In a surprising turn of events, Father Sean Gough and Isabel Vaughan-Spruce were acquitted on Thursday, 8th February after being charged with breaking a Public Spaces Protection Order (PSPO) that covered the surroundings of an abortion clinic in Birmingham.
The two individuals were arrested after allegedly breaching the PSPO by praying outside the clinic. The PSPO was introduced in 2018 to prevent protests and harassment in the vicinity of the clinic. The prosecution argued that Father Gough and Ms. Vaughan-Spruce’s cases did not pass the “full code test”, a measure that points out whether there is enough evidence for a conviction.
In a statement to the Premier, while he was leaving on Thursday, Father Gough said that sometimes the intention of legislation might be misapplied and that careful thinking is necessary before undermining fundamental rights. In his words, he said; “They can see how sometimes perhaps well-intentioned legislation can be misapplied, it can be abused, and that can be overreach. We need to think very, very carefully, before we start to undermine these fundamental rights, such as freedom of speech, freedom of religion, and the freedom to have thoughts in your own head.”
According to a report by Premier, Its legal counsel Jeremiah Igunnubole said: “Today’s court case is of great cultural significance. This isn’t 1984, but 2023 – nobody should be criminalised for their thoughts, for their prayers, for peaceful expression on a public street. It’s a great moment to celebrate the vindication of Father Sean and Isabel.
“But our parliament is considering rolling out censorial legislation, which could lead to more situations where people’s thoughts are on trial. Let’s be clear – if Isabel or Fr Sean had been stood in the same spot thinking different thoughts, they likely wouldn’t have been arrested.”
Father Gough and Ms. Vaughan-Spruce have expressed their relief at the verdict and were supported by religious freedom charity ADF International.
The case is likely to have wider implications for the use of PSPOs in the UK, and it will be interesting to see how the government responds to the ruling.