Religion and Law round up – 17th February

And in the week that the Pope announced his resignation, what else happened?

So it’s arrivederci, Benedetto…

The big news of the week was the decision of Pope Benedict XVI to retire at the end of February on grounds of increasing frailty. Reactions from his fellow Roman Catholics were predictably laudatory; perhaps more surprising was the response from some groups who twenty or thirty years ago would have regarded the departure of a Pope with undisguised glee. The Huffington Post reported the Dean of the School of Theology at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary (not, one would have thought, an obvious source of admirers) as saying that

“… evangelicals need all the allies they can get. Benedict spoke up for persecuted Christians around the world, countered ‘soul-decaying secularism’ and defended the dignity of human life”.

On strictly canonical matters, Neil Addison (who writes the Religion Law Blog) has helpfully drawn our attention to the Catholic Truth Society’s on-line guide to electing a new Pope: Conclave: step by step through the Papal interregnum. The Conclave is due to commence on 15 March, but Vatican spokesman Sig.Lombardi is reported as saying that it is now “interpreting” the law to see if the Conclave could start earlier, as the Church was dealing with an announced resignation and not a sudden death..

Religious harassment or just plain rude?

In a bizarre coincidence, last week saw publication of the Employment Appeal Tribunal’s judgment in Heafield v Times Newspaper Ltd (Religion or Belief Discrimination) [2013] UKEAT 1305 12 1701 (17 January 2013), in which the claimant alleged that a very rude remark about the Pope was harassment and victimisation under the Employment Equality (Religion or Belief) Regulations 2003. Heafield, a Roman Catholic, was a sub-editor on The Times during Pope Benedict’s visit to the United Kingdom in 2010 and had been offended when an exasperated editor, one Wilson, shouted across the newsroom “can anyone tell what’s happening to the f*****g Pope?”.

The EAT upheld the lower Tribunal’s decision that the incident had not violated Heafield’s dignity nor created an adverse environment for him. What Wilson had said was not “on the grounds of” Heafield’s religion because he had not known that Heafield was a Roman Catholic – and in any case, he had simply wanted the article in a hurry and used bad language because he was irritated and under pressure. See hr insights for a helpful analysis from an employment law point of view.

Child protection in the Diocese of Chichester

Last August we reported the sorry tale of totally-inadequate safeguarding by the Diocese of Chichester and the damning interim report by the Commissaries appointed by Archbishop Rowan to investigate the matter, Bishop John Gladwin and Chancellor Rupert Bursell. One of the perpetrators, Robert Coles, has now pleaded guilty to sexual offences against three boys aged between 10 and 16 and jailed for eight years. But that is by no means the end of the story and we shall no doubt be reporting on the Commissaries’ final report in due course. In the interim, one of Justin Welby’s first acts as Archbishop of Canterbury has been to issue a statement  expressing his anguish at what has happened:

“I believe that the safeguarding of children and vulnerable adults should be the highest priority of all parts of the Church, and that any failings in this area must be immediately reported to the police. There are no excuses for shortcomings”.

Too damn right there aren’t.

Justice delayed is justice denied?

The Guardian reports that an employment tribunal hearing the first unfair dismissal claim on grounds of caste discrimination has collapsed after the judge recused herself from the case.

Vijay Begraj, a former practice-manager at  Coventry solicitors Heer Manak, and his wife Amardeep, a former solicitor at the same firm, had claimed that they had been discriminated against because Mr Begraj is from a Dalit background – the caste formerly known as “untouchables” – while Mrs Begraj, like their employers, is from the higher Jat caste. The tribunal had sat for a total of 36 days since August 2011 but was abandoned when Employment Judge Cocks recused herself as a result of a private visit from two West Midlands police officers four months earlier. After she had told both parties about the police visit, lawyers for Heer Manak applied for the Tribunal to recuse itself on the grounds that the information handed over by the police might have given rise to bias.

The couple’s solicitor, Jonathan Naylor, said that his clients were considering an appeal, adding:

“The tribunal’s decision to disqualify itself leaves our clients without a fair conclusion to their serious complaints of caste-based discrimination, victimisation and harassment. Mr and Mrs Begraj are rightly concerned that, after two years of pursuing justice, they have been denied this during the last few days of the tribunal process”.

Presumably the case can be heard afresh before a differently-constituted tribunal. But one can well imagine that Mr and Mrs Begraj are in utter despair at the prospect of another eighteen months or so of intermittent hearings.

Ofcom and religious intolerance

The Telegraph carried a factual and balanced report by David Barrett about a series of recent adverse rulings by Ofcom on what was, in effect, incitement to violence and intolerance in certain programmes broadcast by minority TV channels.

No, folks, the EU is not the Council of Europe

In T, R (on the application of) v Greater Manchester Chief Constable & Ors [2013] EWCA Civ 25 (29 January 2013) the Court of Appeal held that the blanket statutory requirement that criminal convictions and cautions must be disclosed in an enhanced criminal record check interfered with the appellants’ right to respect for private life under Article 8 ECHR. This is of obvious interest to religious organisations because enhanced checks are required for almost all clergy and for a considerable number of lay volunteers.

Over at UKHRB Adam Wagner posted on the latest piece of advanced legal scholarship from the sub-editors at The Sun. There was nothing much wrong with the actual report itself, but the headline – accompanied by a picture of the Soham murderer Ian Huntley – was “Now EU could let fiends like him prey on your children“. Evidently none of the subs on that newspaper of record has ever bothered to read our idiot’s guide

That said, however, there’s a lot of it about. Frank came across this piece in The Guardian while searching for something else: Europe’s legacy in UK workplaces is not to be sniffed at. It’s not actually wrong – but it requires very careful reading indeed to work out which references are to the CJEU and which to the ECtHR. Could do better.

Recent Developments on Richard III

In response to the interest in the issue of the section 25 licence we posted a summary of the legal provisions and an analysis of Rudewicz, R (on the application of) v Secretary of State for Justice & Ors [2012] EWCA Civ 499 which gives a few pointers as to the procedures and issues involved.  On the more practical side, Leicester Cathedral has announced that it is starting preparation for the interment of the remains and has set the date of 12 March 2013 when the architects’ brief will be agreed by the Cathedral Chapter, “with whom the decision about a final memorial legally lies”.  On the following day, the Richard III Society independently announced plans for how it would like his tomb to look, based upon a design commissioned by Philippa Langley in September 2010 at the start of the Looking For Richard III project.  Watch this space. 

However, in an item of non-news, our Wantage mayor announced that in the event of the discovery of the remains of King Alfred the Great the town would not be seeking their reburial in the town of his birth.  Welcome news for our LLM colleague in Winchester.

Religious premises priced out of civil partnership ceremonies

In its response to the government consultation on the legislation that was to become the Marriages and Civil Partnerships (Approved Premises) (Amendment) Regulations 2011, the Unitarians highlighted that the expected level of fees for registering premises for civil partnerships – around £1,500 – would be a real deterrent for many congregations wishing to host civil partnership registrations. Recent reports have borne this out; and research undertaken for The Guardian of 42 councils across the country indicates that the median cost of a licence to hold civil partnerships in religious buildings was £1,000 for three years, with three English councils charging religious institutions £8,000.

Permanent marriage licences for religious buildings are set by the Registrar General and for the last ten years the standard national rate has been £120; however, the provisions that permitted civil partnership ceremonies to take place in religious buildings after December 2011 also allowed local councils to set their own fees and conditions. Hotels and other commercial venues tend to pay more for short-term marriage licences than religious buildings do for permanent ones; and many councils have chosen to adopt a similar scale of payments for a three-year civil partnership licence for religious premises.

St Margaret’s Family Children and Family Care Society

In January we reported the conclusion of the Office of the Scottish Charity Regulator (OSCR) that St Margaret’s Children and Family Care Society, a Glasgow-based Roman Catholic adoption agency, was failing the charity test in s 7 of the Charities and Trustee Investment (Scotland) Act 2005 because it gave preference to couples who had been married for two years or more and, in effect, discriminated against the unmarried and against same-sex couples. OSCR told the charity that it would lose its charitable status unless it amended its policies and gave it until 22 April to comply.

We noted that in the last week Third Sector has reported that the Scottish Government wants St Margaret’s to continue providing its “valuable services to vulnerable children and young people” and that officials would be meeting representatives of the charity to discuss the situation. According to the report, St Margaret’s is still considering its position.

Forthcoming Events

Readers are reminded of the listing of forthcoming events here which will be fully updated on 1 March.

And finally – Ecce Homo

Readers may recall the disastrous attempts of 81-year-old parishioner Cecilia Giménez to restore the Ecce Homo fresco by Elijah García Martínez in the Sanctuary of Mercy church in Zaragoza, Northern Spain. Ironically, the church had secured a sizeable donation from the granddaughter of the artist to restore the fresco professionally only weeks before.  

Whilst Specsavers missed the opportunity of including the “restoration” in their advertising campaign, others have been keen to capitalize on its notoriety: the church (which decided to charge for entry and collected €2,000 in the first four days), Cecilia Giménez herself (who is claiming royalties on her work), winemakers Bodegas Ruberte (who have launched an Ecce Homo vintage “inspirado en la ya famosa restauración”) and various groups of graffiti artists, here