Religion and law round up – 16th March

A week of important dates and misleading headlines, but relatively few legislative developments

With a bumper crop of updates this week, parliamentary news on the progress of the Anti-Social Behaviour Bill and the debates on Mitochondrial Transfer and Wind Turbines in the South West have been posted separately.  Similarly, the number of recent consistory court judgements and directions warrants a stand-alone post;  these cases include the reordering of churches, sale of a silver medieval chalice to the British Museum and the re-interment of unidentifiable bones.

20th  Anniversary of first CofE women Priests

In January we carried a report on the service in St Martin in the Fields Church marking 70 years since the ordination of Dr Florence Li Tim-Oi, the Anglican Communion’s first woman priest, on 25 January, 1944. It was a further 50 years before 32 women, including the Reverend Prebendary Angela Berners-Wilson, were ordained in Bristol Cathedral on 12 March 1994.  Berners-Wilson has been the Chaplain at Bath University since May 2004, and the CofE site carries an interview where she talks about her memories of the day and how life has been since her ordination.

Women in the Episcopate

All 13 dioceses that have voted to date have supported the motion. Next Saturday, we in Oxford along with Synods in Bath & Wells, Birmingham, Bradford, Lichfield, Liverpool, and Peterborough will vote.  An analysis of the results has been tabulated by Peter Owen.

First same-sex couples give notice of marriage

Thursday 13 March was the earliest day on which same-sex couples in England and Wales who wished to be among the first to marry on 29 March could give formal notice to their local register office – for most marriages or civil partnerships at least 16 days’ notice is required. No doubt many of these couples are ”likely to seek some recognition of their new situation in the context of an act of worship” and, as with civil partnerships, clearly will need to exercise their “ pastoral discretion about when more informal kind of prayer, at the request of the couple, might be appropriate in the light of the circumstances”. This aspect of the House of Bishops’ Statement appears to have received less attention from the clergy than the same-sex marriage issue.

Details of the civil requirements for same-sex marriage are provided on the website of the Department of Culture, Media and Sport and the Government Equalities Office. The site also notes that same-sex couples who married abroad under foreign law and are currently treated as civil partners will be recognised as being married in England and Wales from 13 March 2014, such as Celia Kitzinger and Sue Wilkinson who in 2006 were unsuccessful in having their 2003 Canadian marriage recognized by the courts, Wilkinson v Kitzinger [2006] EWHC 2022 (Fam).

However, couples within England and Wales wishing to convert civil partnerships into marriages, and married people wanting to change their legal gender while remaining married, will be not able to do until “the end of 2014”. Same-sex weddings in some British consulates and overseas armed forces bases will be possible for 29 March; and arrangements for same sex weddings in military chapels will be in place from June 2014.

Chapel of St Mary Undercroft

In our January post Practical church-sharing – or not, we considered different aspects of church-sharing after the same-sex marriage came into force, including the Chapel of St Mary Undercroft following a backbench debate on 12 December 2013, during which Chris Bryant (Rhondda) (Lab) suggests:

“the one place where it will not be possible to perform such a [same-sex] marriage is the Crypt Chapel of Parliament. Would it not be a good idea if that were handed over to all the faiths, rather than just one faith?”

An article in the Church Times suggested that this was “to circumvent the legal ban on same-sex marriages [in the CofE] that would continue to apply to the chapel after [these] become lawful.  This week, in a subsequent article “Westminster rules on gay marriage in shared churches and chapels”, it appears as though these moves which were supported by MPs and the Speaker have been unsuccessful.  As we noted at the time, although physically within the Palace of Westminster and ecclesiastically part of the Royal Peculiar of Westminster Abbey, the Chapel does not come under the jurisdiction of a bishop but is under the monarch’s control, i.e. Crypt Chapel is not Parliament’s to hand over. Thus once the Queen had decided to retain the status quo, any “Westminster rules” were irrelevant in this context.

Bed, breakfast and same-sex couples  yet again

The Daily Telegraph reports that yet another couple, Sue and Jeff Green, who run a bed & breakfast in Llandrindod Wells and who advertised that only married couples were allowed to occupy double rooms in their establishment, are going direct to Strasbourg after getting a letter from the Equality and Human Rights Commission telling them that they could be guilty of discriminating against same-sex couples.

The couple has gone direct to the ECtHR because last November, in Bull & Anor v Hall & Anor [2013] UKSC 73, the Supreme Court unanimously dismissed Mr and Mrs Bull’s appeal against the Court of Appeal’s ruling that they had discriminated unlawfully against Mr Hall and Mr Preddy by refusing them a double-bedded room in their private hotel on the grounds that they believed as Christians that sexual activity should take place only within the context of (heterosexual) marriage.

How long this will take to get to court is anyone’s guess. The likelihood of its failure, however, is slightly more predictable.

St Margaret’s Children and Family Care: no further appeal

On 14 March the Office of the Scottish Charity Regulator announced that it would not be appealing against the decision in St Margaret’s Children and Family Care Society v Office of the Scottish Charity Regulator [2014] Scottish Charity Appeals Panel App 02/13.

Simon Hughes and secular marriage

We reported Simon Hughes’s speech to the Liberal Democrat spring conference in which he called for the separation of civil and religious marriage in England and Wales, with a secular, state-regulated ceremony following which the couple could exchange religious vows if they so wished. In short, the French model.

Our feeling is that what has brought this to a head is the Supreme Court ruling in R (Hodkin & Anor) v Registrar General of Births, Deaths and Marriages [2013] UKSC 77 – and Hughes said as much himself, suggesting that Hodkin had left marriage law as a “terrible muddle”. That, we think, is misconceived. Hodkin was about the registration of buildings as places of public worship and whether or not Scientology is a “religion” and what Scientologists do is “worship”: the marriage issue was very much secondary to that. If marriage law in England and Wales is a mess (which it probably is) it is not Hodkin that has made it so.

Assisted suicide

On Friday we had a closer look at the whether assisted suicide has really “moved a significant step closer” as suggested by the Daily Telegraph, or “… could be legal in months” as reported by the Daily Mail. The current position was outlined by Lord Faulks, (Con), Minister of State, Ministry of Justice, in his summing up of the short debate secured by Baroness Jay of Paddington (Lab), Hansard HL Deb 5 March 2014, vol 752, col 1409,

“any change to the law in this area is a matter for Parliament to determine as an issue of individual conscience, [i.e. a “free vote”]. In amending the Suicide Act by section 59 of the Coroners and Justice Act 2009, Parliament confirmed that it should remain an offence to intentionally encourage or assist suicide or an attempted suicide”.


“[t]he Government will take a collective view on Lord Falconer’s Bill in order to respond to the debate on its specific provisions at, but not before, Second Reading. As things stand, however, no date has been set for Second Reading of the Bill”.

Nevertheless, this Friday the Church Times reported “Government sets up free vote on assisted-dying Bill” following comments made by “a spokeswoman” from the MoJ, which although have yet to be translated into a date for the Second Reading.

House of Bishops’ Statement

The HoB Statement of Pastoral Guidance on Same Sex Marriage continues to attract a substantial amount of comment, which by Tuesday 11 March had reached volume 10 on the Thinking Anglicans site, and sometimes gives the impression that it must have been directed ad scholas. However, the lack of attributed legal comment appears to reflect the uncertainties in the application of the legislation in this sensitive area, on which an outline of the basic facts is posted here. At the present time, discussions between bishops and their clergy are at an early stage and speculation on possible sanctions, whether via the Ecclesiastical Jurisdiction Measure or the Clergy Discipline Measure, seems premature.

Richard III judicial review

The two-day judicial review into the grant of the licence by the Ministry of Justice for the exhumation of remains of persons unknown that might have been those of Richard III concluded on Friday 14 March with judicial humour; Mr Justice Ouseley commented “I would have thought he [Richard III] would have raised an eyebrow at the thought of a public consultation over where he should be buried.”

The BBC reports that Lady Justice Hallett, sitting with Mr Justice Ouseley and Mr Justice Haddon-Cave, said the court would take time to consider its judgment, which commentators interpret as being within four to six weeks.  Neil Parpworth of De Montfort University, (Leicester’s other university) placed the judicial review in context:

“Since this is a review not an appeal, the University of Leicester will retain the power to decide where the remains are to be reinterred, as per the exhumation licence granted to it by the Ministry of Justice.

What it may well have to do, however, is to undertake a consultation process whereby interested parties, such as the alliance, are given a proper opportunity to express their views. At its conclusion, which may be a number of months later, the university will be entitled to reach a decision which may be the same as its original decision.

Crucially, that decision will be beyond further legal challenge, since it will now have been reached in a procedurally fair manner and the authorities will be able to continue with their plans for Leicester Cathedral to be Richard III’s final resting place”.

Chancel repairs in the news yet again

Andrew Glover had a piece on the BBC website on Thursday: Chancel repair liability: The ancient law that could hit house prices. As we stated in our recent post Chancel Repair Liability – Revision Notes, there have been no new legal developments (or apparently any claims) regarding CRL since the deadline of midnight on 12 October 2013, which does not quite square with Saturday’s National Secular Society link “Chancel repairs causing untold distress all over the country – NSS quoted”.

Religious slaughter

Last week the President-elect of the British Veterinary Association, John Blackwell, told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme that animals should be pre-stunned before slaughter to render them “insensible to pain until death supervenes … It’s important at the time of death for the animals’ welfare not to be compromised”. He added that he “respected the beliefs of religious sects”; however, if pre-stunning became obligatory it would bring a total end to kosher slaughter and probably to halal slaughter as well.

But it won’t happen so long as David Cameron is Prime Minister. On Wednesday he told the Knesset that

“When people challenged kosher shechita I have defended it. I fought as a back-bench Member of Parliament against the last attempt to do something to change this. And there’s no way I’m allowing that to change now I’m Prime Minister. On my watch shechita is safe in the UK”.

End of story. Possibly.

[But what is  the PM’s position on food-labelling, which could have a significant indirect impact?]‬

President of the LDS in court (sort of)

Regular readers may remember that Thomas S Monson, President of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, was summoned to appear at Westminster Magistrates’ Court in response to a private prosecution attempt by Tom Phillips, a disaffected former Mormon who argues that asking members of the Church to make financial contributions while promoting theological doctrines which “might be untrue or misleading” could be a breach of the Fraud Act 2006.

On Friday, oral argument in the case was heard  before District Judge Riddle. According to a brief report in the Salt Lake Tribune, Monson’s counsel, James Lewis QC and Neil Addison, argued that the statements complained of were matters of faith, not statements of fact, that the court could not legitimately rule on the veracity of religious beliefs and that the private prosecution was vexatious,

Judgment is expected this coming Thursday. We shall report the result asap.

And finally . . . . . 

For those having trouble with their diet during this penitential season, the Lent and Lenten Practices Q&As on United States Conference of Catholic Bishops web site provide the definitive answer:

“Abstinence laws consider that meat comes only from animals such as chickens, cows, sheep or pigs – all of which live on land. Birds are also considered meat… Fish are a different category of animal. Salt and freshwater species of fish, amphibians, reptiles, (cold-blooded animals) and shellfish are permitted.”

This supports the assertion of Archbishop Gregory M Aymond that during Lent US Roman Catholics are permitted to eat alligator. The Archbishop said: “God has created a magnificent creature that is important to the state of Louisiana and it is considered seafood.” The Catholic Herald reports that “in accordance with this statement, Catholic can, if they wish, also consume turtles, snakes, lizards, and tortoises on Lenten Fridays. Alligator is a delicacy of Louisiana where it is often served deep-fried, in sandwiches, and even in cheesecake”.

[Alligator cheesecake???? No accounting for taste…]

[1] Although the developments at East Anstey, Chittlehampton and Black Torrington involved only two wind turbines at each site, their height (to the tip of the blade) was 25m.

[2] R Flello, Stoke-on-Trent South, (Lab)] 12 Mar 2014 : Col 170WHF.

[3] J Reese-Mogg, North East Somerset, (Con), 12 Mar 2014 : Col 168WH.

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