of pregnancy laws. The Inquiry released a report in February 2018 finding that the UK Government was responsible for grave and systemic human rights violations under the CEDAW Treaty for its continued criminalisation of terminations of pregnancy in Northern Ireland and its failure to provide terminations in cases of serious foetal abnormality, rape and incest.

2. In June 2018 the UK Supreme Court delivered its judgment in the Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission’s challenge to Termination of Pregnancy laws. The Court concluded the current law in Northern Ireland breaches human rights, in particular women and girls’ right to private and family life under Article 8 of the European Convention of Human Rights, in cases of fatal foetal abnormality, rape and incest.

3. The Supreme Court also concluded that the Commission could not bring proceedings in its own name in this case without a victim. The Commission is now seeking a legislative amendment and an appropriate Parliamentary statement to put beyond doubt the Commission’s right to take a case in its own name.

4. What is the current law in Northern Ireland on Termination of Pregnancy?Termination of pregnancy is only available in Northern Ireland if it is necessary to preserve the life of a woman; including where there is a risk of a serious and adverse effect on her physical or mental health which is either long term or permanent. The punishment is life imprisonment for anyone who unlawfully procures or performs a termination.

5. What is the N.I Human Rights Commission’s position on termination of pregnancy?

The Commission wants the law on termination of pregnancy to be changed in Northern Ireland. The Commission recommends that the Department of Justice introduce legislation to end the criminalisation of women and girls in NI if they seek a termination of pregnancy. In line with international human rights standards, it recommends that the Department of Health ensure that women and girls have access to termination of pregnancy in at least circumstances of a threat to physical or mental health, serious foetal abnormality, rape or incest. In addition, women and girls should have access to appropriate aftercare services.

07 Feb 2019