Religion and law round up – 1st June

A very short retrospect on a very quiet week…

Department of Health revised guidance on abortion procedures

The Department of Health published two new documents relating to abortion:

Given recent controversies, perhaps the most significant point in the guidance is the statement that abortion on the grounds of gender alone is unlawful. In October 2013 the then DPP, Kier Starmer QC, had stated in the CPS blog that the law

“… does not, in terms, expressly prohibit gender-specific abortions; rather, it prohibits any abortion carried out without two medical practitioners having formed a view, in good faith, that the health risks (mental or physical) of continuance outweigh those of termination. This gives a wide discretion to doctors in assessing the health risks of a pregnant patient”.

Human Tissue Act 2004

A comment on the Erasmus blog, Anatomy, funerals and the church, about the annual commemoration and thanksgiving service at Southwark Cathedral for people who have donated their bodies for medical teaching and research prompted David to post on Anatomical teaching & research and the law.

Changing the date of Easter?

The Times (£) reported that the Pope is considering changing the date of Easter so that Roman Catholic and Orthodox Christians can celebrate it on the same day: at the moment the Eastern and Western Churches operate on different calendars (the Julian and Gregorian respectively), with the result that their dates for Easter Sunday rarely coincide. The Times said that Pope Francis raised the issue in his meeting in Jerusalem on Sunday with Patriarch Bartholomew. On his flight back to Rome the Pope apparently said that he and the Ecumenical Patriarch had discussed whether “something can be done” about the date for Easter. “It is a bit ridiculous”.

The Westminster Parliament had a go at this when it passed the Easter Act 1928, which provides in section 1 that “Easter-day shall, in the calendar year next but one after the commencement of this Act and in all subsequent years, be the first Sunday after the second Saturday in April”. The Act was to be brought into force by Order in Council, but the Government of the day stated that it would not lay the necessary Order without the general agreement of the Churches. Obviously, that agreement has never been forthcoming.

(In view of the apparent strength of “anti-Europe” feeling at the present time, one suspects that many in the UK would baulk at the thought of changing the present arrangements for Easter on the decision of the Pope. There would necessarily be the knock-on effect on the dates of the Ascension, a public holiday elsewhere in Europe, and of Pentecost/Whitsuntide.)

Richard III

For anyone left who is still interested in the Richard III saga UKHRB has posted a very detailed analysis of the Divisional Court’s judgment by David Hart QC. Well worth reading, not least for his comments on fairness and public interest litigation. Also notable are the judicial descriptions of some aspects of the case:

“It is fair to say that the relationship of Mr Nicolay and the other collateral relatives to their ancestor, Richard III, is, on any view, attenuated in terms of time and lineage”, [para. 82].

“The Burials Act 1857 is a paradigm example of a sparse Victorian statute”, [para.88].

Nevertheless, we should expect a further spike of interest when the design for the Leicester Cathedral’s reordering is announced, particularly from those interested in the fate of the Nicholson screens &c, and when details of the interment ceremony become known.  These, however, are primarily the domain of other publications: the Nooks and Corners column in Private Eye, and the new Thinking Liturgy web site, respectively.

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