Religion and law round up – 15th September

In an otherwise quiet week, the Church in Wales decided not to dither over women as bishops…

Women in the episcopate in Wales: the GB votes in favour

The Governing Body of the Church in Wales has voted in favour of the consecration of women to the episcopate. The original proposal was for a two-stage process in which, should the Governing Body vote in favour of a first Bill agreeing to women as bishops, a second Bill dealing with provision for those opposed to women bishops would be considered before any women were elected to the episcopate.

Members of the Governing Body removed a clause which would have delayed the implementation of the Bill until a separate Bill providing statutory provision for opponents had been passed. The Bill To Enable Women To Be Consecrated As Bishops was amended to become a one-stage vote to enable the consecration of women as bishops, with a code of practice to be written by the Bench of Bishops “without delay” for those who in conscience cannot accept the authority of women bishops. The voting by Houses was:

Laity: for 57: against 14: abstentions 2
Clergy: for 37: against 10: abstentions 0
Bishops: unanimously in favour.

The Archbishop, Dr Barry Morgan, said that the code of practice would be debated at the next meeting of the Governing Body, at Llandudno in April 2014, before being presented in its final form next September.

Burqas and niqabs in court: a possible compromise

We previously reported that a 21-year-old Muslim woman from Hackney charged with intimidating a witness appeared in Blackfriars Crown Court wearing a burqa and refused to remove her veil on grounds of her religion. HHJ Peter Murphy told her that she could not stand trial in a veil which only revealed her eyes because her identity could not be confirmed. The BBC reports that she has now agreed a compromise and removed her veil so that a female police officer could verify her identity. She entered a not guilty plea to a charge of intimidating a witness, following which there was further debate as to whether or not she could remain veiled during the trial. The BBC reported that Judge Murphy will rule tomorrow, Monday, on how the issue should be dealt with when the trial begins.

Veil ban dropped by college

Meanwhile in the Midlands, Birmingham Metropolitan College has dropped its controversial ban on Muslim face veils. Initially, the college decreed that students must remove all hoodies, hats, caps and veils while on the premises so that they were easily identifiable, a ruling backed by David Cameron, whose spokesperson said the PM believed educational institutions should be able to “set and enforce their own school uniform policies”.  DPM Clegg was said to be “uneasy” about the ban, believing that the bar had to be set “very high” to justify any prohibition on wearing a veil”.

Following an on-line petition, the college has modified its position and will now allow individuals to wear “specific items of personal clothing to reflect their cultural values”, although presumably this excludes hoodies, hats, caps &c unless these can be shown to meet the cultural criteria.

Religious extremism in school

The BBC reports that the joint headteachers of Kirktonholme Primary School in East Kilbride have been redeployed elsewhere by South Lanarkshire Council after parent protests about the involvement in the school of the US-based Church of Christ. Some parents were reportedly outraged that their children had been given books at an assembly questioning evolution. The local authority held a meeting with concerned parents on Tuesday, after which the decision was taken to redeploy the school’s two head teachers and the Director of Education announced “a full investigation into the management practices within the school”. For further and better particulars, see Creationism alive in Scottish state primary school on The Meenster’s Log.

The Kirk and same-sex marriage

We reported that the Church of Scotland is questioning whether it can continue to conduct marriages recognised for civil purposes if the advent of same-sex marriage legislation under the Marriage and Civil Partnership (Scotland) Bill leads to applications for judicial review. Buried in the remit from the 2013 General Assembly was an instruction to the Legal Questions Committee together with the Ministries and Church and Society Councils, the Ecumenical Relations Committee and the Theological Forum, “to explore the possibility of ministers and deacons ceasing to act as Civil Registrars for the purpose of solemnizing marriages and report to the General Assembly of 2015” [Remits Booklet 27: 14].

If it that is what the General Assembly finally decides, it would separate religious and civil marriage, à la Français – and one can see why the Kirk is worried. From its point of view, a long process of judicial review with appeals all the way to Strasbourg would take up enormous amounts of effort and resources with no certainty as to the outcome. And ministerial assurances notwithstanding, the Kirk is not alone in its concern; at the meeting of the Governing Body of the Church in Wales in April the Archbishop expressed similar misgivings about ECHR compliance in relation to the legislation for England and Wales.

Judicial review: the war of attrition continues

The week saw another blast from the Lord Chancellor about judicial review (in the Daily Mail, where else?), which he clearly regards as part of a left-wing conspiracy:

“… the judicial review system is an important way to right wrongs, but it is not a promotional tool for countless Left-wing campaigners. So that is why we are publishing our proposals for change. We will protect the parts of judicial review that are essential to justice, but stop the abuse. Britain [sic] cannot afford to allow a culture of Left-wing-dominated, single-issue activism to hold back our country from investing in infrastructure and new sources of energy and from bringing down the cost of our welfare state”.

He reserves particular scorn for “so-called representatives of the ‘Plantagenet family’ arguing that we must have a public consultation on where the remains of Richard III … should be buried” and asks whether it is a sensible use of public money. As readers of this blog will be aware, we have serious doubts ourselves as to whether the Richard III case makes any sense at all; but we should be very surprised indeed if the members of the Plantagenet Alliance turned out to be particularly left-wing.

In the same week, Alan Shatter, the Irish Minister for Justice and Equality, described judicial review as providing the “timely clarification of the scope of their powers, rights and responsibilities to the detriment of citizens and all affected by action proposed or taken”. He did so in the context of the proposed Court of Appeal constitutional amendment – a proposal which, it should be said, Human Rights in Ireland duly panned on other grounds. But be that as it may, perhaps he should have a quiet word with Grayling LC.

But why should this matter to students of law and religion? Three recent cases come to mind in which what might be regarded as right-wing causes were pleaded successfully in JR proceedings: SPUC Re Judicial Review [2009] NIQB 92 (which successfully challenged the Northern Ireland abortion guidelines), Independent Schools Council v Charity Commission for England & Wales & Anor [2011] UKUT B44 (which successfully challenged the Commission’s public benefit guidance in relation to charitable independent schools) and Doogan & Anor v NHS Greater Glasgow & Clyde Health Board [2013] ScotCS CSIH 36 (in which two Roman Catholic labour ward coordinators at a Glasgow hospital successfully asserted their conscientious objection to supervising staff involved in abortions).

It doesn’t matter a jot which side of any particular argument you are on or what your politics are: the bottom line is that it is essential for the rule of law that public authorities do not act capriciously or exceed their legal powers. And that, ultimately, is what JR is about. For further and better particulars, see Adam Wagner’s post over at UKHRBJudicial Review is not part of a vast left wing conspiracy.

Blogging and the price of success

This week the traditionalist Roman Catholic blog Rorate Caeli posted the announcement “Closing Comments”, which apparently did not mean that the site was closing but merely that its “Comments” section was being closed “at least for the near future”.  The post continues

“[m]oderating so many comments is becoming close to impossible at this point — we simply cannot keep up with an international readership commenting around the clock. It’s a good price to pay, because it stems from the exponential growth of our readership. But it’s a very difficult decision to make, nonetheless. Unfortunately, we cannot keep comments open and not moderated.“

The site’s recent post Pope Francis: Triumphalist Christians “do not believe in the Risen Lord” drew 97 moderated comments, but it is anyone’s guess how many didn’t make it. Most blogs, including ours, insist on details of the author’s e-mail and name, and others require registration and some form of checking such as CAPTCHA for “Telling Humans and Computers Apart Automatically” – Fr Z’s site must think that David falls into the latter category as it has been a tad tardy in moderating his registration.

To date, we have not received sufficient traffic to encounter problems in moderating comments, though the introduction of a spam filter was an early requirement. The stated purpose of the site – academically-rigorous (we hope) exploration of the interactions between law and religion – and our discouragement of contributors using pseudonyms seem to have been fairly persuasive. But we shall be posting a more detailed insight into our views on the development of Law & Religion UK later in the week.   

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