Religion and Law roundup: 13th January

What we noticed (and some of the things we missed) over the last week

Employment, religion and discrimination

The European Court of Human Rights has announced that it is to rule this coming Tuesday, 15 January, on ChaplinEweidaLadele and McFarlane. The ECtHR press release refers to the forthcoming judgment as Eweida & Ors v The United Kingdom (Nos. 48420/10, 59842/10, 51671/10 and 36516/10), so perhaps the Court will deal with all four cases en bloc. In any event, watch this space.

That’s the big one. But, in the meantime, we commented on Mba v London Borough of Merton (Religion or Belief Discrimination) [2012] UKEAT 0332 12 1312in which Langstaff J upheld the finding of the lower Tribunal that the claimant, a care worker, had not been discriminated against on grounds of religion or belief by being obliged to work on Sundays.The judgment has just became available: it had been read to the parties when the Tribunal’s decision was announced but general publication was shelved until after the Christmas/New Year break.

The result of the delay was some seriously sloppy reporting (though that’s no excuse): see, for example, the Telegraph’s headline on 29 December, Christians have no right to refuse to work on Sundays – which was not what the judgment said at all. On the contrary, Langstaff J had been at pains to stress that the appeal was about a very specific, very limited issue and was not in any way intended as a general ruling about observant Christians and Sunday working. The Telegraph duly received a good kicking – and deservedly so – from Adam Wagner and employment lawyer Darren Newman.

But, like ‘flu and norovirus, there’s a lot of it about – as David pointed out in a subsequent post.

Oaths, the Greek judicial system and Article 9 

We noted Dimitras & Ors v Greece (No 3) 44077/09 HEJUD [2013] ECHR 18 (08 January 2013) (French text only, but Google translate is getting better). In short, the procedure under which witnesses before the criminal courts in Greece have to make a specific declaration that they are not Orthodox Christians and/or that they do not want to reveal their religious beliefs in order to be allowed to make a solemn declaration instead of swearing an oath violates Article 9 (thought, conscience and religion) and 13 (effective remedy) ECHR. And the Hellenic Republic has quite a bit of previous on this one…

Pussy Riot, Vladimir Putin and offending religious feelings

We have posted before on the Pussy Riot affair. The Duma has been considering a draft law on offences against religion which, as originally proposed, would provide for prison terms of up to three years for offending religious feelings and up to five years for damaging religious sites or holy books. Reuters reported that the parliamentary committee overseeing the legislation was looking again at the wording of the draft bill because President Putin was concerned that the legislation as drafted could destabilise relationships between the multiplicity of religious communities in the Russian Federation.

Reuters now reports that Kirill, the Patriarch of Moscow and a long-standing ally of Putin, has entered the debate. In a somewhat equivocal statement to the Interfax news agency he said that

“A fine of several hundred roubles for blasphemous inscriptions on a church, a mosque or a synagogue signals that society does not fully realise the importance of protecting … religious feelings of believers”.

On the other hand, he was anxious that the new law should not limit citizens’ rights.

“Any regulatory acts regarding the protection of religious symbols and the feelings of believers should be scrupulously worked through so that they are not used for improvised limitation of freedom of speech and creative self-expression.”

Reuters suggests that all this is in line with Putin’s desire to make it clear that the Pussy Riot protest was unacceptable without at the same time undermining the balance between the Christian majority and Muslim minority in particular. Human rights groups, on the other hand, say that the proposed law could blur the line between church and state – which are separated under the Constitution – and, more generally, is part of broader Kremlin moves to suppress dissent. Moreover, the draft law is so broad and vague in that it risks being ineffective or of being applied selectively.

Succession to the Crown

As a footnote to Bob Morris’s post on the Succession to the Crown Bill, we noted the Daily Mail report that the Prince of Wales had said that he had not been consulted about the proposal and that he was concerned about that the Bill either could either bar a child raised as a Roman Catholic from the Throne or compromise the Monarch’s position as Supreme Governor of the Church of England, and the further report that the Bishop of Leicester shared the Prince’s concerns – to the extent that the bishops in the Lords might have to resist the Bill.

The Act of Settlement  – what’s the citation date? 

Readers of our postscript to Succession to the Crown Bill: La Reine (ou le Prince) le veult? may have noted Chris Bryant’s correction to the Deputy Prime Minister’s statement that

“[m]aking a small, concise amendment to an Act that has been on the statute book since 1701 is hardly acting hastily” [emphasis added].

Bryant suggested that the date was 1700, not 1701. After donning our anoraks and consulting each other by e-mail we concluded that, in fact, they could both claim to have been correct.

The Act of Settlement received Royal Assent in 1701 and hence will have been on the statute book from that year.  However, prior to the Act of Parliament (Commencement) Act 1793, where an Act did not include a commencement date commencement was taken from the first day of the session of Parliament in which the Act was passed. Hence the Act of Settlement is formally dated 1700 and listed as such in the Chronological Table of the Statutes.

But it is not quite as simple even as that. No assistance is provided within the Bill itself because references in the Schedule to the Bill of Rights 1688 (1 Will and Mar Sess 2) and the Act of Settlement are both undated. The problem is that neither the Act of Settlement nor the Bill of Rights was given a citation date by the Short Titles Act 1896. The first is c 2 of the statutes passed in the session of Parliament that ran from 6 February 1700 to 24 June 1701; subsequently, some authorities have cited it as 1700, others as 1701. Similarly, “modern practice frequently refers to the Bill of Rights as made in 1689, though by its own terms it was made in February 1688’”: see Lord Hailsham of St Marylebone (ed) “Constitutional Law and Human Rights” in Halsbury’s Laws of England vol 8 (2) 4th edn  at page 44 paragraph 35 note 3.

(So Frank has always hedged his bets and cited them as “Bill of Rights 1688/89” and “Act of Settlement 1700/01”.)

The Church and the environment

Shrinking the Footprint is the Church of England’s ambitious programme to reduce the Church’s carbon emissions by 80 per cent by 2050, and by 42 per cent by 2020 through a series of campaigns.  StF has recently produced the first issue of StF e-news.

This is the first issue of StF e-news specifically for members of the clergy. It contains information on: the free on-line audit for energy monitoring; the development of a Shrinking the Footprint App for measuring the environmental impact; news on the review by the Church of England Ethical Investment Advisory Group on the group’s recommended climate change policy drawn up in 2008 and other useful information and resources.

Readers wishing further details can access the e-news here, and further environmental information is to be found on the Oxford Diocese’s Earthing Faith, here.

And finally … we’ve been archived by the BL

The British Library’s UK web archive on religion, law and politics since 2005 was launched very quietly last week – and we feel very honoured to have been included.

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