§ Lord Braine of Wheatley
asked Her Majesty's Government:
Further to the Written Answer by the Lord Dubs on 23 February (WA 65), what they consider to be unclear about Section 25(1) of the Criminal Justice Act (Northern Ireland) 1945. [HL822]
§ Lord Dubs
The law on abortion in Northern Ireland is governed by a combination of statute and case law.
Section 25 of the Criminal Justice (Northern Ireland) Act 1945 is concerned with the criminal penalty for infant death. Section 25 applies to the destruction of the foetus in late as opposed to early pregnancy. In cases of earlier abortion, determination of lawful cause would be based on the facts of a particular pregnancy and the case law interpretation of Section 58 of the Offences Against the Person Act 1861.
Abortion is, generally, a criminal offence in Northern Ireland under Sections 58 and 59 of the Offences Against the Person Act 1861. However, there are a number of judicial pronouncements on Section 58 which accept that the prohibition against abortion is not absolute. Case law on Section 58 has not laid down with any degree of certainty the range of circumstances which might come within the definition of a lawful cause for abortion.
In those cases involving later abortions which might fall under Section 25 of the 1945 Act, it is unclear what would constitute definitive proof that a child was capable of being born alive.