A judicial review hearing has been adjourned until March after a “massive mistake” was uncovered in a submission made to the House of Lords in 2008.
The current judicial review taking place at the High Court in Belfast, to challenge the ban on unmarried couples being considered for adoption in Northern Ireland, has been put on hold while investigations are made.
The provision which blocks people in civil partnerships from being considered for adoption had been characterised as a mistake before the House of Lords during a case in 2008.
But the Department of Health, who are being represented by the attorney general in the review, said yesterday that the provision had been intentionally added by the government at the time of the civil partnerships legislation.
The Human Rights Commission wants the judicial review to bring Northern Ireland’s adoption rules in line with those in other parts of the UK, saying the ban on unmarried couples being considered as adoptive parents is contrary to human rights laws.
In 2008, the House of Lords ruled that an unmarried couple should be allowed to be considered for adoption of a child. It was in this case that Stormont’s provision blocking people in civil partnerships from adopting was incorrectly characterised as a “mistake”.
Mr Justice Treacy said: “How on earth a massive mistake like that could have been communicated to the House of Lords and nobody saw fit to (correct it), I have great difficulty in understanding.”
Monye Anyadike-Danes QC, for the commission, said: “The upshot of that is that if you are in a civil partnership you can neither adopt as a single person or adopt as a couple.
“It wasn’t until Tuesday that we got the statement that the mistake wasn’t a mistake, it was intentional.”
But the attorney general, John Larkin QC, called the application to adjourn the hearing “outrageous”, since the unnamed lesbian couple backing the judicial review are not in a civil partnership themselves.
He said: “It would have been striking if by the back door (of the) civil partnership legislation, there was some overwhelming transformation of the legal landscape on adoption.
“That is precisely what the government was trying to avoid.”
The Judge will hear the Commission’s application for information on in February, and the case is likely to being again in late March.