London borough facing legal action over "failure to act" on harassment outside Marie Stopes Clinic

The Good Law Project and Sister Supporter have threatened Camden Council with legal action over the local authority’s alleged ongoing failure to deal with the intimidation and harassment of women outside the Marie Stopes Clinic in the borough.

In a pre-action letter the GLP and Sister Supporter, advised by Bhatt Murphy, said: “The LBC [London Borough of Camden] is empowered under the Anti-Social Behaviour, Crime and Policing Act 2014 to implement, following consultation and if proportionate, a safe zone to enable women (and pregnant people) to access safe and legal abortions (and other reproductive treatment) without discrimination and harassment. Similar safe zones have been implemented in Richmond and Ealing with positive effect.

“Despite drafting a safe zone order, indicating that a consultation would be held in June 2020 and receiving extensive evidence of the continuing intimidation and harassment of women, the LBC has not taken any further steps.”

The letter noted that whilst there might be a delay arising from the pandemic, it was “now over two years since Sister Supporter provided evidence of the anti-choice harassment and no public consultation has been announced”.

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The letter added: “It appears that the LBC has failed to act reasonably, diligently and expeditiously in response to evidence provided, and has failed to commence a statutory consultation.”

The two organisations called on the council “to urgently review the continuing failure in this regard” and asked it to confirm what steps would now be taken.

They said they would reserve their rights to seek judicial review if their concerns were not addressed.

The letter suggested that there was no evidence that the council had complied with its duties “under section 6 of the Human Rights Act 1998, Article 8 ECHR or the Public Sector Equality Duty to prevent discrimination and harassment of women and other service users seeking medical treatment”.

The Good Law Project said: “We know that this is not a problem that starts and ends in Camden – it is a national problem in need of a national solution. 

“Across the United Kingdom, women report feeling scared and distressed by anti-choice activists at the gates of abortion clinics.”

It added: “It is the duty of the Government to ensure that women can access abortion clinics without facing harassment. Until it does so, this obligation falls to local councils – and we will ensure that duty is met.”

A Camden Council spokesperson said: “We will be considering and responding to the letter submitted to the council by the Good Law Project and Sister Supporter in due course. While we won’t comment on any specific cases, we want Camden to be a safe and equal place for everyone who lives in and visits the borough. If anyone witnesses harmful or hateful behaviour in the borough, or they experience it themselves, please report it and remember that there is help and support available.”

Sister Supporter was founded by local Ealing residents in November 2015 and campaigned for a Public Space Protection Order (PSPO) outside the local Marie Stopes clinic in that borough.

The London Borough of Ealing introduced a PSPO, which prohibits protests, prayer vigils and ‘pavement counselling’ outside the clinic, in April 2018. 

In the High Court in June 2018 Mr Justice Turner rejected a legal challenge to the council's decision to introduce the order. In August 2019 the Court of Appeal dismissed the claimants’ appeal and upheld the PSPO in full in Dulgheriu v LB of Ealing [2019] EWCA Civ 1490. In March 2020 the Supreme Court refused an application for permission to appeal.

It was announced in October 2020 that two individuals affected by the PSPO had appealed to the European Court of Human Rights. However, their application was refused.