Religion and Law round-up – 14th December

Advent 3, and only 11 shopping days until Christmas (and 47 working days until the Church Roof Fund deadline)

The Law Society’s sharia practice note

We have commented previously on the Law Society’s ill-fated practice note on drafting a sharia-compliant will, withdrawn with apologies in November. However, Legal Futures now reports that it has become apparent, as the result of an adjudication by the Society’s freedom of information adjudicator, that the note was drawn up without any input from experts in sharia. The relevant part of the adjudication reads as follows:

“On 9 September the applicant wrote to The Law Society with questions concerning the recently published Sharia Succession Rules Practice Note (‘the Note’). He asked who the individual author(s) had been [and] whether any religious organisations or lobbyists had been consulted before the decision to publish the Note … The Society said that no ‘Sharia Law experts’ had been consulted and that no external individuals or organisations had lobbied the Society or been involved in drafting the Note” [our emphasis].

Curiouser and curiouser. While it might have made sense for the Society to offer practitioners an expert view on how to draft a sharia-compliant will, it doesn’t look as if the practice note offered that at all. Moral: if that’s the kind of will you want (which neither of us does), you’d better go to specialist.

And another curious thing . . .

On Monday, Neil Addison observed:

“For some strange reason the press today are covering two stories about cases that happened months ago: see the Guardian & the Telegraph for example. The cases [NHS v Child B [2014] EWHC 3486 (Famand Newcastle upon Tyne Hospitals Foundation Trust v LM [2014] EWCOP 454] both relate to Jehovah Witnesses and their well-known disapproval of blood transfusions … Neither case creates any new law or sets out any new principle. The question in both cases was the same: namely, is the person needing the transfusion in any position to make a decision refusing the treatment? In the case of a child the answer was ‘No’, so the Court made the decision; but in the case of the adult the answer was ‘Yes’, so their decision was respected”.

Verb. sap.

Same-sex marriage

10 December was the first day on which those in civil partnerships in England and Wales could convert their partnerships into marriage, an event on which Colin Coward commented:

“From today, many members of the Church of England, lay and ordained, will convert their civil partnership to marriage. Canon Jeremy Pemberton and Fr Andrew Foreshew-Cain will no longer be the only married gay priests in the Church of England – numbers of lesbian and gay clergy are known to be converting. The House of Bishops is confronted with the challenge of disciplining or ignoring or accepting the presence of same-sex married clergy across the country.”

The Scottish Government has announced that same-sex marriage ceremonies will be possible from 31 December 2014, and on Tuesday the College of Bishops of the Scottish Episcopal Church issued Guidance for Clergy and Lay Readers in the light of the Marriage and Civil Partnership (Scotland) Act 2014. This will be discussed further in a post next week.

Northern Ireland and abortion

On Wednesday the Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission announced that it has notified the Department of Justice (DOJ) that it intends to begin proceedings in the High Court seeking judicial review of the current law on termination of pregnancy:

“Since April 2013 we have repeatedly advised the Department of Justice that the existing law is, in the Commission’s view, a violation of human rights. The Commission is seeking a change in the law so that women and girls in Northern Ireland have the choice of accessing a termination of pregnancy in circumstances of serious malformation of the foetus, rape or incest… The recent consultation published by the DOJ does not commit to making the changes that are necessary. It deals with cases of lethal foetal abnormality while only seeking public opinion on cases of sexual crime including rape and incest.

The issues raised by this challenge are of public interest and the Commission recognises the sensitivities of this case. Given the vulnerability of women and girls in these situations, the Commission considers it appropriate to use its powers and bring this legal challenge in its own name. It also reiterates the human rights obligation of the Northern Ireland Executive to provide adequate services to care for and support women and girls who choose to continue with a crisis pregnancy.”

Church of England – reports

Two high-profile reports involving the CofE have been in the news this week: Feeding Britain, the report of the All-Party Parliamentary Inquiry into Hunger in the United Kingdom; and Talent Management for Future Leaders and Leadership Development for Bishops and Deans: A New Approach, the report of Lord Green’s Steering Group for Archbishops and the Development and Appointments Group (DAG). Although the former is not an official parliamentary publication[1], it is nevertheless influential and has attracted wide media attention. The Green Report is not yet available on the CofE website, but is already in quite wide circulation and has resulted in significant comment, summarized by Thinking Anglicans, here.

Turkey and Article 9

We noted a couple of ECtHR judgments in which Turkey, by no means for the first time, was held to be in breach of Article 9 ECHR. Notwithstanding the fact that the Constitution is strictly secularist, Turkey seems to have a serious problem accommodating its religious minorities – particularly the Alevis, whom some Turks clearly regard as heretical Muslims. The 2013 International Religious Freedom Report of the US Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labor concludes that:

“The [Turkish] government imposed numerous restrictions that affected members of religious groups. Local government officials did not enforce constitutional guarantees on freedom of religion for members of minority religious groups”.

Not an ideal situation for a candidate for membership of the EU…

Poland and religious slaughter

On Wednesday Poland’s Constitutional Tribunal ruled by a majority that ritual slaughter is protected under the Constitution’s guarantee of religious freedom. The Union of Polish Jewish Communities had petitioned the Tribunal after an exemption for ritual slaughter from the requirement of pre-stunning had been allowed to lapse on 1 January 2013, rendering it illegal de facto both for Jews and Muslims. In a press release, the Tribunal’s  ruling was summarised as follows:

“The obligation to respect the freedom of religion was strictly related to the protection of the inherent and inalienable dignity of the person. The Tribunal stated that the guarantee of the freedom of religion, provided in Article 53(1) and (2) of the Constitution, comprised the carrying out of any activities (practices, rites or rituals) which were religious in character. That also included unusual religious activities, or even those that might be unpopular with a majority of the public. The constitutional protection also included ritual slaughter, which had been practised for centuries by the followers of Judaism and Islam. Ritual slaughter was also subject to protection under Article 9 of the Convention, which had been emphasised by the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg.”

[With thanks to  for the link to the press release.]

New websites

The Office for National Statistics has unveiled a prototype for a future ONS website – “the culmination of three months development … based on feedback from hundreds of users of the current website. The considerable engagement we have had from users throughout this project has been invaluable and without them this prototype would never have happened.” However, the new site currently carries the caveat “PLEASE BE AWARE – this is a test website. It may contain inaccuracies or be misleading. remains the official website for ONS information”.

Elsewhere in the blogosphere, Mark Hill’s Ecclesiastical Law website was re-launched in November 2014 and continues to “serve as a repository for the ever-growing corpus of law which affects the Church of England and Freedom of Religion more generally.” It includes links to Mark’s own publications and to certain of more recent academic articles not yet published elsewhere. Readers will find a useful section devoted to the C of E clergy discipline regime, as work in progress, one dedicated to the faculty jurisdiction and, if they have not yet discovered it, a link to a complete set of judgments from Chichester Consistory Court from January 2000.

We have instituted no significant changes to Law and Religion UK, although readers will be aware of some recent additions to the photos for the masthead, and apart from the weekly round-up, we include a suggested citation.

Information for the Masses

Leaving his concerns on the Marriage Pledge, summarized here, Dr Ed Peters has turned his attention to issues of attendance at Mass in a series of posts addressing a number of related issues: whether two identical obligations to attend Mass require two distinct satisfactions[2], an issue on which Fr Z has also posted.

  • what kind of Mass is able to satisfy an attendance obligation,here;
  • whether only the Mass intended for a specific Sunday or holy day of obligation counts for the satisfaction of one’s obligation to attend Mass on that day, here;
  • what is the earliest a Mass on the ‘evening of the preceding day’ (c. 1248 § 1) can start and still satisfy one’s Sunday or holy day Mass attendance obligation?, here; and
  • how much of Mass can one miss for it still to counts for one’s obligation?— “probably the single most common canonical question lay people ask”, here.

Quick Links

  • Church of England: Week in Westminster, 8th – 12th December 2014. Summary of Bishops contributions to debates in the House of Lords. In the House of Commons, the Second Church Estates Commissioner, the Rt Hon Sir Tony Baldry MP, answered questions about the maintenance of cathedrals, church repairs, bat damage in churches and general election hustings. These were preceded by questions to George Eustice, the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs.
  • Catherine Shelley, Ecclesiastical Law Society: Advent Newsletter, including: a report from General Synod; the first of a series of snippets from the CofE Canons; and a range of events for the diary, including the AGM and a call for nominations to various posts. 
  • Westminster Faith Debates: Vision – what does the Church of England offer the next generation? Podcast of the fifth and final debate in the series which took place on 4 December.
  • Office of National Statistics: Mortality in the United Kingdom, 1983-2013. Overall number of deaths in UK was 13% lower in 2013 than in 1983; 59% reduction in the number of infant deaths for boys and 58% for girls over this period; majority of deaths in the 80+ age group (46% for men and 63% for women); cancer the most common broad disease group in 2013 for men and women in UK, compared with circulatory diseases a decade earlier; age-standardised mortality rates (ASMRs) for Scotland were the highest of all the constituent countries over the period.
  • Office of National Statistics: Social Protection, European Comparisons of Expenditure, 2012 Estimates related to social protection from across 33 European countries based on Eurostat data from the European System of Integrated Social Protection Statistics (ESSPROS).
  • The PluRel Blog carries an interesting post on The Politics of Religious Freedom.
  • Church of England: Week in Westminster, 8th – 12th December 2014. Summary of Bishops contributions to debates in the House of Lords. In the House of Commons, the Second Church Estates Commissioner, the Rt Hon Sir Tony Baldry MP, answered questions about the maintenance of cathedrals, church repairs, bat damage in churches and general election hustings. These were preceded by questions to George Eustice, the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs.
  • Bro Duncan PBGV: Be More Dog (for Advent). Canine musings of an opinion voiced by Pope Francis that pets go to paradise.

And finally . . .

How might a ladle, rubber gloves and a pair of binoculars have saved George Osborne £14.25M?: Stop sniggering at the back, there. This has nothing to do with Steve Bell’s depiction of the Chancellor! In fact these are all part of the cheap and cheerful essential maintenance kit highlighted by the National Churches Trust for taking care of places of worship. Their use was demonstrated at SPAB’s first Maintenance Co-operatives Project national conference From Gutter to Spire in York on Friday 21 November. It is estimated that for places of worship, every £1 not spent on planned preventative maintenance is likely cost £20 in emergency repairs. Encouragingly, the conference was attended by 85 people. However, for those in need of more urgent repairs to roofing and rainwater systems, we have summarized some of the legal issues associated with the Listed Places of Worship Roof Repair Fund here.


[1] All-Party Groups are informal groups of members of both Houses with a common interest in particular issues. The views expressed in this Report are those of the Inquiry team established by the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Hunger and Food Poverty. The report was funded with support from the Archbishop of Canterbury’s Charitable Trust.

[2] i.e. when a holy day of obligation falls on a Saturday or Monday and is not transferred or dispensed, some wonder whether attendance at an evening Mass on the first day simultaneously satisfies both the obligation for the first day and the obligation for the second. [Note by FC: For answer next week: “What’s the difference between tenor clef and Greek?”]

One thought on “Religion and Law round-up – 14th December

  1. The decision of the NIHRC to launch a legal challenge on Abortion provision in Northern Ireland really does anger me

    Despite the best efforts of pro-abortion activists there is no International Treaty or Convention which makes Abortion a Human Right. Similarly the European Court of Human Rights has consistently refused to declare Abortion a right under the European Convention.

    Also there is no Discrimination, different parts of the UK have their own legislatures which are entitled to reach different decisions on Criminal and Health issues.

    What the Commission is doing is using public money in order to push its own views by using the Courts for a publicity stunt.

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