Religion and law round up – 7th September

A week of reviews and resignations rather than “hard law”

Second Church Estates Commissioner to stand down

On Monday Sir Tony Baldry, Conservative  MP for Banbury, announced that he has decided not to contest the seat in 2015. He is 64 and said he had decided to step down after “careful thought” and discussing the issue with his family:

“One of the consequences of now having five year fixed-term parliaments is that, if I succeed in being re-elected at the forthcoming general election, given my age, most people will assume that parliament will be my last.”

The point of this for readers of this blog is that he occupies the position of Second Church Estates Commissioner and  answers parliamentary questions on Church of England matters. He also steers Church of England legislation through the House of Commons and occasionally intervenes to give the C of E view on issues such as same-sex marriage.

The Second Church Estates Commissioner is appointed by the Government: who will succeed Tony Baldry depends, for a start, on who wins the next election – or maybe, given the vagaries of current electoral politics, which party manages to form a coalition.

Human rights – the continuing debate

On Monday The Guardian carried an excellent piece by Joshua Rosenberg: Human rights legislation in the UK: a cut-out-and-keep guide. He concludes (as do we and, more to the point, as does Dominic Grieve) that

“If we want to be sure we can make our own decisions on human rights in future without any risk that they will be overturned by a foreign court, the way forward is clear: we shall have to leave the Council of Europe – and the European Union”.

First thoughts: “If only we’d thought of that”. Second thoughts: “But far more people read The Guardian than read L&RUK…”.

Law and religion – a novelist’s view

Also from The Guardian, Friday’s edition included a fascinating article on the interactions between law and religious belief by Ian McEwan. In The law versus religion he ruminates on a series of judgments (mainly from the Family Division) and the moral dilemmas that can sometimes arise, starting with A (Children), Re [2000] EWCA Civ 254, the tragic case of the conjoined Maltese twin girls. The reason for the piece is that his latest novel, The Children Act, is about a High Court judge who has to deal with a case involving an adolescent boy and, says the publisher’s blurb, “a matter of life and death bringing science and religion into direct conflict”. But his piece in The Guardian is well worth reading. As to the novel, we might tell you once one of us has read it.

How equal is marriage across the UK?

This week the House of Commons Library updated its Research paper RP14/29: Marriage of same sex couples across the UK, first published in May this year and subtitled What’s the same and what’s different?  Readers might reasonably ask “well, what’s new?” to which the answer would be “nothing, yet”. But that’s not really the point of the paper: it is “to Members of Parliament in support of their parliamentary duties and is not intended to address the specific circumstances of any particular individual.”

Despite its caveat on updating[1], it provides a convenient snapshot of marriage law within the UK at the time of its last amendment (i.e. 1 September 2014).  Of particular use is the table on pages 2 to 4 providing an “at-a-glance” comparison of the provisions applicable in England and Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland.  However, as the paper is only concerned with the UK, it does not include the Jersey or the Isle of Man, which have provisions for civil partnership, or Guernsey which has neither: convenient summaries of LGBT rights are to be found, here, here, and here.

Rights of Way across churchyards

On Thursday we posted a request from Ian Thornton, who is completing his LLM in Canon Law at Cardiff University, for assistance in sourcing information for his dissertation based on a specific case relating to the establishment of a right of way across a churchyard, but with potential broader implications on the clash between secular and canon law over the designation by local authorities of public footpaths through churchyards. Ian may be contacted at

SS Peter & Paul, Wantage, IMG_0624(2)Access across churchyards does not often feature in ecclesiastical or secular case law, or in the literature, but it is an issue that many take for granted: footpaths across six different churchyards feature of David’s morning runs around Wantage. Checking on Oxfordshire County Council’s Definitive Map revealed that of these, only four had designated footpaths, not a surprise in the case of the one leading to a permissive path, but unexpected in relation to the well-used, paved footpath across a closed churchyard.

The Ramblers Association is right to be concerned with Paths in Crisis, but out of the 117,000 miles of rights of way in England, it is not immediately obvious to see why it chose to take action on the 80-metre footpath running through the churchyard of St John the Baptist’s, Widford – the topic of Ian’s dissertation – on the slender premise that “as the path didn’t appear on the definitive map, it didn’t have any legal protection, and so could be closed off at any time.” As we await with interest the findings of Ian’s work, perhaps PCCs should investigate the status of paths through their churchyards, or even buy into the Caring for God’s Acre initiative.

Quick Links

And finally . . . . .

Brooks Newmark MP (Braintree, Con), the Minister for Civil Society, was quite rightly taken to task by Archdruid Eileen of the Beaker Folk of Husborne Crawley for his reported comment that Charities should stay out of politics and “stick to their knitting”.  The post Getting Crochet-y with a Knit comments:

“… the Beaker Folk Knitting Circle (registered charity) are knitting a gigantic sock. We’ll be sending it to Brooks Newmark. We’ll leave him to work out what to do with it. If we made any suggestions, that would be interfering in politics.”

Furthermore, the BF Knitting Circle participation in the annual Age UK/Innocent Big Knit fundraising event might now fall within the provisions of the Transparency of Lobbying, Non Party Campaigning and Trade Union Administration Act 2014. Perhaps they should team up with The Woolsack, the promoters of British wool, and persuade Mr Newmark to establish an Associate Parliamentary Group to further their interests[2]


[1] “It should not be relied upon as being up to date; the law or policies may have changed since it was last updated; and it should not be relied upon as legal or professional advice or as a substitute for it. A suitably qualified professional should be consulted if specific advice or information is required.”

[2] A new Guide to the Rules on All-Party Groups was published in July 2014, following the House’s approval of various changes in May 2014.

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