Report published 25 April 2019. Government response published 2 August 2019.
Our report says that the absence of an Executive in Northern Ireland since 2017 means that there is:
- no devolved government to respond to significant developments
- no scrutiny bodies to make sure policies are working well
- no scrutiny of the use of UK Government funds for women and girls seeking abortion in England and a failure to respond to international human rights obligations
Scope of the inquiry
The Committee took evidence on the following questions:
- What are the views of the general public, women and medical and legal professionals in Northern Ireland about the law on abortion and whether it should be reformed? How have those views changed over time?
- What are the experiences of women in Northern Ireland who have been affected by the law on abortion?
- What are the responsibilities of the UK Government under its international obligations for taking action to reform abortion law in Northern Ireland? How should these be reconciled to the UK’s devolution settlement?
Abortion Law in Northern Ireland evidence
Evidence given to a select committee is protected by parliamentary privilege. This means that it cannot be “impeached or questioned” in any court proceedings, nor can cases be brought on the basis of evidence published by the Committee as part of its inquiry. Discussion or repetition of evidence given to a committee outside Parliament is not protected.
Where witnesses have given evidence anonymously or confidentially, the Committee will not share the names of those concerned with any body outside Parliament, including law enforcement authorities.
For the Abortion Law in Northern Ireland inquiry, the Women and Equalities Committee will grant anonymity to evidence containing personal information on request. Such evidence will be published, but only after we have removed potentially identifying information to reduce the likelihood of individuals being identified. We will always aim to ensure that redactions will prevent identification but anyone with particular concerns is encouraged to contact the Committee staff for advice.
Where evidence cannot be anonymised (for example where the redactions which would be required to protect anonymity would remove much of the content), or where there are other safeguarding issues or concerns about level of anonymity provided by redactions, the Committee can treat evidence as confidential. Confidential evidence will only be seen by members of the committee and the committee staff. This evidence will not be shared with third parties and will not be liable to be disclosed as part of any legal proceedings.
Evidence from identifiable individuals
If people choose to submit evidence under their own name or anonymously but with a level of redaction that leaves a residual risk that they will be identified the Committee cannot guarantee that they will be protected; their evidence to the committee will be protected by parliamentary privilege but if published Committee evidence suggests criminal behaviour has occurred, there is no bar on external bodies investigating that behaviour, which may lead them to find independent evidence which could be put before a court.
Call for evidence: Abortion law in Northern Ireland