High Court Upholds Public Space Protection Order Around Abortion Clinic, Balancing Individual Rights and Public Safety

Citation: [2023] EWHC 3229 (Admin)
Judgment on

Introduction

In the case of Livia Tossici-Bolt & Anor v Bournemouth, Christchurch and Poole Council, the High Court of Justice delved into a complex dispute involving the balance of individual rights and public interest. The crux of the matter was the challenge to the Public Space Protection Order (PSPO) made by the Council, which aimed at creating a “safe zone” around a clinic providing abortion services. The case required a nuanced interpretation of statutory powers, consultation obligations, and fundamental human rights as enshrined in the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR).

Key Facts

The Council imposed a PSPO under the Anti-social Behaviour, Crime and Policing Act 2014 in response to protests around a clinic in Bournemouth. The claimants, who were engaged in those protests, challenged the validity of the PSPO on several grounds. The primary arguments were based on the assertion that the PSPO exceeded the Council’s statutory powers and unjustly infringed upon individual rights guaranteed by Articles 9, 10, and 11 of the ECHR, which concern freedoms of conscience, religion, expression, and assembly.

The Court’s analysis hinged on several key legal principles:

  1. Statutory Threshold for PSPOs: The Court reasserted that a PSPO could lawfully address behaviour that is not unlawful but could have a detrimental impact on the quality of life in a locality. It must, however, be restricted to ‘public places’.

  2. Proportionality and Human Rights: When considering the restrictions imposed by the PSPO, the Court conducted a proportionality assessment against the backdrop of fundamental human rights. It highlighted that while rights under Articles 9, 10, and 11 are qualified rights, so too is the right to respect for private life under Article 8, which could justify restrictions if they are necessary and proportionate to protect the rights of clinic users and staff.

  3. Legality Principle: The Court considered whether the PSPO restrictions were “in accordance with the law” as required by the ECHR, concluding that they were, given the Council’s adherence to the Anti-social Behaviour, Crime and Policing Act 2014.

  4. Delegation of Consultation: Addressing the duty of consultation imposed on the Council, the Court found that this duty did not necessitate a response personally from the consultee, which, in this case, was the Chief Constable. The Court relied on established principles recognizing the practicability of delegation within hierarchically structured organizations like police forces.

  5. Equality Act Considerations: While not directly ruling on this point due to its late introduction, the Court indicated that it would have found no evidence of direct discrimination as the PSPO targeted behaviour rather than individuals or their beliefs.

Outcomes

The Court dismissed both claims. It held that the Council’s decision to impose the PSPO was lawful under the Anti-social Behaviour, Crime and Policing Act 2014 and that the restrictions imposed were reasonable and proportionate. The Court further concluded that the PSPO did not infringe on the claimants’ human rights more than was necessary to protect the rights of others.

Conclusion

The Livia Tossici-Bolt & Anor v Bournemouth, Christchurch and Poole Council case illuminates the complex interplay between individual rights and public welfare. The Court underscored the importance of a local authority’s discretion in implementing PSPOs, provided that they act within the statutory framework and observe the proportionality principle with regards to human rights. By systematically affirming the Council’s actions against statutory and human rights benchmarks, the judgment serves as a robust reference on the permissible scope of PSPOs for legal professionals within the UK jurisprudence.

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