Allowing 'silent prayer' in 'buffer zones' still under consideration

Allowing 'silent prayer' in 'buffer zones' still under consideration

A UK government minister has hinted that “silent prayer” might still be allowed in abortion clinic 'buffer zones', despite numerous attempts by MPs in the House of Commons to criminalise it.

In a written question, justice minister Laura Farris told Labour MP Rupa Huq that there will need to be a "balance struck" between conflicting human rights regarding freedom of expression, assembly, and privacy when determining whether new legislation will permit ‘silent prayer’ within 150-metre-wide exclusion zones around clinics.

Earlier this year, the I Newspaper revealed documents from a public consultation conducted last year that said prayer was not an illegal act.

Farris said: “It is completely unacceptable that anyone should feel harassed or intimidated when exercising their legal right to abortion services.

“I hope she will be reassured to hear that it is anticipated that section 9 of the Public Order Act 2023 will be commenced no later than this spring.

“The consultation on the guidance published by the Home Office closed on 22 January and the final response will be published in due course. I must just say one thing, however: it is right that a balance will need to be struck where competing rights are engaged, including under articles 10 and 11 of the European Convention on Human Rights.”

The articles Farris mentions protect freedom of expression, freedom of assembly and the right to privacy and family life.

In the coming weeks, the Government is expected to announce whether provisions under the new Public Order Act, included as guidance for police forces, will allow for silent prayer following consultations on the proposals earlier this year.