Religion and law round up – 2nd March

The Church and poverty

Anyone reading the CofE’s Press Release Bishop to Lead Parliamentary Inquiry into Foodbanks and Food Poverty might be forgiven for thinking that, as with Archbishop Welby’s membership of the Parliamentary Commission on Banking Standards, the recent initiatives from the Church have gained some traction within the House.

Alas no: as with all All-Party Parliamentary Groups (APPGs), Frank Field MP’s APPG on Hunger and Food Poverty has no official status within Parliament. Nevertheless, Thinking Anglicans has provided a helpful summary of the debate surrounding the Bishops and welfare reforms – including the inevitable spoiler from  Lord Carey, former Archbishop.

Law Commission Report on Matrimonial Property

On 27 February, Law Commission published its report Matrimonial Property, Needs and Agreements in which it makes recommendations regarding important aspects of the law relating to the financial aspects of divorce and of the dissolution of civil partnership. With regard to financial issues when marriages and civil partnerships are dissolved, the report recommends that the Family Justice Council produce authoritative guidance on financial needs which would explain that, when determining a settlement, a judge aims to enable both parties to make a transition to independence.

Although pre-nuptial and post-nuptial agreements (referred to together here as “marital property agreements”) have become more commonplace in England and Wales, they cannot be enforced as contracts and cannot take away the courts’ powers to make orders. This report recommends that legislation be enacted to introduce “qualifying nuptial agreements” which would be enforceable contracts, not subject to the scrutiny of the courts, and which would enable couples to make binding arrangements about the financial consequences of divorce or dissolution.  A draft Bill, the Nuptial Agreements Bill, is included in the report.

“Three-person IVF”

The Department of Health has published the consultation Mitochondrial Donation concerning new techniques that have been developed which would prevent serious mitochondrial disease being passed from a mother to her children.  These involve the use of disease free eggs or embryos from a donor, and a change in the law would be needed for their use in treatment. The consultation includes draft regulations amending the Human Fertilization & Embryology Act 1990 (as amended) to allow such treatments to be carried out, and the consultation documents are available on-line.  The consultation will be open for 12 weeks and closes at 5 pm on 21 May 2014.

Anti-social Behaviour, Crime and Policing Bill 2013-14

The Bill is currently at the ping-pong stage during which it travels back and forth between the two Houses until both agree on the text. On 4 February the Commons disagreed with Lords Amendment 112 and made an amendment in lieu, here. A provisional sitting of the House of Lords has been scheduled for 11 March.

Health and Safety updates

Work at height: The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) has completely revised its guidance on “working at height”: an issue relevant to those responsible for the upkeep and maintenance of churches, cathedral and other religious buildings. Falls are one of the biggest causes of death and serious injury at work; and although there has been no change to the Work at Height Regulations 2005 the new guidance sets out “in clear, simple terms what to do and what not to do – and debunking common myths that can confuse and mislead employers.” It should be remembered that under the Regulations, “work at height” means work in any place, including a place at or below ground level, and obtaining access to or egress from such a place while at work except by a staircase in a permanent workplace.

Health and Safety Poster:  Under the Health and Safety Information for Employees Regulations (HSIER), all employers have a legal duty to display the approved Health and Safety poster in a prominent position in each workplace or to provide each worker with a copy of the approved leaflet that outlines UK health and safety law. The new poster, produced in 2009, replaces the version that was published in April 1999; and HSE has reminded employers that this “new” version must be displayed from 1 April 2014. Copies are available  from the HSE website.

What is a “religion” anyway?

Having failed to notice its significance when it was first released (and VAT cases not being the most obvious source-material for a blog such as this), we posted an analysis of United Grand Lodge of England v Revenue & Customs [2014] UKFTT 164 (TC). In particular, we looked at the FtT’s conclusions as to whether or not one of the aims of Freemasonry might qualify as “religious” within the terms of the definition of “religion” in Article 10(1)(b) of Directive 2004/83/EC on VAT.

In the event, the FtT held that “it seems that Freemasonry – just – falls short” [para 126]. But the FtT then went on to conclude that the aims of the Grand Lodge included aims of a philosophical nature and that

“If we have misinterpreted the meaning of ‘philosophical’ we would have found that ‘religious’ was wide enough to encompass the tenets of Freemasonry” [para 143].

This struck us as somewhat muddled, on the grounds that “philosophy” and “religion” (in our view at least) are not interchangeable terms. But it does point up the difficulty of definition for the purposes of secular law; and it is significant that the FtT quoted Lord Toulson’s working definition of “religion” in R (Hodkin & Anor) v Registrar-General of Births, Deaths and Marriages [2013] UKSC 77 and the conclusion that Scientology was a religion. The FtT also noted Lord Toulson’s disclaimer that what he intended was “a description and not a definitive formula”; but given the complexities of definition we suspect that Hodkin is going to be quoted every time the issue arises in future.

In which connexion, Louisa Hodkin and Alessandro Calcioli were duly married on 23 February.

Forthcoming event

This year Heythrop College is celebrating its 400th anniversary. The next in the Loschert Lecture series, which is one of the ways in which the anniversary is being marked, will take place on Wednesday 26 March at the College, Kensington Square, London W8  5HN, at 6.00 for 6.30 pm. Lord Daniel Brennan QC will speak on “Christian Responsibility in Public Life – the 21st Century Challenges”. Lord Brennan was Chairman of the Bar in 1999 and has been a life peer since 2000. He is a member of Matrix Chambers and specialises in commercial law, international law and international arbitration. On the theme of his lecture he writes:

“I am interested not just in the concept of responsibility but how to manifest it in actual practice both to fellow Christians and to secular society in this new century. Principles are stable but how to express and persuade is very different these days to years ago”

Please e-mail if you wish to attend. The lecture will be followed by a drinks reception. Kensington Square is immediately adjacent to High St Kensington Underground station: turn right on leaving the station, and then take the first right down Derry Street.

And finally . . . . . . . . . commuters and prayer

On 24 February, the Church of England launched its latest App Daily Prayer “to enable people to pray with the aid of their smartphone and tablets”, which the Daily Telegraph suggests might “encourage stressed commuters to pray” and “instead of anxiously reading work emails or talking loudly about the fact that they are on the train, they will be able to find inspiration from daily texts from the 1662 Book of Common Prayer or its modern version”.

Daily Prayer is available as a free download for iPhone/iPad from the iTunes store, and “gives people the ability to follow the daily pattern of morning, evening and night prayer in the words of the Anglican liturgy as part of the rhythm of prayer followed by Christians across the globe”.

The App is the fifth to be released by the CofE and complements existing apps: Reflections for Daily Prayer; Sunday Worship; and its Lectionary of Services. As we enter the penitential season of Lent, those travelling into Paddington might appreciate the thoughts of John Betjeman on “the old Great Western Railway” [1].

[1] John Betjeman, “Distant View of a Provincial Town”, Continual Dew, 1937, Murray.

4 thoughts on “Religion and law round up – 2nd March

  1. Working at heights has always been considered as one of the greater risks people face in the workplace. The new guides issued by the HSE are to be welcomed, particularly the emphasis on the fact that ladders and step ladders are not banned, or have never been banned.

    In reading the guides it would be easy to miss one of the most important parts of keeping people safe in the workplace, and a church or religious meeting place is a workplace as far as the regulations are concerned, one must ask is the task which includes working at height necessary? If it is necessary (e.g. cleaning gutters) then what is the most appropriate and safest way of completing the task. The most appropriate and safest way will be dictated by the risk assessment. The HSE does publish a pro-forma for risk assessment, however, it is not the format in which the assessment is completed that matters but rather the details of the work and its inherent risks that will dictate the safest way of completing the task.

    As a safety professional of many years I have dealt with issues in churches where working at height has gone drastically wrong. The root cause is often a failure by the church council, or governing body, to have a proactive safety culture which would require risk assessment, and also does not consider health and safety as a barrier to undertaking its day to day activities. After all, as people of faith our first priority should be the care of others. It wasn’t the HSE that first issued safety guidance for heights; Deuteronomy 22:8 “When you build a new house, make a parapet around your roof so that you may not bring the guilt of bloodshed on your house if someone falls from the roof”.

  2. Thank you for your comments. To some, health and safety may not seem to be obvious “law and religion” topics, but we try to include issues that we feel will be of relevance with regard to operational issues of religious organizations. As you state, tasks such as cleaning gutters, replacing light bulbs and some basic cleaning are all routine tasks faced by a PCC, church council or governing body, and these are often comprised of people with very little H&S awareness. Bell towers seem to be a potentially hazardous area, both in the access to some ringing chambers by near vertical ladders, and the process of muffling the bells, although here there appears to be a greater awareness of the hazards involved.
    Although not a health and safety professional, I come from an industrial background where one of my responsibilities was the health and safety agenda of a group of companies, and whilst my own PCC benefits from members with skills in this area, I sometimes wonder whether this is the case elsewhere.

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