CARL O'BRIEN, Social Affairs Correspondent
Tuesday, July 29 2008
THE IRISH judge appointed to the European Court of Human Rights is to withdraw from hearing a forthcoming case involving three women living in Ireland who are challenging the State’s ban on abortion.
Dr Ann Power SC, who was appointed to the court earlier this year, will be replaced by the Supreme Court judge Mr Justice Nicholas Kearns. The court did not say why Dr Power had withdrawn except that she had done so in accordance with rule 28 of the court. This states, among other things, that judges may not take part in the consideration of any case where they have a personal interest or where they have previously acted as an adviser, advocate of a party which has an interest in the case.
Dr Power has previously represented the Irish Bishops’ Conference at an Oireachtas hearing on abortion. The group strongly supports a constitutional ban on abortion which would guarantee the right to life of the unborn child.
No date has been set for the case to be heard involving the three women, although it is likely to be within the next year.
As many as 17 judges may sit on an individual case if it is heard in public before the court’s grand chamber.
The case involving the three women is being contested on the basis that their human rights were infringed by being forced to terminate their pregnancies outside the State. The identity of the three women – known as A, B and C – will remain confidential as it proceeds through the court.
They include a woman who ran the risk of an ectopic pregnancy, where the foetus develops outside the womb; a woman who received chemotherapy for cancer; and a woman with addiction problems whose children were placed in care. Their complaint centres around four articles in the European Convention on Human Rights, including protection from “inhuman or degrading treatment” and freedom from discrimination.
The Irish Family Planning Association, which is supporting the case as part of its campaign to introduce legal abortion services in Ireland , said the grounds on which the case is being taken are “very strong”. The association said it was pleased the case was now progressing and it understood that the Government has been invited to respond to the complaints lodged by each of the three women before the end of September.
Once the Government has submitted its response, the association – together with the three women and their legal team – will be invited to consider and comment on what has been presented.
A spokesperson for the association said: “We are hopeful that the court will issue a positive recommendation in favour of the three women. This will bring pressure to bear on the Government to reform Irish abortion laws.”
The campaign to liberalise abortion law is opposed by anti-abortion groups which argue that a new constitutional amendment is needed to prohibit abortion. They say there is a need to restore legal protection for unborn children after the 1992 Supreme Court decision in the X case, which legalised abortion in certain circumstances.