QC: Scottish censorship zones could breach human rights law

Plans to trial censorship zones around abortion clinics in Scotland risk infringing civil liberties, a leading human rights lawyer has said.

Aidan O’Neill QC said the creation of ‘buffer zones’ around hospitals and abortion centres may breach the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR).

Scotland’s First Minister Nicola Sturgeon has backed proposals to restrict free speech in the zones, but acknowledged that such a law in Scotland could be subject to legal challenge.


City Councils in Glasgow, Edinburgh and Aberdeen have announced that they are willing to test bans on people handing out pro-life literature, offering prayer, and speaking to women about abortion.

But O’Neill said: “There is no doubt that the creation of buffer zones which seek to exclude protests or people assembling in otherwise public spaces in principle engages the protesters’ human rights”.

These included, he explained, “Article 9 freedom of thought, conscience and religion”, “Article 10, freedom of expression” and “Article 11, freedom of association and of assembly”.

But the QC acknowledged the law in this areas is complex.

Sanctity of life

A spokesman for the Catholic Church in Scotland called the censorship zones “a threat to civil liberties, freedom of expression, freedom of assembly, and freedom of thought, conscience and religion”.

He added: “If we are to be the caring and compassionate society we aspire to be, upholding the sanctity and dignity of all human life must be the foundational principle upon which that aspiration rests.”

Also see:

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‘Draconian’ abortion ‘buffer zones’ to face legal challenge in NI

Activists want to ban peaceful protests at Bournemouth abortion clinic

Pro-life campaigners could face prison under new ROI buffer zones law

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