Northern Ireland

Court rules Poots cannot appeal gay adoption decision

edwin poots
Image caption Edwin Poots has been told he cannot appeal the high court decision on adoption.

The health minister cannot appeal the high court's decision to allow gay and unmarried couples in Northern Ireland to adopt.

The Supreme Court said the Department of Health's argument for appeal did not meet the criteria.

In June, the Court of Appeal ruled that legislation that prevents civil partners adopting was unlawful - but Edwin Poots appealed that decision.

The Supreme Court said there were no grounds for an appeal and dismissed it.

Mr Poots tried to challenge an appeal court's decision that paved the way for gay and lesbian couples to adopt children in Northern Ireland.

A spokesman for the UK's top court said: "The Supreme Court of the UK has refused permission to appeal the Court of Appeal's decision in this matter."

At present a single gay or lesbian person can adopt in Northern Ireland but a couple in a civil partnership cannot.

Mr Poots said: "It is with disappointment that I note that the request for leave to appeal to the Supreme Court has been refused.

"I am currently carefully considering the implications for the Adoption and Children Bill, which is currently being drafted and which I intend to introduce in the assembly next year."

'Unjustifiably discriminatory'

A challenge to the legislation was mounted by the Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission, which was backed by an unidentified lesbian woman who wants to enter into a civil partnership and be able to adopt her partner's biological child.

Unmarried couples in Great Britain can apply jointly to be considered for adoption irrespective of sexual orientation. But anyone unmarried in Northern Ireland is only eligible for consideration as an individual.

Those in civil partnerships cannot apply individually or as a couple.

The commission challenged the law on the grounds that certain provisions were unjustifiably discriminatory to those in homosexual relationships, in contravention of the European Convention on Human Rights.

The Court of Appeal in Belfast ruled in the commission's favour and against Mr Poots' department in June.

The department then applied for permission to appeal to the Supreme Court on a point of law.

The Supreme Court spokesman added: "The Supreme Court issued an order on 22 October 2013 stating that the application did not satisfy the criteria of raising an arguable point of law of general public importance."

The refusal of the Supreme Court in London to grant the further appeal on adoption law was welcomed by the Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission.

'Successive legal failures'

Chief Commissioner, Professor Michael O'Flaherty said: "The commission brought this case to ensure that the best interests of children in Northern Ireland would be protected.

"Unmarried couples, those in same sex relationships and civil partnerships are eligible to be considered to be adoptive parents.

"All of the judgements and today's rejection by the Supreme Court to hear a further appeal confirmed that the law in Northern Ireland was out of step with the United Kingdom's human rights obligations."

Alliance Party MLA Kieran McCarthy said: "Edwin Poots' position as health minister has been seriously undermined by successive legal failures over adoption by civil partners and the ban on gay men donating blood.

"He has continued to waste public money on his own personal campaigns despite several failures in the courts.

"The minister must do what is right and urgently allow civil partners the opportunity to apply to adopt. He must accept this decision and cease any further legal action.

"There are too many children in our care system for us to be deciding who has the right to apply to adopt a child. It should be about whether a couple can provide a loving and safe home for a child."

'Discriminatory practice'

Sinn Fein MLA Maeve McLaughlin who is the chair of the Health Committee has called on the minister to reveal how much money has been spent on the legal challenge.

"This is a sensible and logical decision and one that will be welcomed widely. It is a decision that is against discrimination and for equality," she said.

The Green Party leader Steven Agnew added that the minister had "over-stepped his legislative boundaries".

"Surely questions must now be asked about his competency as a minister especially since his continual trips to court to try to push his own agenda is at the expense of the public purse," he said.

The SDLP have said the policy around adoption needs to be "immediately rectified".

"The Minister must confirm that legislation will now be brought forward to rectify this situation. I believe not to do so would mean that the Minister is not fulfilling the requirements of his office and he would be left with no alternative but to depart that office," said Alex Attwood.

The Rainbow Project said they hoped the ruling would bring an end to the "discriminatory practice" in Northern Ireland.

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