Update on NI law changes in respect of marriage, civil partnerships and abortion

By Lenore Rice

There have been significant changes to the laws in Northern Ireland by virtue of the Northern Ireland (Executive Formation etc) Act 2019 and the failure to restore the Northern Ireland Executive by 21st October 2019.

The 2019 Act created an obligation for the UK Government to change the law in Northern Ireland on three key issues if the Executive was not restored before the deadline. A last ditch attempt to restore the Executive failed, despite the Northern Ireland assembly sitting for the first time in nearly three years, albeit without cross-party support. As such regulations are now to be made in three areas.

ABORTION

Abortion has been decriminalised in Northern Ireland from 22nd October 2019 pursuant to the recommendations set out in the United Nations Committee on the Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) report. This means that while abortion services are not currently available in Northern Ireland, women and girls can now terminate a pregnancy without fear of being prosecuted. Medical abortions are to be provided on two hospital sites in Northern Ireland by April 2020.

SAME SEX MARRIAGE & CIVIL PARTNERSHIPS

Same sex marriage and opposite sex civil partnerships are to be extended to Northern Ireland by 13th January 2020. On that date couples will be able to lodge to the General Register Office their intent to form a civil same-sex marriage or opposite-sex civil partnership. The minimum notice period is usually 28 days so the first services could realistically be taking place by Valentine's Day of next year.

There will also be a consultation on the right to convert a civil partnership to marriage and vice versa.

VICTIMS PENSION

A system of victims payments, otherwise referred to as a victims pension, is to be introduced in Northern Ireland by the end of January next year and is scheduled to be operational by the end of May 2020. A consultation has been launched into the proposal of an annual pension for severely physically injured and disabled victims of the troubles. Three bands of victims have been proposed, with those deemed to be at a 100 per cent level of disablement in line to receive £9,870 per year, with a 50 per cent middle band receiving £4,935 and a 20 per cent band receiving £1,974.

Visit the news section of our website for more detail on the above law changes in the coming days and weeks.

If you require legal advice in respect of an issue relating to something covered in this article and would like to speak to a specialist solicitor in Northern Ireland contact Wilson Nesbitt in Belfast or Bangor by clicking here.