NI health department appeals adoption ruling

A guest post by Catherine Couvert.

Yesterday(15 January 2013) in Assembly question time, the Minister for Health confirmed that he is challenging Mr Justice Treacy’s decision last October that the rule banning civil partners and unmarried couples in Northern Ireland from adopting was illegal (judicial review [2012] NIQB 77).

Mr Agnew [Stephen Agnew MLA, Green Party in Northern Ireland] asked the Minister of Health, Social Services and Public Safety whether he intends to challenge the High Court ruling that unmarried couples and people in civil partnerships should be allowed to adopt. (AQO 3135/11-15)

Mr Poots (The Minister of Health, Social Services and Public Safety): Yes. The notice of appeal was served on the Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission and was lodged in court on behalf of the Department on 11 December 2012. At this stage, the date for the appeal hearing is unknown. I have instructed departmental lawyers to request an expedited hearing.

This is unsurprising but still disappointing. The Department is expected to lose eventually, but could delay the change for quite a long time if it decides to go all the way to the European court.  This will of course be done at great expense, while cuts are being made in badly needed services.

Meanwhile, there are real children out there who are denied the security of being adopted by both their carers, families who have been waiting for a resolution in order to decide what process to follow for adoption, foster carers who cannot adopt because they are civil partners, others who might not have entered a civil partnership if they had known the implications. Never mind the impact on LGBT families and on young LGBTs who keep hearing in so many ways, subtle and unsubtle, that they are worth less than their heterosexual peers.  In this context, it is rather unfortunate that the Minister refers to efforts to change the rule as ‘a hobby horse’.

And, of course, there is an adoption law in need of modernisation.  In his response to a further question on this, the Minister says that he can advance the legislation while the issue remains unresolved.  However, as was explained in the judicial review hearing, any new adoption legislation that does not address the issue of civil partners and couples would also be in trouble on human rights grounds.

Also in his response, the Minister says there is no human right to adopt but he must be aware that this is not what was challenged in the judicial review.  The rights discussed are more complex but put simply they involve the human rights of children who are being adopted, the rights of children in care and the rights of families.  There is also an equality legislation issue of the right to be assessed as potential adoptive parents.

Full details of the questions and answers can be found here (scroll down to 2pm, Oral Answers to Questions).

For more information, it is worth referring back to Mr Justice Treacy’s ruling.