Guidance

Changes to the law in Northern Ireland

If the Northern Ireland Executive is not restored by 21 October 2019, obligations under the Northern Ireland (Executive Formation etc) Act 2019 come into force.

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Since January 2017 there has been no devolved Government in Northern Ireland. The Government has made the restoration of the Executive and Assembly its priority in Northern Ireland.

During this time, the UK Parliament passed the NI (Executive Formation etc) Act 2019, which received Royal Assent on 24 July 2019. It was introduced in order to give more time for the Northern Ireland parties to agree to return to the Northern Ireland Executive.

If the Northern Ireland Executive is not restored by 21 October 2019, the UK Parliament has placed an obligation on the UK Government to change the law in Northern Ireland relating to three important issues.

The Act requires that regulations are made in the following areas:

  • To extend same sex marriage and opposite sex civil partnerships to Northern Ireland by 13 January 2020 (s8);
  • To give effect to recommendations set out in the United Nations Committee on the Elimination of all Forms of -Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) report in respect of lawful access to abortion services by 31 March 2020 (s9);
  • To introduce a system of victims payments (a “victims pension”) in Northern Ireland made by the end of January 2020 to be in force by the end of May 2020 (s10)

All of the above requirements in the Act fall away if an Executive is formed before 21 October 2019.

It has always been the Government’s strong preference for decisions on sensitive, devolved matters such as these to be taken by the locally elected representatives of the people of Northern Ireland.

The restoration of the Executive and Assembly is of vital importance to the people of Northern Ireland. This is the top priority of the Secretary of State and he is continuing to work with the Northern Ireland parties to meet that objective.

Changes to the laws in Northern Ireland on marriage and civil partnerships

If the Northern Ireland Executive is not restored by 21 October, then the UK government will introduce regulations that would mean marriage between couples of the same sex, and civil partnerships for opposite-sex couples, would be lawful in Northern Ireland from 13 January 2020.

From that date, couples would be able to give notice of their intent to form a marriage or civil partnership.

If the Executive is not restored by 21 October, we will provide more information as work to prepare these regulations continues, including the period to give notice of intention to marry or form a civil partnership. Please check these pages for further information on this matter in the weeks ahead.

Changes to the law in Northern Ireland on Abortion

If the Northern Ireland Executive is not restored by 21 October 2019, legislation passed by the UK Parliament has placed a legal duty on the UK Government to take action to legalise access to abortion services in Northern Ireland.

In these circumstances, a new framework providing safe and lawful access to services will be in place by 31 March 2020.

The changes would mean that immediately from 22 October 2019 women who seek to access abortion services in Northern Ireland would no longer be prosecuted. Investigations or prosecutions that were underway would not proceed.

If the Executive is not restored by 21 October, we will consult widely on a new legal framework for abortion in the coming weeks. Please check these pages for further information on this matter in the weeks ahead.

Guidance has been sent to health professionals. This is set out above.

Accessing abortion services in England from 22 October 2019

The UK Government’s Department of Health and Social Care has established a central booking service (CBS) that is run by the British Pregnancy Advisory Service (BPAS). Women from Northern Ireland can call a single telephone number to make an appointment with the most appropriate provider, based on:

  • the woman’s requirements;
  • her medical condition; and
  • provider availability

The Central Booking Service number is 0333 234 2184. All treatment is funded free of charge. The package of care available includes:

  • a consultation including impartial information/advice, and where needed, counselling with an abortion provider in England, including an assessment of whether the legal grounds for an abortion in England are met an abortion procedure;
  • HIV and sexually transmitted infection tests; and
  • choice of contraception from the abortion provider.

From 22 October 2019, if the NIEF Act changes have come into effect all travel and, if needed accommodation, will be funded through the scheme. Access to the free scheme from 22 October 2019 will not be means tested.

The CBS can only refer to services in England. Further information can be accessed here

Changes to the law in Northern Ireland on Victims Payments

If the Northern Ireland Executive is not restored by 21 October 2019, legislation passed by the UK Parliament has placed a legal duty on the UK Government to introduce a Victims payments scheme by the end of May 2020.

We would consult widely on the details of a proposal in the coming weeks.

Legislation would then be put before Parliament by the end of January and the scheme would open for applications once practical arrangements have been made.

We would intend this scheme to support people seriously injured in Troubles-related incidents through no fault of their own.

If the Executive is not restored by 21 October, we will provide more information on the consultation shortly. Please check these pages for further information on this matter in the weeks ahead.

Published 7 October 2019