30 August 2019
Public order cases involving protests have always sparked controversy, with the collision between the state’s responsibility to ensure the smooth running of civil society and the individual citizen’s right to draw attention to what they regard as a pressing moral concern.
The optics on this are tricky. Protesters giving up their time and energy to raise attention; police moving them on. Which do we support, freedom of physical movement or free expression of thoughts?
There is a welter of debate and criminal legislation behind public protest action and this or that provision that authorises arrest. With the recent case of Dulgheriu & otrs v Ealing Council  EWCA Civ 1490, I want to focus attention on what exactly triggers a prohibition of public protest under Section 59 of the Anti-social Behaviour, Crime and Policing Act of 2014. This provision allows councils to local authorities to issue a “Public Service Protection Order (“PSPO”) to prohibit public protests if they are satisfied that these are “detrimental” to the quality of life of “those in the locality”. Anyone who fails to comply with the requirements of a PSPO or to violate any prohibition contained in the order is liable to a fine of £1000.
The Court of Appeal dismissed a challenge to one of these PSPOs prohibiting anti-abortion protests in the immediate vicinity of Marie Stopes’ UK West London Centre. The Court concluded that the judge below had been correct to find that the pro-life activists’ activities had a detrimental effect within the meaning of s.59 of the 2014 Act. The Article 8 rights of the women wanting to access the clinic’s abortion procedures had been engaged and outweighed the pro-life activists’ rights under Articles 9, 10 and 11.
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