CBR played key role in major UK expressive rights victory

Andy Stephenson and Kathryn Sloane of Worthing, West Sussex, display CBR abortion photo.

On September 18, 2012, District Judge Stephen Nicholls (Brighton, UK Magistrate’s Court) issued a strong defense of CBR’s speech rights in the landmark criminal prosecution of CBR-UK director Andrew Stephenson and his assistant Kathryn Sloane.  Both activists were acquitted of charges related to three alleged violations of Section 5(b) of the Public Order Act (POA), for displaying graphic abortion images outside abortion clinics.  More here.

We had forced their arrest to set up a test case in which to establish the right to expose the horror of abortion.  The judge explained that he “had not been persuaded” that our signs were “threatening, abusive, or insulting,” as required for convictions under Section 5(b).  Abort67 is the abortion photo display project of CBR-UK and the case could have implications for expressive rights across Europe.  In the remarks below, our British attorneys and Andrew and Kathryn comment on the role played by CBR Executive Director Gregg Cunningham:

Solicitor Michael Phillips, lead defense counsel in the Stephenson/Sloane case:

Gregg’s assistance in the trial of Andy Stephenson and Kathryn Sloane was absolutely invaluable. This was only the second prosecution (that we are aware of) in the UK against people holding graphic images of abortion.  This was virgin territory for all those involved, including the court.  When in the midst of a case and focusing on the details of law and procedure, it is easy to lose sight of the woods through the trees.  This was the benefit of having Gregg; he was able to bring clear insight to the Public Order Act, which helped the defense to construct a clear and cogent defense theory.  This was used throughout the trial and helped to secure Andy’s acquittal (Kathryn was acquitted at the end of the crown’s case) before any other defense witnesses were called (including Gregg) and before closing speeches!  This was a highly unusual move that was in part due to our defense theory.

The acquittal received was on the best possible basis: That the images were not abusive or insulting (this being the first part of the public order offence test), the question of intention etc. therefore did not need to be considered.  Therefore Andy and Kathryn could walk out of the court with their heads held high without a spot on their records, free to continue their good work.

Barrister Paul Diamond, defence co-counsel in the Stephenson/Sloane case:

I want to personally thank Gregg for coming to the UK to be a witness in the trial of Andrew Stephenson and Katherine Sloane at Brighton Magistrates Court.  Additionally, I want to thank Gregg on behalf of Christian Concern.

I want Gregg to know that it was vitally important that he attended at court and I may have need of his services again.  His presence, wealth of knowledge, historical understanding enabled both Mike and me to fully comprehend the case.  I found the interaction between the First Amendment and our limited free speech laws fascinating and informative.  As I kept telling Gregg, he would be an asset to the British bar with both his knowledge of the subject and the eloquence by which he expressed himself (eloquence that I shamelessly appropriated in my submissions to the Court!)

I was re-assured by his presence; and I doubt the case would have been thrown out without his input.  I am sure we will work together again and many thanks.

Andrew Stephenson, CBR-UK director:

It is fair to say that without Gregg’s involvement in this defense, we most likely would not have heard the judge throw out the case yesterday in Brighton.  Gregg has been the architect of the work we do here in the UK and he has been closely involved in adapting it to current UK legislation, which gave us such a strong case.  He has ensured that the issue in the public mind and media is focused on what abortion does to an innocent and defenseless unborn child.

Gregg’s presence here for the court case has not only given Kathryn and me confidence that wouldn’t naturally occur given the circumstances, he has guided the process by which we have won this case against injustice.  Gregg has a unique way of looking at a problem and turning it on its head.  Our very excellent English lawyers have appreciated the direction that Gregg’s wealth of experience has brought.

His ability to put our current situation within the historical context of extinguished injustice has excited everyone and given focus for the future.

Kathryn Sloane, CBR-UK staff:

Since our struggles with the police started years ago, not only in Worthing but Brighton and London too, Gregg’s advice has been the key to developing a strategy to overcome the restriction to freedom of speech we experienced.

If anyone else had suggested we travel the criminal route in court to fight for our right to expose abortion, I would have been extremely cautious, but Gregg’s wealth of legal experience instilled confidence in our display team to question the police in their attempts to silence us (and rightly so it would appear).  This strategy has been most fruitful in exposing inadequacies in our police force as well as effectively exposing abortion to the nation through the media coverage that has so easily come our way following the arrests.

It has been clear during these days in court that Gregg’s advice, planning and tactics for the trial, shared with the legal team in every lunch break and recess, has shaped the arguments brought in each session.  Gregg’s insight concerning the objective first part of section 5(b) of the POA, and subjective second part of the test, changed the face of the case and wrote off the evidence brought by the prosecution entirely.  A stroke of genius!

We would have seen a very different result this week if Gregg hadn’t been here (and I didn’t quite fancy going back into hand cuffs), so thank him for his wisdom.  In fact, these displays may well have been halted long ago if Gregg had not created this long term strategy we are now seeing come to fruition.  It is already changing the way we save babies as we sat in our team meeting today listing all the new places we could display and all the new banners we could print now we have the freedom to do so.  This is because abort67 have been blessed by Gregg’s presence here with us during this trial.  Thank him for his dedication to this case and to our work.  He made it all possible.

John & Pam Rodger, CBR-UK staff:

After meeting with Gregg Cunningham the other day, Pam and I were encouraged more than ever to press on with this great work, and realised that it really is the images that do the work to expose the truth outside these abortion factories.  The recent victory in the court case in Brighton of Andy and Kathryn, with incredible help from Christian Concern and Gregg Cunningham, should also encourage us to push on, and to not be intimidated by the police.

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