MPs concerned about free speech 'double standards' in the UK ahead of pro-life volunteer's trial

Livia Tossici-Bolt with her sign in front of the Houses of Parliament.(Phot: ADF UK)

MPs have expressed concern over the forthcoming trial of a retired scientist who held a sign within an abortion clinic buffer zone offering assistance to women facing a crisis pregnancy.

Dr Livia Tossici-Bolt, a Christian and retired medical scientist who is being supported by the Alliance Defending Freedom, held a sign saying "Here to talk, if you want" near an abortion facility in Bournemouth. 

A group of cross-party politicians has called on the Home Office to protect consensual conversations, peaceful offers of help, and silent prayer within abortion clinic buffer zones in light of her case. 

Democratic Unionist Party MP Carla Lockhart said that the treatment of the 62 year old revealed an "alarming double standard" in policing and law enforcement.

"Our law enforcement, who already have limited resources, must focus on real crimes instead of entirely benign behaviour, as in this case," she said. 

"One cannot help but notice an alarming double standard—very objectionable views are often allowed at pro-Palestinian protests in the name of freedom of speech and expression, but the same right is not extended to this Christian woman who did not even offer an opinion, but merely invited a conversation.

"Why does one rule apply to those protesters, and another to Livia?"

Senior Tory MP and former minister Sir Edward Leigh said that people should not be punished for offering a "harmless chat".

He said that abortion clinic buffer zones were leading to "needless" legal battles as he warned about the threat to free speech. 

"Freedom of thought and freedom of speech are the bedrock of a free society," he said. 

"It's mad that a retiree is facing trial for inviting people to have a harmless chat. No one should be turned into a criminal just for peacefully offering to talk to people in a public space.

"All our warnings about the effect buffer zones would have on free speech have come true. We've seen a woman arrested twice for thinking and a Catholic priest charged and prosecuted.

"Both won in the courts but only after a long and needless legal battle that will have a chilling effect on free speech."

Conservative peer Lord Jackson said the case was an "obvious example of dual policing". 

"It's astonishing that people of faith offering silent prayers on a matter of conscience are stigmatised, harassed and criminalised whilst those screaming for jihad on hate marches are allowed to spread their poison with impunity," he said. 

Independent MP Andrew Bridgen said: "There should not be double standards when it comes to free speech. Yet, repeatedly, we see evidence that Christian expression is harshly censored, while the right to voice more fashionable views is protected."

Sir Edward said that the draft guidance on the Public Order Bill must include protections for consensual conversations and silent prayer within 'buffer zones'.

"The Home Secretary must ensure these common sense protections are kept or we'll see more people like Livia unjustly turned into criminals by bad law," he said. 

Conservative MP Andrew Lewer said that Tossici-Bolt's trial highlighted the threat to freedom of expression and belief "inherent in censorial 'buffer zones'". 

"Christianity is not criminal. Neither offering charitable help, engaging in consensual conversation, nor praying silently, should ever be illegal in the UK," he said. 

"The Home Office guidance on buffer zones should at least protect these in order to uphold international standards on freedom of speech and of thought.

"While police crack down on these peaceful activities, they expose a double standard where protesters on different ideological issues are allowed much wider scope to express their beliefs."