Aberdeen Labor Councilor Deena Tissera is urging the Prime Minister to seek legal advice from Dorothy Bain QC on how to implement buffer zones as anti-abortion protests rage in Scotland.
The adviser’s call comes ahead of a ‘mini-summit’ on abortion care on Monday, involving Women’s Health Minister Maree Todd and Nicola Sturgeon, which will discuss the potential use of regulations to implement buffer zones . Due to the strong presence of anti-abortion protests in these areas, Aberdeen City Council was invited to attend along with Glasgow and Edinburgh City Councils.
The meeting follows an abortion care summit in June which saw the government commit to considering testing areas through local authority regulations.
The report points out that the council does not have the financial means to publish the regulations or defend a judicial review and that there may be existing legislation to implement the zones.
The general consensus at a council meeting, according to Ms Tissera, was that the bylaws cannot be implemented in the local authority.
As a result, Ms Tissera had to withdraw her motion on implementing buffer zones via regulations in the area and is now asking for ‘transparency and legal advice’ from the Lord Advocate of Scotland.
In submissions to the UK Supreme Court – which is currently reviewing buffer zone legislation in Northern Ireland – the Lord Advocate of Scotland has previously argued that interference with free speech rights can be “justified”, in order to protect the personal autonomy of the rights of pregnant women.
She cited Article 8 of the ECHR, which guarantees a right to respect for private and family life.
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Speaking to Scotland on Sunday, Ms Tissera said: “We have found that regulations are not the right legal remedy and COSLA is giving the same advice. My advice is that we need to write to ask the Prime Minister to write to the Lord Advocate on this instead of running local authorities in circles and wasting council money and council officers’ time.
“The Scottish Government are not transparent with us about the legal advice they receive, but they want to work with us on this issue.
“If the Prime Minister can go to the Lord Advocate on constitutional issues, why can’t she do the same on women’s issues?
“The matter needs to move forward urgently using all the approaches available to us through the powers of the Scottish Parliament, as Maree Todd has said, so to do that I want to seek this legal advice.
“Local authorities cannot afford to spend money on things that will drive us in circles and we are already facing cuts.”
The Aberdeen report says police have found in recent years that there have been ‘various protests or rallies’ around both sides of the abortion and anti-abortion debate, however, these have passed for “peaceful events causing no significant problem”.
Ms Tissera said the problem with police using anti-social behavior and dispersal orders in this instance is that they cannot arrest or move groups “appearing to be taking part in peaceful vigils and holding candles”.
Glasgow Green councilor Holly Bruce said she would support Ms Tissera’s appeal if Monday’s summit did not include ‘strong actions’ as the councilor said she would like to see a ‘more proportionate’ response Police Scotland at anti-abortion protests outside. clinics.
‘I understand there are legal and financial issues, but Monday’s summit will hopefully resolve some of those issues,’ Ms Bruce said: ‘I think there are some powers currently available to the police Scottish, such as anti-social behavior laws and scatter powers, so I feel they should use them more or respond in a more proportionate way to that.”
Glasgow City Council said it would continue to work with partners to overcome existing legal hurdles.
Edinburgh City Council Leader Cammy Day said he was continuing to discuss this issue with the Scottish Government and other local authorities with a view to agreeing how best to introduce these zones.
Gillian Mackay MSP has proposed a bill that would introduce national legislation for safe access zones around health facilities that provide abortion services.
The Supreme Court is considering whether the Abortion Services (Safe Access Areas) (Northern Ireland) Bill does not fall within the legislative jurisdiction of the Northern Ireland Assembly.
The Scottish Government is currently awaiting the outcome of this decision – expected in the autumn – before implementing its own secure access zone measures.
Aberdeen has agreed to await the outcome of the Supreme Court’s decision on this matter in order to take an informed position on the implementation of the regulations.