My reaction comes from a coastal cliff in the sunshine and so is very provisional. The Supreme Court opined that Northern Ireland’s abortion laws are contrary to human rights. That is a significant but not a definitive statement. Because by 4 to 3, the court found itself unable to issue a formal declaration of incompatiblity with the European Convention on Human Rights as the NI Human Rights Commission had brought its action on legal principle rather than basing it on the cases of particular women.
Call it a technicality if you like but this appears to let politicians off the hook at least for some time. The judges offered no guidance on how long Assembly limbo could continue before Westminster should act. The key judgment did affirm that lawmakers had the right to follow their consciences within the law and not be governed by opinion polls. It was also noted that an Assembly working party had been considering the mechanisms for some reform as had been mentioned in the earlier judgment of the NI Court of Appeal.
On the other hand, the statements from all the judges left the ultimate decision at Westminster’s door.
The secretary of state Karen Bradley immediately repeated her mantra about trying to restore the Assembly.
With the cabinet reaching either a breaking point or a decision on a Brexit backstop, – it’s not clear yet which- the Northern Ireland border is likely to take priority just now over Northern Ireland abortion in the fevered brains of ministers.
Former BBC journalist and manager in Belfast, Manchester and London, Editor Spolight; Political Editor BBC NI; Current Affairs Commissioning editor BBC Radio 4; Editor Political and Parliamentary Programmes, BBC Westminster; former London Editor Belfast Telegraph. Hon Senior Research Fellow, The Constitution Unit, Univ Coll. London