A QUANGO has launched a legal challenge in an attempt to change the law to allow gay and unmarried couples to adopt children.
A High Court judge has granted leave for a judicial review — the first stage of the challenge — by the Human Rights Commission, in what will be one of Monica McWilliams’ last acts before leaving the commission next month.
Adoption legislation is out of date in Northern Ireland and last year the then Ulster Unionist health minister Michael McGimpsey refused to include a controversial provision for same-sex couples to adopt in an attempt to get the legislation through the assembly.
A 2006 public consultation had found that 96 per cent of those who responded opposed same-sex couples being allowed to adopt.
However, there are now more than 2,000 children in care, despite studies showing that children raised with an adoptive family have a better life.
A spokesman for the new health minister, the DUP’s Edwin Poots, said that it would be inappropriate for him to comment due to the upcoming legal case.
In a statement, the Human Rights Commission told investigative journalism website The Detail: “The Human Rights Commission has been granted leave to take a judicial review in its own name regarding adoption law in Northern Ireland. The issue concerns an anomaly in Northern Ireland law that prevents unmarried couples, or same-sex couples, from jointly adopting a child.
“The commission’s concerns are around discrimination and the right to a family life given that the law at present does not comply with human rights and differs from practice elsewhere in the United Kingdom.
“The failure of the department of health, social services and public safety to deal with this issue led the commission to make an application for judicial review.”
Northern Ireland attorney general John Larkin, who will represent the department which is defending the case, told the News Letter that he was limited in what he could say.
But he did say that it would be “a pleasure” to appear in court for the minister and described it as “a very interesting case and an important case”.
Asked whether he believed it was appropriate that the case be brought by the quango, he added: “It’s not for me to attempt to influence the Human Rights Commission in its litigation strategy or indeed the tactical outworking of its litigation strategy.
“That is a matter for it and it’s a decision which is a perfectly lawful one for it to take.”