Religion and Law roundup: 29th October

A number of posts in the past week have focussed on events surrounding the UK parliament, including the two Private Members Bills concerning the rights of cohabiting couples and the operation of some religious courts under the Arbitration Act, here and here. Both Bills passed their Second Readings and now proceed to a Committee of the whole House; but given the lack of Government support it is doubtful whether either will become law. Nevertheless, the four and a half hours’ consideration given to these issues by their Lordships raised a number of important issues on these topics, which no doubt will be the subject of further analysis.

It has been suggested that the ‘Olympics effect’ was a contributory factor in the return to growth of the UK economy, here, although this does not seem to be the case for the Diamond Jubilee. It is difficult, therefore, to suggest that any economic benefit will result from a state funeral for the remains of Richard III, if the current remains are proven to be so. Nevertheless, questions to the Rt Hon Sir Tony Baldry MP, the Second Church Commissioner, on their likely final resting place reported here received worldwide attention and within hours were reported in Toronto, Hawaii, Las Vegas, and elsewhere. In response, the University of Leicester issued a cautionary Press Release entitled “‘Don’t jump to conclusions’ – warns Head of academic team in Richard III search” which concludes with the statement

“We are not saying that we have found King Richard III. What we are saying is that the search for Richard III has entered a new phase. Our focus is shifting from the archaeological excavation to laboratory analysis. This skeleton certainly has characteristics that warrant extensive further detailed examination.”

Having been excavated under a section 25 licence, the bones are now within the “custody and possession” of the University, and were it not for the unique circumstances surrounding their exhumation, it would determine where they are to be reburied unless someone with a better claim came forward. [Update: See Frank Cranmer’s comment on post: In a written answer to a Question tabled by Dan Jarvis, Labour MP for Barnsley, Helen Grant, Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State at the Ministry of Justice confirmed the issue of the licence and the current plan for re-interment in Leicester Cathedral].

By this week, most will have forgotten about the protest in mid-October by Occupy Faith at St Paul’s Cathedral, why it was made and what it was about. In contrast, Pussy Riot’s ‘performance’ in February continues to attract the attention of the world’s media and it has been reported that 24-year-old Maria Alyokhina would serve the remainder of her sentence in Perm, Siberia, and Nadezhda Tolokonnikova, 22, had been sent to Mordovia region. They had petitioned to serve their sentences in Moscow, to be close to their children, but have been sent to remote prisons notorious for their harsh regimes.

Remaining with the theme of the severity of sentencing, in Vatican circles the 18 months given to Paolo Gabriele, the Pope’s former butler in the ‘Vatileaks’ scandal, is considered

“[i]n relation to the harm caused . . . . . [to appear] both lenient and just, a fact due to the specific nature of the legislative system from which it arises”.

A report on the conditions under which Sig. Gabriele is being detained has been published in the Guardian, here. Prisoners’ voting rights will not be uppermost in his mind, and whilst the case of Scoppola v Italy (No. 3) 126/05 [2012] ECHR 868 (22 May 2012) is of direct application to Italy, it is of limited practical relevance to the Vatican City State. However, prisoners’ voting rights is an important issue in the UK, which has until 22 November to comply with the ruling of the ECtHR in Hirst v United Kingdom (No. 2) 74025/01 [2005] ECHR 681 (6 October 2005). The recent difference of opinion between the Prime Minister and the Attorney General on complying with the court were explored in a recent post, and it is uncertain whether the UK will adopt a minimalist response to the court’s ruling or will disregard it completely.

Having received relatively little coverage in earlier posts, over the past couple of weeks Northern Ireland has been the subject of posts in relation to abortion and the opening of a Marie Stopes clinic, here and here, and more recently in relation to a High Court ruling on same-sex adoption, here. The court held that held that the eligibility criteria for adoption within the 1987 Adoption (Northern Ireland) Order 1987 No 2203 (NI 22) were unjustifiably discriminatory. Although broadly welcomed by most political parties, this is likely to be subject to appeal by Health Minister.

Finally, the Church of England’s habit of comparing its operations with those of a supermarket chain was given a further outing in a presentation by the First Estates Commissioner to the Bishops’ Council of the Diocese of Europe, here, in which he suggested that

‘Running the Church of England  . . . . . . [is] about 1/5 of the cost of Waitrose!’

The carbon footprint of the Church is often compared with that of Sainsbury’s, such as here, but whilst these figures are useful in giving an impression of the magnitude its operations, further comparisons do not bear close scrutiny.

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