Police must 'strike a better balance' to protect freedom of speech, says home secretary

Isabel Vaughan-Spruce being spoken to by a police officer outside an abortion clinic in Birmingham.(Photo: ADF UK)

Suella Braverman has said that the police must "strike a better balance" to protect freedom of speech. 

The home secretary was asked for clarity on the policing of 'thought crime' by Andrew Lewer MP after the arrests of pro-life volunteers outside abortion clinics. 

"What guidance is the department planning to issue around policing of the Public Order Act, especially relating to preventing people being arrested in a public place for what they are thinking about or for silent prayer?" he asked in the Commons.

In response to his question, Ms Braverman said that new guidance will be issued by the College of Policing and the National Police Chief Council "to reflect the new offences in the Public Order Bill".

"We are encouraging the police to strike a better balance so that freedom of speech is being protected in their efforts to keep the public safe," she said. 

"I want to reassure him that we are doing everything to ensure that the sensitive balance is struck so that freedom of speech is protected while safeguarding the public."

The Public Order Bill contains an amendment that introduces abortion clinic buffer zones nationwide. An attempt by Mr Lewer to amend the legislation to protect silent prayer was rejected by MPs. 

Last week, Ms Braverman ordered police to stop the "largely Orwellian and wrong-headed" recording of names of people accused of 'non-crime hate incidents', and prioritise freedom of expression over taking offence.

"People are perfectly entitled to say things about politics, gender, and religion that others find offensive," she said, according to The Times

"Disagreement is not incitement, and nor is irreverence or mockery."

Pro-life volunteer Isabel Vaughan-Spruce has been arrested twice in the last few months for praying silently within an area outside an abortion clinic that is covered by a Public Spaces Protection Order. 

She was arrested a second time less than a week after being cleared of all charges by a Birmingham court alongside Catholic priest, Fr Sean Gough. 

Her arrest came on the same day that MPs backed plans to introduce abortion clinic buffer zones across England and Wales.

Right To Life UK spokesperson Catherine Robinson said: "Andrew Lewer MP is right to demand clarity regarding the policing of these 'crimes' that are in actuality benign offers of help or silent prayer.

"Such activities should not have been criminalised in the first place."