Exclusion zones and abortion clinics: Vaughan-Spruce and Gough

On 3 February, the Catholic Herald reported that the Crown Prosecution Service had decided not to proceed with charges against Isabel Vaughan-Spruce, who was arrested and charged with four counts of failing to comply with a Public Space Protection Order in violation of a “buffer zone” around the British Pregnancy Advisory Service’s Robert Clinic in Kings Norton. Similar charges were brought against a Roman Catholic priest, Fr Sean Gough, for holding up a sign saying “praying for free speech” outside the clinic.

Although it was decided not to proceed, they decided to pursue a verdict in court and their cases came before the Birmingham Magistrates’ Court in separate hearings this morning, when the Crown Prosecution Service confirmed that it had discontinued the case against them both and offered no evidence.

Prosecutor Ekene Pruce confirmed the cases had been reviewed, but it had been decided that they did not meet the Full Code Test – CPS criteria for assessing whether cases are in the public interest and whether there is enough evidence to provide a “realistic prospect of conviction”. She stated she was not in a position to comment further on the decision.

District Judge Wain told the defendants that the matters against them had been brought to an end. In a subsequent statement, they criticised the decision to charge them for “silently praying” and “praying for free speech”, saying they had been put “on trial for praying in an abortion facility censorship zone”.

Cite this article as: Frank Cranmer, "Exclusion zones and abortion clinics: Vaughan-Spruce and Gough" in Law & Religion UK, 16 February 2023, https://lawandreligionuk.com/2023/02/16/exclusion-zones-and-abortion-clinics-vaughan-spruce-and-gough/

6 thoughts on “Exclusion zones and abortion clinics: Vaughan-Spruce and Gough

    • I assume “brought to an end” means what it says. It’s a Mags Court, so it’s highly unlikely that we’ll see any more than that.

      • It appears that the two defendants, having been served with a notice of discontinuance, exercised their right under section 23 of the Prosecution of Offences Act 1985 to revive the proceedings so that they could seek a formal acquittal by the court. If the prosecution then (as appears to have happened) offered no evidence, the District Judge will have (or should have) formally dismissed the charges. I suspect that he told them this before saying that the matters against them had been ‘brought to an end’, Following the acquittals, the defendants could apply (or could have applied) for a costs order in respect of their personal expenses – e.g. travel costs to and from court.

        The procedure is explained in this legal guidance on the Crown Prosecution Service website:

        “The defendant has a right to request the revival of proceedings which have been discontinued in the magistrates’ court (unless discontinued under section 23(4) Prosecution of Offences Act 1985 before the court has been informed of the charge).

        “The most likely reason for a revival notice is the defendant’s wish to be formally acquitted on the offence or offences charged…

        “Unless circumstances have changed significantly since the notice of discontinuance was issued, to the extent that the proceedings should now continue, the prosecution will formally offer no evidence in court.”

        See: https://www.cps.gov.uk/legal-guidance/termination-proceedings-including-discontinuance

    • I suspect the difference is between CPS *withdrawing* the charges (which doesn’t require a court hearing, but means the charges can be reinstituted in the future) and CPS *offering no evidence* (which requires a hearing, results in an acquittal, and almost always prevents the charges being reinstituted in future).

      The report doesn’t say what CPS actually did in this case, but I suspect they wanted the court hearing to go ahead so they could offer no evidence.

      See more here: https://www.cps.gov.uk/legal-guidance/termination-proceedings-including-discontinuance#c23:~:text=in%20Legal%20Guidance.-,Withdrawal%20of%20Proceedings,-Offences%20can%20be

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