Religion and law round-up – 24th November

Women in the episcopate, same-sex marriage in Scotland, religious dress, and yet more on Richard III

Women in the Church of England episcopate

The big news of the week (or, at any rate, the big news of the week if you’re an Anglican) was the overwhelming General Synod vote in support of consecrating women as bishops. On Wednesday, by 378 to 8, with 25 abstentions, Synod passed a motion to endorse the package of proposals put before it on the consecration of women and invited the House of Bishops to bring forward a draft declaration and proposals for a mandatory disputes resolution procedure. Synod also voted to revise the draft Measure and Canon in plenary rather than in a revision committee. However, there is still a long way to go before the first woman is consecrated: we set out the next steps here. Thinking Anglicans devotes a page to the events of 19 November with links to all the documents.

Richard III – further developments

The judicial review hearing of R (o.a.o. Plantagenet Alliance) v S of S for Justice & Ors in the Divisional Court before three judges will be on 26 November 2013. In his piece “Why Chris Grayling should bury his appeal against Richard III ruling”, Joshua Rozenberg notes:

“Consultation is the only substantive issue to be decided by the High Court. The judges are not being asked to decide where Richard III should be reinterred … If the claim is successful, Grayling will merely be ordered to go away and think again. He could save the taxpayer a great deal of money by doing so now”.

It should also be noted that permission to bury Richard III in Leicester Cathedral or York Minster can only be given by the ecclesiastical courts and that any changes which prove necessary to either building to accommodate the tomb must be approved by the Cathedrals Fabrics Commission for England (CFCE).

At its meeting on 24 October 2013. the CFCE stated that it was unable to reach a decision on the plans submitted by Leicester Cathedral for two reasons: uncertainty on the outcome of the judicial review on 26 November, which was an essential precursor to any grant of permission for internal building works including a tomb space and the inclusion within the reordering proposal of alterations to the furnishings scheme installed by Sir Charles Nicholson in 1927, which was one of his most complete and largest pieces of work. Objections have been raised by a number of the statutory consultees, including: the Society for the Protection of Ancient Buildings, the Victorian Society and the Twentieth Century Society. The CFCE agrees with the Amenity Societies that further study and discussion are needed on the treatment of Nicholson’s scheme.

Marriage and Civil Partnership (Scotland) Bill

The Marriage and Civil Partnership (Scotland) Bill passed Stage 1 on 20 November by 98 votes to 15 with five abstentions.

The right to wear a turban

We noted the outcome in Shingara Mann Singh v France [2013] UN Human Rights Committee CCPR/C/108/D/1928/2010, in which the UN Human Rights Committee in Geneva came to precisely the opposite conclusion from the ECtHR in a case involving the same claimant and very similar facts: that refusing to allow Mr Mann Singh to wear his turban for a passport photograph interfered with his freedom of religion.

The Committee could not understand how bareheaded identity photographs of people who always appear in public with their heads covered could make it easier to identify them in real life. Neither can we.

Consistory Court news

1) Oxford: The Revd Alex McGregor was formally sworn in as Chancellor to the Oxford Diocese at the Diocesan Synod on Saturday 16 November 2013 and there will be a formal welcome to him when his Letters Patent are delivered at Evensong at Christ Church on 11 January 2014.  Alex was appointed as Deputy Chancellor of the Diocese of Oxford in 2007 and has been Deputy Legal Adviser to the Archbishops’ Council and the General Synod since 2009.  He succeeds the Revd  and Worshipful Canon Rupert Bursell QC who served as Chancellor from 2002 until his retirement on 10 November 2013.

2) St Lawrence Church, Wick: With increasing pressure on burial space, incumbents and PCCs will need to adopt a much more professional approach to the reservation of burial plots; and as well as not using reserved plots for other interments as all too often happens, must abandon “informal agreements” that have no standing in ecclesiastical law. The case of Re The Churchyard of Wick St. Lawrence [2013] Bath and Wells Const Ct, Timothy Briden Ch concerned the latter, and provides further guidance concerning the reservation of burial plots by persons with and without a legal right of burial in a churchyard, as considered in Re West Pennard Churchyard [1991] Bath and Wells Const Ct, Newsom Ch and [1992] 1 WLR 33.

For those with a legal right, a faculty may be granted in the discretion of the Court, but the Parochial Church Council may only oppose an application for such a faculty.  Where there is no legal right, s6(2) Church of England (Miscellaneous Provisions) Measure 1976 empowers the minister of a parish, having regard to any general guidance given by the PCC, to permit an interment. In the instant case, although neither the petitioner nor his children had a legal right, the court regularized the informal agreement with the petitioner and his wife, but refused permission for his two sons and two daughters. In addition, the chancellor noted [section4, page 6]

“[t]he Parochial Church Council is entitled to have regard to the anticipated demands upon burial space arising from an increase in the population of the parish. Equally the need to preserve an area free of burial on the north side of the church, in order to facilitate the building of an extension, is justified.”

Re St Andrew, Bradfield

This is not a reported consistory case – yet – but the CofE media have picked up a story in the Daily MailCarole Middleton in an unholy row: Church where Kate and Pippa were christened set to be sold to £30,000-a-year boarding school”. This apparently concerns the secrecy surround the proposal to sell the church where the now Duchess of Cambridge was christened which, it is claimed, has “prompted uproar from locals.” We have no further details; but according to Betjeman’s Best British Churches, St Andrew’s was almost wholly rebuilt by Sir George Gilbert Scott in 1847-8, and under the star-rating system introduced by Betjeman in the 1968 edition it scores more highly than the adjacent entry, St Mary, Bucklebury.

Media games

We have commented earlier on the efficiency of the National Secular Society in its Media Round Up section and the creativeness with which it presents the headlines and  Wednesday 20 November provided some good examples of the latter [our emphasis added]:

  • the Guardian statement “If the CofE is doomed, as former archbishop of Canterbury George Carey insists, it’s down to the damage he did in office”, was rewritten omitting the conditional “if”;
  • to the Telegraph headline “Lord Carey’s vision for the Church of England might kill it off”, “once and for all” was added;
  • another Telegraph headline “Despite our secularist enemies, we are on the brink of a Christian Spring” was translated into “More dishonest piffle from Cristina Odone”.

As to the last of these, whilst accepting that Ms Odone’s style of writing might be profoundly irritating to many (or, at any rate, it certainly irritates Frank), we’re not sure where to set the bar regarding honesty in this area.

This reinterpretation of events for one’s readers was also evident this week across the Tiber. Vatican Insider’s terse report of General Synod’s vote on women in the episcopate was headed “The Church of England has taken this historic decision following a heated debate in the Synod” – somewhat of a contrast to the Archbishop of Canterbury’s statement that “The tone of the debate was strikingly warm and friendly”.

With regard to Government departments’ presentation of facts, Joshua Rozenberg analyses the DWP’s statement after losing the back-to-work appeal which “shows how easy it is to report court rulings to suit an agenda”. His concluding advice to readers is:

“to adopt a degree of scepticism towards media reports – including those for which [he is] responsible. How plausible do they sound? How likely are they to be affected by error or bias? If you can’t cope with a lengthy primary source … then try to read as many different media reports as you can find. Read independent bloggers whose analysis you trust. Don’t assume there is only one way of looking at a case.”


And finally…

Today is Stir-Up Sunday: the day on which, tweets Catherine Fox, “good Anglicans order their luxury Christmas puddings from Fortnum & Mason”…

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