Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission Response to the Committee for Health Call for Evidence: Abortion Services (Safe Access Zones) Bill
Date produced November 2021.
Below is a summary of the recommendations.
You can also download the full document through the links provided.
The NI Human Rights Commission:
- The Commission recommends the Committee ensure the Department of Health conduct a human rights impact assessment on a case-by-case basis when considering the introduction of a particular safe access zone.
- The Commission recommends that the Department of Health should give due consideration to the jurisprudence of the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) in determining the introduction of safe access zones. The Commission recommends further that the Department of Health should keep pace with upcoming cases of the ECtHR on safe access or buffer zones to ensure legislation can evolve and reflect the decision of the ECtHR and therefore compliance with, not least, the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR).
- The Commission recommends that the “immediate vicinity” of a safe access zone is carefully considered to ensure protection of the Article 8 ECHR rights of patients and staff while ensuring that limitations on the Articles 9, 10 and 11 ECHR rights of protesters are restricted or limited proportionately. The “immediate vicinity” definition should include provision for multi-purpose sites and take account of the layout of health and social care estates
- The Commission recommends that the Committee propose an amendment to the Bill to ensure the offence of photographing and audio recording as well as video recording is explicitly included within the Bill. The Commission also recommends that the use of posters, leaflets and banners can be a form of harassment.
- The Commission recommends that chanting and the use of loudspeakers can also be a form of harassment.
- The Commission recommends the development of guidance for operators. Such guidance should include notification and dissemination of the nature and extent of the zones.
- The Commission recommends the Bill is amended to ensure a police officer can direct a person to cease taking photographs.
- The Commission recommends the Committee consider an amendment to the Bill to provide the Department with an additional power to introduce a safe access zone, without an application by an operator, where it sees necessary.
- The Commission recommends the Department ensure consultation on safe access zones extends to surrounding business owners and residents where appropriate.
- The Commission recommends that safe access zones should be for a time limited period which may be extended following a review.
- The Commission recommends the Department’s annual effectiveness report includes data on the number of offences and prosecutions.