Duncan McNair acted for pro-life campaigners over right to abortion

Duncan McNair
Thursday 06 January 2011 by Jonathan Rayner

Who? Duncan McNair, commercial and international litigation partner at London firm Child & Child.

Why is he in the news? Acted in a case heard by 17 judges of the Grand Chamber of the European Court of Human Rights on behalf of pro-life campaigners who were resisting moves towards an internationally recognised right to abortion on demand.

A, B and C were three women living in the Republic of Ireland whose cases were brought with the assistance of pro-abortion agencies. They claimed that restrictions on abortion in Ireland damaged their health while pregnant, and stigmatised and humiliated them. Irish law permits abortion only where there is a significant risk to the life of the expectant mother.

The Grand Chamber held that A and B’s rights under various articles of the European Convention on Human Rights were not violated by their need to travel abroad for an abortion, because Irish law was legitimately attempting to uphold public morality. It also dismissed all but one of C’s complaints, allowing her claim under article 8: the right to private life. She had claimed to have had a rare cancer and feared a relapse due to pregnancy.

Thoughts on the case: ‘It is hard to overstate the profound importance of the issues addressed by this case. The pro-life interveners submitted that, while abortion may lawfully be carried out in Ireland where the mother threatened suicide, this does not confer a general right to abortion.

‘On the contrary, they argued that in protecting the unborn from abortion, Ireland is fulfilling its duty under international human rights law to protect the lives of its innocent citizens, born and unborn.’

Career high: ‘Meeting several of our most senior judges after corresponding with them as Mrs Morello in what became my book The Morello Letters – Pen Pal to the Stars.

Career low: ‘In my first week in articles I was sent to see how the courts work. I knew nothing of the matter save that it was an application to vary a maintenance order – and was to be hard fought. Our counsel did not turn up. I was directed by telephone to “take over and do your best”. A kindly tribunal rewarded my complete lack of a useful contribution with success and, inexplicably, encouragement.’