Petitions – what are Edinburgh Council’s rules?

City of Edinburgh Council sensibly has rules to make sure that petitions are valid, credible and a good use of Council time. Only when the Council is sure that a petition meets their rules will it be made available for signatures. When the ‘Back Off’ group, submitted a Petition about abortion vigils City of Edinburgh broke or ignored many of its own rules including:

Who wrote it?

City of Edinburgh want to know who is behind any petition. They as for:

“your name, address, phone number and email address and the names of any other people involved in creating the petition” (our emphasis)

Only one petitioner, “Miss E Cheney” was listed on the published petition. However, according to a Freedom of Information review response the final version of the petition was inspired by

“a policy advisor who has suggested a further wording change”

City of Edinburgh FOI Review Response 30959 22 March 2021

Although Council rules, above, require the names of any persons involved in creating a petition, details of the “policy advisor” or their organisation were not provided by Back Off or requested by the Council, contrary to their own rules.

It is known that the Back Off student group is coordinated by the abortion provider BPAS. 3 different versions of the petition were submitted to City of Edinburgh. The first and second versions made reference to BPAS. The third which included the “wording change” suggested by “a policy advisor”, removed all references to the BPAS organisation.

What have you done to solve your problem?

City of Edinburgh says:

“Before a petition is submitted, petitioners are expected to have taken reasonable steps in attempting to resolve the issues.”

And City of Edinburgh’s online petition form includes the field:

“Action taken (if any) to resolve issues of concern before submitting the e-Petition”

No information was provided in this field in the Petition form submitted by the Back Off group (FOI Review Response 30959).

Are you being honest and truthful?

For obvious reasons the Council is clear that

“We will not accept a petition that contains false or defamatory statements” (bold in original)

The final (“policy advisor”) version of the petition alleged that “medically incorrect” leaflets were being distributed and included 2 case studies not included in the previous petition versions. The petition alleged:

“Women not accessing abortion care are also targeted – with one woman with a pram being told ‘she hadn’t killed her baby so why would she support abortion’, and another being told she would die of cancer for having an abortion in the past”

These allegations raise obvious ‘red flags’ for falsehood or defamation so a prudent approach might have been to verify them with the Petitioner before publication on the Council website. In correspondence with the Petitioner a City of Edinburgh Council officer states that they will “validate in due course.” However, in FOI Response 30791 City of Edinburgh admitted that this did not take place and that “No further information was supplied for each statement” and “No further information was requested” by the Council.


The Petition failed to meet the Council’s criteria relating to authors, honesty and reasonable steps taken before bringing the issue to the Council. Despite this, the Council seems to have ignored its own rules and the petition was published on City of Edinburgh’s website on 6 November 2020.