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Police relax bail conditions for woman charged with praying silently outside an abortion clinic

The bail conditions for a pro-life volunteer, which prevented her from engaging in any public prayer, have been relaxed after her legal team argued that the restrictions were “disproportionate” and “unnecessary”.

Isabel Vaughan-Spruce was arrested for silently praying in a so-called “buffer zone”  imposed by a local Public Spaces Protection Order (PSPO) in Birmingham in March, only two weeks after charges for a similar offence were dropped.

West Midlands Police then imposed bail conditions on Vaughan-Spruce that prevented her from engaging in public prayer even outside of the 150m buffer zone around the abortion clinic. The bail conditions were supposed to be in place for thee months and, according to the police, were in place to prevent her from “committing an offence whilst on bail” or from “interfering with witnesses or otherwise obstructing the course of justice”.

Representing Vaughan-Spruce, ADF UK argued that her legal conditions were “unlawful and effected in this case for an improper purpose”. In particular, they argued that the police’s apparent concern to prevent Vaughan-Spruce from interfering with witnesses was “disingenuous” and “imposed for an ulterior motive” because there were, in fact, no witnesses to her alleged crime.

Following the legal challenge, police relaxed Vaughan-Spruce’s bail conditions.

The process is the punishment

Vaughan-Spruce said “The bail conditions had a serious negative impact on my life“.

“I’m glad to see some measure of justice restored to proceedings that had imposed excessive burdens on my everyday life. Nobody should be criminalised for the thoughts that they hold in their head”.

“After my first arrest, a court found that my actions did not result in a crime and that I was completely innocent. Yet, I find myself arrested yet again, for the same activity – simply praying, silently”.

“By imposing such arduous and far-reaching restrictions as my bail conditions, police officers ensured that the process became my punishment, even before I have been tried following this second arrest”. 

Jeremiah Igunnubole, legal counsel for ADF UK, said “In Britain, you are innocent until proven guilty, which means the citizens are entitled to demand that any curtailment of their civil liberties are proven to be strictly necessary and proportionate – criteria that West Midlands Police failed to meet in the initial bail conditions imposed on Isabel”.

“By punishing Isabel without reference to the prosecution or courts, police are now in the ominous position of judge, jury and executioner”.

“Newly introduced public order legislation has handed broad and unaccountable powers to police officers without at the same time training them to confidently differentiate between criminal acts and the peaceful exercise of fundamental rights such as free speech, thought, and religion.”

“In a free and democratic country, no law should ban peaceful prayer”

He added “There is now an urgent need for police officers to receive training on freedom of speech, thought, religion and associated civil liberties. In a free and democratic country, no law should ban peaceful prayer, charitable support and the free and frank exchange of ideas.”

“No officer should be confused about the difference between the peaceful exercise of fundamental rights such as silent prayer and criminal behaviour such as harassment and intimidation. Isabel’s ordeal shows that unlimited power in the hands of an untrained police force will always lead to injustice.”

Isabel Vaughan Spruce and Fr Sean Gough were both charged for allegedly violating a Public Spaces Protection Order (PSPO) and had the charges against them dropped in February.

Right To Life UK spokesperson Catherine Robinson said “Hundreds of women have been helped outside abortion clinics by pro-life volunteers who have provided them with practical support, which made it clear to them that they had another option other than going through with the abortion.” 

“Isabel’s victory is an important one but it remains a scandal that she was arrested for the alleged crime of praying silently in her own mind. This is made worse by the fact that the charges were dropped, she was re-arrested, and onerous and completely unjustified limitations on her basic freedoms were made a condition of her bail.”

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