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Doogan v Greater Glasgow and Clyde Health Board
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1 User Commentary

Melanie Davidson (In-house lawyer) 28 September 2015

Case Digest: Greater Glasgow Health Board (Appellant) v Doogan and another (Respondents) (Scotland) [2014] UKSC 68

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What is the meaning of the words "to participate in any treatment authorised by this Act to which he has a conscientious objection?

Judgment was handed down in the case of Greater Glasgow Health Board (Appellant) v Doogan and another (Respondents) (Scotland) [2014] UKSC 68 on 17 December 2014. The Health Board appealed against the decision of the Extra Division of the Inner House, which found in favour of the respondents and their "entitlement" to conscientious objection. Both respondents are Roman Catholics practising as Labour Ward Coordinators at one of the appellant's hospitals.

In a unanimous judgment delivered by Lady Hale, with which Lord Wilson, Lod Reed, Lord Hughes and Lord Hodge agreed, the appeal was allowed. The essential issue in the case was how to interpret the words "to participate in any treatment authorised by this Act to which he has a conscientious objection" taken from section 4(1) of the Abortion Act 1967. What is therefore the scope of the right to conscientious objection?

Lady Hale decided that Parliament was more likely to have contemplated that the words "to participate in" should be given a narrow meaning, limited to meaning those people taking part in the treatment in a "hands-on" capacity. It is unlikely that Parliament had in mind the ancillary, administrative and managerial tasks that might be associated with those acts legalised by section 1, when enacting the conscience clause. The managerial and supervisory tasks of the respondents, as Labour Ward Coordinators, are more closely related to roles such as the administrators who decide how best the service can be organised within the hospital, than they are to the those providing the treatment that terminates the pregnancy.

Appeal allowed. Declarator made by the Inner House set aside. Lady Hale invited further submissions on what, if any, order or declarator should replace it.

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