PLT Masthead 430

Masthead Healthcare - Litigation

High Court to hear challenge to PSPO creating safe zone near abortion clinic

The High Court is due today (Thursday) to hear a challenge to a council’s use of a Public Spaces Protection Order (PSPO) to control activities in a 'safe zone' around an abortion clinic.

Mr Justice Holman last week allowed one of those bringing the case against the London Borough of Ealing to maintain her anonymity.

But he declined to make a protective costs order at the hearing as he thought it likely that a wealthy charity stood behind the two claimants.

Ealing in January imposed the order after complaints from residents about vigils and counter demonstrations frequently mounted at the clinic in Mattock Lane.

Florica Dulgheriu and AB - described as the ‘vigil leader’ - sought to challenge the validity of using a PSPO in these circumstances.

Holman J was asked before the main hearing to decide whether AB should be allowed to remain anonymous and whether the appellants could have a protective costs order.

In his judgment, he said that AB could remain anonymous even though she was employed by the Good Counsel Network - the organisation responsible for the vigils - because she feared abuse if she were identified and her income as vigil leader could not amount to having a ‘private interest ‘in the outcome of the case.

“It may be that in [her case] there is some residual ‘private interest’ in the outcome of the case, but I am satisfied…that her true motivation and interest is not any private interest arising out of her income and employment, but, rather, her altruistic commitment to the cause of seeking to reduce the number of abortions,” he said.

The judge noted that Ms Dulgheriu had used her real name and that AB had identified her position, and said: “At the same time as affording to her anonymity of her name, I nevertheless wish it to be publicly identified that she is the person who is ‘the vigil leader’.”

He said that while the two appellants might be of limited means, while Ealing had considerable resources including in-house lawyers, he had been shown evidence that suggested links between the Good Counsel Network and the charity Guild of Our Lady of Good Counsel.

Registered accounts of the guild charity apparently showed funds carried forward in 2017 of £1.4m and that its income exceeded outgoings by £159,000.

He said: “It seems to me, very provisionally, that it may be that although the financial resources of these two identified claimants are exiguous, there is behind them a body which may be said to be intimately involved in this litigation which has, or may have, considerable financial resources. “

Holman J said he would therefore neither make nor dismiss the protective costs order pending the full hearing.

Mark Smulian

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