SPUC is ready to take legal action within hours if the UK Government continues to step up its plans to impose abortion services on Northern Ireland.
Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, Brandon Lewis intends to direct the NI Department of Health to launch preliminary work ahead of the provision of abortion being commissioned.
But the proposals - which are expected to be confirmed on Thursday, July 22 - have angered the Society for the Protection of Unborn Children (SPUC) which launched a £100,000 Judicial Review action opposing the implementation of the scheme voted through by Westminster during the absence of devolution.
SPUC is accusing Westminster of a “devolution power grab” which will impose draconian and radical abortion laws through the Abortion (Northern Ireland) Regulations 2021 which empowered Mr Lewis to direct Stormont ministers - including health minister Robin Swann, MLA, to implement a “fully-funded abortion service” over the heads of locally elected politicians.
The legal action is scheduled to take place in October, but SPUC, the world’s oldest pro-life group, is ready to go to court within hours in a bid to stop Mr Lewis from issuing directions before the case can be heard.
The development comes after SPUC’s legal team Hewitt & Gilpin received a letter from the Crown Solicitor’s Office informing them Mr Lewis intended to issue a direction “on or after July 22” when Parliament closes for the summer.
The Northern Ireland Office says it would be “inappropriate and unnecessary” for SPUC to take new legal action because the focus of the direction by Mr Lewis will be simply on forward planning matters.
The letter states:
“The immediate effect of the direction will be that work needs to be carried out by the Department of Health before services will be commissioned in practical terms and the direction will take account of the commissioning time required. The direction will therefore result in the commissioning of those services some time in 2022 rather than in the immediate period prior to the currently listed hearing date.”
“Although the direction does make provision for interim services this only includes ongoing support for the services which are already in place in Northern Ireland and as such maintains the status quo rather than changes it … an application for interim relief is unnecessary, and if made should be refused.”
A strongly worded letter
SPUC’s lawyers have written to Mr Swann urging him not to act on any direction from Mr Lewis and reminding him he has no authority to act without the backing of the Executive Committee.
The strongly-worded letter seeks a written undertaking either that:
1 He will not act on any direction by the Secretary of State at all pending the outcome of the Judicial Review; or
2 will not act on any such directions without first going to the Executive Committee and obtaining its approval to act on them.
The issue of abortion in NI and any directions made by the Secretary of State to advance his abortion policy are significant and/or controversial. You have, therefore, no ministerial authority to act in this field (there being in place no Programme for Government) without the approval of the Executive Committee.”
The health department has responded saying it’s seeking legal advice. SPUC, however, says it will turn to the courts where it will be represented by the formidable former Northern Ireland Attorney General John Larkin, QC, a leading authority on the legal and constitutional issues relating to the devolution settlement.
"Pro-life voices must unite"
Liam Gibson, SPUC’s NI Political Officer said:
“If this power grab by the Westminster Government is allowed to stand it will condemn to death an untold number of unborn babies and also fatally undermine the devolution settlement.
“London is stripping locally elected Ministers of power and denying the people an accountable government with a democratic mandate.
“The situation means that enormous powers have been vested in a politician who is not answerable to the people of Northern Ireland. In 2019, 79 per cent of submissions to the public consultation on abortion rejected the government’s proposals but London has shown nothing but disdain for their views and contempt for the lives of our unborn children.
“By supporting our legal action people will be speaking out against these illegitimate and unconstitutional Regulations. They will also be giving a voice to the thousands of innocent children whose lives will be lost if the Secretary of State, Brandon Lewis, is not stopped.
“We are calling for all pro-life voices to unite in backing this case. The politicians making the decisions about our abortion laws must be accountable to the people of Northern Ireland. This is essential if full legal protection for unborn children is ever to be restored.”
John Deighan, SPUC’s deputy CEO said: “These are the most challenging times the pro-life movement has ever faced in Northern Ireland.
“We need the prayers of pro-life supporters and their financial assistance too as we seek to raise the funds required to finance these court cases.”
SPUC is challenging both the “validity and lawfulness” of the Westminster proposals.
They want the High Court to declare the regulations are “of no force or effect”.
SPUC argues that the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland had no power under section 9 of the Northern Ireland (Executive Formation etc) Act 2019 to make the 2021 Regulations and will seek to have them quashed. It is asking the court to rule that NI ministers have “no obligation to comply with any direction issued by the Secretary of State under the 2021 Regulations” which it believes are legally invalid and therefore unlawful.
To make a donation to the legal fighting fund go to the website: www.spuc.org.uk/Donate
For further information, contact:
SPUC Northern Ireland Political Officer:
Mob +44 (0) 79 8499 0688