Abortion Act (Prosecutions)

Oral Answers to Questions — Attorney-General – in the House of Commons at 11:30 am on 19th November 2013.

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Photo of Dominic Grieve Dominic Grieve The Attorney-General

The former Director of Public Prosecutions and I have had various discussions relating to the Act. On 7 October 2013, he published detailed reasons explaining why the CPS had decided not to proceed in the recent cases involving two doctors.

Photo of Edward Leigh Edward Leigh Chair, Public Accounts Commission, Chair, Public Accounts Commission

Will the Attorney-General confirm that it is the settled will of Parliament that sex-selection abortion is morally wrong and illegal, end of story? How does he explain the fact that, although Operation Monto revealed that such abortions were taking place on a considerable scale, a derisory number of prosecutions have taken place—only seven in four years? Indeed, Keir Starmer, the former head of the CPS, decided not to prosecute when there was clear evidence on the basis of which he could have done so. Will the Attorney-General now take action to ensure that the settled will of Parliament is abided by?

Photo of Dominic Grieve Dominic Grieve The Attorney-General

As I think my hon. Friend will know, the Abortion Act 1967 does not outlaw abortion on the basis of gender. It provides a mechanism whereby lawful abortion may take place, subject to medical diagnosis and scrutiny. No prosecution was brought because, when the case was examined, it was apparent that there was no

“considered medical guidance setting out, in clear terms, an agreed and proper approach to assessing the risks to the patient’s physical or mental health”,

no guidance on where the threshold of risk lay, and no guidance on the proper process for recording that the assessment had been carried out. It is for those reasons that I have raised the issue with my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Health, and I am delighted that he is reviewing it to ensure that it does not arise in future.

Photo of Julie Hilling Julie Hilling Opposition Whip (Commons)

Following the outcry that met the decision by the CPS not to prosecute the two doctors for allegedly agreeing to arrange a gender-selective abortion, does the Attorney-General not agree that in future all decisions to prosecute—or not—under the Abortion Act should be signed off personally by the DPP?

Photo of Dominic Grieve Dominic Grieve The Attorney-General

I certainly take the view that this is a matter of great seriousness, and I would normally expect the DPP to be aware of it. I should point out that the former director of the CPS was aware of the decision not to prosecute in that case, and of course I asked him to review it personally. If he had reached a different conclusion from the prosecutor, he could have done so.

Several hon. Members: