Religion and law round up – 8th September

Charity law, lobbying, burqas, ethical investment – and pushing little buttons…

Charity law reform in England and Wales

The Government has published its Response to the Hodgson Review of the Charities Act 2006 and the subsequent Report on Hodgson by the Commons Select Committee on Public Administration (PASC).

The key headlines are that the Government believes that the Charity Commission needs to have a sharper focus on its core responsibilities and that, despite the shortcomings of the current situation, public benefit is best left to case law rather than attempting to define it in statute. The Government also says that it is working with the Commission to consider whether any changes need to be made to its compliance powers to enable it to identify and tackle abuse more effectively.

Specifically in relation to religion, the Government accepts that there has been a lack of certainty in relation to religious charities and public benefit following the Charities Act 2006 but, unsurprisingly, neither PASC nor the Government mentions the case of the Preston Down Trust, which is currently before the First-tier Tribunal but stayed pending negotiations between the parties.

Finally, the Government rejects Lord Hodgson’s assertion that the Commission is inadequately funded: it “continues to believe that the Charity Commission has sufficient resources to effectively regulate [sic] charities, provided it focuses on its core regulatory functions”. No surprise there, then.

We shall publish a fuller analysis later in the week.

Face Coverings (Prohibition) Bill

The much-hyped Face Coverings (Prohibition) Bill, a private Member’s bill introduced by Philip Hollobone (Kettering, Cons), was third on the Commons Order Paper on Friday. Since the previous bill was still being debated at the moment of interruption at 2.30 pm, Mr Hollobone’s bill was not called for debate and is highly unlikely to make any further progress.

Succession to the Crown

Any change to the Succession to the Crown and the Royal Style & Titles requires the consent of all those countries of which HM is Head of State (see paragraph 2 of the Preamble to the Statute of Westminster 1931) – which means that if, by any chance, one of them should refuse assent to the changes removing the preference for male heirs and the ban on a future Monarch being married to a Roman Catholic the whole thing should, in principle, be off. Presumably the Prime Minister has been operating on the assumption that because he secured the agreement of all the relevant states at sessions of the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM) it is a done deal.

Earlier this year, Canada’s Parliament passed the Succession to the Throne Act 2013, which gives assent to the amendments by the Westminster Parliament that eliminate the preference for male heirs and removes marriage to a Roman Catholic as a disqualification for the Succession. What it does not do, however, is to lift the ban on a Roman Catholic actually becoming Monarch. Howard Friedman reports that in Tesky v Canada (Attorney General) (Ont. Super. Ct., Aug. 9, 2013), an Ontario trial court has dismissed an application by a Roman Catholic recent law graduate for a declaration that the Charter of Rights and Freedoms precludes Canada from consenting to legislation that discriminates on the basis of religion.

The court held that the rules of succession could not be challenged under the Charter of Rights and Freedoms since they were themselves, in effect, part of the Constitution of Canada. It also concluded that plaintiff lacked standing to challenge the rules. In short: in Canadian law, at any rate, there does not – yet – appear to be a human right to be Queen…

Transparency of Lobbying (etc) Bill: Government climb-down

We reported on the second reading debate of the Bill, which received a fairly critical reception from the Commons Political and Constitutional Reform Committee. In an attempt to mollify the Bill’s opponents, the Government has already taken the unusual step of announcing the date of the Commons remaining stages: Tuesday and Wednesday, 8 & 9 October. In addition, however, the Government has decided to meet the sector’s concerns by reverting to the situation under the current legislation, which defines controlled expenditure as expenditure “which can reasonably be regarded as intended to promote or procure electoral success”. Stuart Etherington, Chief Executive of the NCVO, professed himself satisfied with the outcome.

Church Commissioners’ ethical investment policy

In a written answer to a question by Helen Goodman (Bishop Auckland, Lab) on 4 September, the Second Church Estates Commission, Sir Tony Baldry, (Banbury, Con) clarified the Commissioners’ ethical investment policy, on which they are advised by the Church of England’s Ethical Investment Advisory Group.

“In directly held investments, the Church Commissioners avoid investment in companies involved in indiscriminate weaponry and, if their strategic military supplies exceed 10% of turnover, in companies involved in conventional weapons.

The Church Commissioners do not invest in companies that derive more than 3% of revenues from the production or distribution of pornography, nor companies a major part of whose business activity or focus (defined as more than 25% of group revenues) is tobacco, gambling, alcoholic drinks, high interest rate lending or human embryonic cloning.

Where the Church Commissioners are not able to invest in an asset class directly they do so indirectly (in pooled funds).

In indirectly held investments, where the Church Commissioners usually cannot fully implement their ethical restrictions, exposure to businesses operating in excluded sectors is monitored. If the level or nature of exposure to excluded sectors in any one fund becomes unacceptable, the Church Commissioners review the options for remedial action.”

Women in the episcopate

Following the debate in General synod in July 2013, a steering committee was established and at its first meeting in Coventry on 5–6 September considered a first draft of the Measure and amending canon requested by Synod and also looked at the possible shape of a declaration from the House of Bishops and a mandatory grievance procedure.  The Church of England reported that “the discussions were serious, honest and constructive” and indicated that the committee is due to meet again on 11 and 12 October 2013.

Recent consistory court judgments

This week two judgments became available, both referring to the development proposals of a “magnificent Victorian church built in the 1870s in typical Gothic Revival style”: Re St. Stephen Selly Park (1) [2013] Birmingham Cons Ct (Mark Powell Ch); and Re St. Stephen Selly Park (2) [2013] Birmingham Cons Ct (Mark Powell Ch).  The petitioners sought to demolish a parish room extension on the north side of the church, replacing it with a new parish centre extension linked to the west end of with a new glass foyer. In view of discrepancies concerning whether the foyer would be circular in shape (as approved in the planning permission) or octagonal (as in the description in the petition), the initial judgment only approved the demolition work of the existing church hall and its replacement by a parish centre.

Though the building is listed at Grade II (rather than Grade II* or Grade I), the chancellor nevertheless proceeded on the basis of that it is of national rather than merely local importance, in line with the views of the DAC and the Victorian Society. Applying Re St Alkmund Duffield, a faculty was granted for a foyer to link extension on the north side of the church to the west end, a new west door, retention and movement of the font and an initially limited amount of external block paving.

Not a lot of people know that…

In an article apparently unconnected with law and religion, the BBC’s “Does pressing the pedestrian crossing button actually do anything?” informed its readers

“Sometimes the reasons for a non-responsive button are not traffic-related. In 2012 Transport for London, (TfL), changed the pedestrian setting at Henlys Corner in north London after discussions with the Jewish community. [The Kinloss Finchley Synagogue is located to the north of the junction.] Orthodox Jews are not allowed to operate electronic machinery on the Sabbath. The change means that from sundown on Friday to sundown on Saturday the pedestrian crossing operates on an automated programme rather than via pressing the button.”

 So now you know.

And finally…

The European Convention on Human Rights came into force on 3 September 1953. Adam Wagner celebrates its sixtieth anniversary with a post on Why we would be mad to leave our European Convention on Human Rights. As you’ll see from the comments, not everyone agrees with him – but we certainly do.


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