Supreme Court refuses permission to appeal on UK’s first abortion clinic ‘buffer zone’

11 Mar 2020

Public Law and Judicial Review

Yesterday the Supreme Court refused an application for permission to appeal in the case of Dulgheriu & Orthova v Ealing LBC [2019] EWCA Civ 1490.

In that decision, handed down in August 2019, the Court of Appeal confirmed the lawfulness of a Public Spaces Protection Order (‘PSPO’) made by the London Borough of Ealing in April 2018. The PSPO created a ‘safe zone’ prohibiting protests, prayer vigils and so-called ‘pavement counselling’ outside a Marie Stopes clinic where abortions are performed.

It is believed that Ealing’s ‘safe zone’ was the first to apply outside any abortion clinic in the UK, the PSPO model has since been adopted by other authorities.

The August 2019 judgment was the first occasion on which the Court of Appeal has considered the lawfulness of PSPOs which are used by numerous local authorities across England to address all types of local nuisances and anti-social behaviour.

It was also the first time the Court of Appeal considered the lawfulness of restrictions on pro-life and pro-choice activities outside clinics. The judgment confirmed that Ealing’s PSPO was lawful and that women had a reasonable expectation of privacy when accessing abortion services.

In refusing the application for permission to appeal, the Supreme Court (Lord Reed, Lord Carnwath and Lady Black) held that the application did not raise an arguable point of law.

This decision concludes almost two years of litigation. It confirms that the PSPO will remain in place outside the clinic until it expires in April 2021, at which time Ealing may consider whether or not to make a further PSPO.

The Supreme Court’s decision has been awaited by several other local authorities around the country who are currently considering how to address abortion-related protests in their areas. A number of authorities are looking at using PSPOs.

Meanwhile, Waltham Forest LBC recently issued a Community Protection Notice in respect of an anti-abortion protest which had a detrimental effect on the quality of life of those in the locality, an appeal against the CPN has been heard by the Magistrates’ Court and judgment is awaited.

Ranjit Bhose QC, Kuljit Bhogal and Tara O’Leary represented LB Ealing throughout the process of consulting on and making its PSPO, and in defending this challenge through the courts.

Barristers from Cornerstone have acted in all of the legal challenges concerning PSPOs which have come before the courts, and have advised numerous local authorities on consultation, investigation and decision-making related to PSPOs.

The second edition of Kuljit’s book, Cornerstone on Anti-Social Behaviour, which includes a chapter dedicated to PSPOs, was published by Bloomsbury in May 2019. Kuljit is also advising a number of other authorities on abortion clinic PSPOs and Waltham Forest on its CPN appeal.