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Judgment reserved in anti-abortion campaigner's legal challenge to harassment warning notices

Published 14/10/2016

Protesters outside the Marie Stopes private clinic in Belfast. 18/10/2012. Pic: Colm Lenaghan/Pacemaker
Protesters outside the Marie Stopes private clinic in Belfast. 18/10/2012. Pic: Colm Lenaghan/Pacemaker

Judgment was reserved on Friday in a pro-life campaigner's legal challenge to being issued with harassment warning notices for protesting outside a Belfast abortion clinic.

Lawyers for the woman claim the police actions were unlawful and breached her human rights.

Following a two-day hearing at the High Court, Mr Justice Colton pledged to give his ruling as soon as possible.

The woman at the centre of the case has been granted anonymity.

She is seeking to judicially review the PSNI after being served with six separate Police Information Notices (PINs) - all since deleted.

Described as holding strong anti-abortion views, she was involved in "prayer vigils" outside Marie Stopes' base on Great Victoria Street.

Pro-life advocates have staged demonstrations and handed out leaflets at the centre which offers sexual and reproductive healthcare and early medical abortions within Northen Ireland's laws since it opened in October 2012.

Last year high-profile Precious Life campaigner Bernadette Smyth was cleared on appeal of harassing former Marie Stopes clinic director Dawn Purvis.

Charges can only be brought for an alleged course of conduct involving two or more incidents, with PIN notices often featuring.

It was stressed in court that the woman taking legal action has never been convicted or prosecuted for any incidents at the clinic dating back to 2014.

She was accompanied by Mrs Smyth as the challenge got underway.

Her counsel, Fiona Doherty QC, acknowledged the PSNI has been dealing with a highly-charged, emotive situation with strong views on both sides.

But Ms Doherty insisted police must act fairly and ensure their powers are not used or exploited by others to suppress lawful behaviour by those with opposing views.

She claimed the practice was unlawful in three ways:

  • Issuing the PINs to her client was contrary to police policy.
     
  • The notifications were contrary to the rules of procedural fairness and natural justice.
     
  • Police actions were incompatible with the woman's human rights.

According to the barrister inadequate safeguards were in place to protect against the arbitrary service of PINs.

Retaining information in the case was also unlawful and disproportionate, it was contended.

Even though all six notices issued on her client have been deleted, Ms Doherty argued that the underlying information remains on the police database.

Following submissions, Mr Justice Colton confirmed: "I will need some time to consider these matters and will have to reserve my judgment."

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