Northern Ireland

'No change' to gay NI adoption law

Woman and child holding hands

The current ban on gay and unmarried couples adopting children should remain in place until the Stormont Assembly decides otherwise, the Attorney General has said.

John Larkin, QC, said adoption laws were to ensure child welfare rather than satisfy the wishes of would-be parents.

Mr Larkin was representing the Department of Health in a legal challenge brought by the Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission.

The body is attempting to force a legislative change which would bring adoption laws into line with the rest of the UK.

It claims the current status, as it stands in the Civil Partnership Act 2004, is discriminatory and breaches human rights.

The judicial review application has been backed by an unidentified gay woman and her partner who want to adopt a child together.

But the attorney general contended that the commission's case involved "cardinal errors" in interpretation of the law and its own role in the litigation.

The basis for adoption was also not properly understood, he claimed.

However good the commission's intentions were, he questioned its position in the case.

"Adopted children, in the clear submission of the department, are not services and the department will always refuse to consider children as services," he stressed.

He told the court the current policy was believed to be serving the best interests of the child.

"What happens in Scotland, England and Wales does not constitute a line into which Northern Ireland must be brought," he added.

Mr Justice Treacy, who is hearing the challenge, was told no right to adopt exists in domestic or international law.

Family law in Northern Ireland is capable of ensuring the best interests of the child, it was claimed.

Earlier in the hearing, it was revealed that a ban included within Stormont legislation was intentional and not a mistake.

Part of the case focuses on a landmark ruling by the House of Lords in 2008 where another unmarried Northern Ireland couple won an exceptional right to apply to adopt.

During those proceedings senior counsel for the Department of Health, based on advice from officials, stated it was a mistake to include in the act a prohibition on adoption for civil partnership couples in Northern Ireland.

However, it later emerged that the ban was intended.

Mr Larkin confirmed: "This was not something that happened by accident."

He acknowledged that the adoption laws may have shifted if the direct rule administration had continued.

But the position as it currently stands was "deliberate (and) open-eyed", he said.

The hearing continues.

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