Delay in issuing abortion guidelines 'may diminish public confidence'

20 February 2013

The Department of Health have successfully appealed against an order to disclose information on terminations in Northern Ireland.

In Northern Ireland abortion is only available circumstances where the mother's life or mental well-being are considered at risk.

In 2009 the Department of Health provided guidance on terminating pregnancy for health professionals in NI, however later that same year the High Court ruled the guidelines were misleading and should be withdrawn for reconsideration as they failed to properly cover counselling and conscientious objection issues.

The Family Planning Association (FPA) has issued proceedings against the department of health over the continued non-publication of guidelines on abortion, claiming there was a legitimate expectation that revised guidance would be completed following earlier court orders.As part of these proceedings an Order for Discovery of Documents relevant to their challenge was obtained against the Department of Health. The Department of Health and Health Minister Edwin Poots, represented by Attorney General John Larkin QC, appealed against the order for discovery, contending there was nothing in the documents which assisted the FPA’s case.The Attorney General confirmed however that he was happy for the court to study the material, which Mr Poots has been considering, and to form its own view. Upholding the Department’s appeal against the Order for Discovery, the Court of Appeal ruled that the material should be inspected first by the judge who is due to hear the judicial review challenge later this month. During the hearing it was noted that departmental guidance has been awaited since a ruling from 2004.

Tony McGleenan QC, for the FPA, argued that the delay has been "unconscionable" while Lord Justice Coghlin said that continuing delay may diminish public confidence and warned that non-disclosure of information on terminations in Northern Ireland could be interpreted as a government "paralysed" by cultural and religious divisions.

Brian Moss, Solicitor with Worthingtons Litigation department has dealt with numerous judicial review cases and will be happy to deal with any enquiries you may have in relation to this subject.

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