Religion and law round-up – 21st June

 A high profile for climate change this week with a new Lambeth declaration, a mass lobby of Parliament and the Pope’s encyclical Laudato si’

Climate change

In terms of its discussion of possible approaches to the mitigation of climate change, the most important 200-page document of the week was perhaps the World Energy Outlook Special Report of the International Energy Agency, (IEA), Energy and Climate Change. This complements the Policy Paper What will global annual emissions of greenhouse gases be in 2030, and will they be consistent with avoiding global warming of more than 2°C?, issued on 4 May by Nicholas Stern and others for ESRC Centre for Climate Change Economics and Policy (CCCEP).

Against this background, the publication of the Pope’s Encyclical Laudato si’ was a welcome intervention in highlighting the moral and ethical issues; as Lord Stern commented “Moral leadership on climate change from the Pope is particularly important because of the failure of many heads of state and government around the world to show political leadership”; along with most climate scientists, he acknowledged that Laudato si’ is “founded in the best science”. The urgency of the situation is stressed at several points within the document, which acknowledges that “the effects of climate change will be felt for a long time to come, even if stringent measures are taken now”, [170]. 

The document quite justifiably rules out the notion of a “technical fix” as a solution to global warming [9, 14], and apart from a minor quibble on the over-simplified explanation of global warming [23], the most problematic part for some was that relating to carbon trading [171], and its apparent criticism of “the strategy of buying and selling ‘carbon credits’” – an issue we will explore in a later post. We have now updated our initial report Laudato si’: On care for our common home to include links to the presentations made at the Press Conference and the statement of the Church of England welcoming its publication.

Within the Church of England, a new Lambeth Declaration on Climate Change was launched on June 17 by the Bishop of Salisbury, the Rt Revd Nicholas Holtam, the Church of England’s lead bishop on the environment. The launch was at ecumenical services in Westminster, London, to mark the national lobby of Parliament over the forthcoming COP21/CMP 11 meeting of the United Nations Climate Change Conference in Paris, France, 30 November to 11 December 2015. On Friday, the papers for the next month’s meeting of General Synod on 10-13 July were published including: GS 2003 – Combatting Climate Change: The Paris Summit and the Mission of the Church; GS 2004 – Climate Change and Investment Policy; GS Misc 1110 – Ethical Investment Advisory Group and the National Investing Bodies; GS Misc 1113 – Birmingham Diocesan Synod Motion on Fossil Fuel Disinvestment; and GS Misc 1114 – Oxford Diocesan Synod Motion on Fossil Fuel Disinvestment.

The Church Times reports that in York, the Synod will be asked not only to urge governments to tackle global warming, but to put the Church’s own house in order. Referring to the Paris Summit, the General Secretary of the Synod, William Fittall, said at a press conference about the agenda “the environment theme is a big one for obvious reasons,”. Asked to contrast the Synod’s response to climate change and the encyclical published by the Vatican this week, Mr Fittall said that “you would struggle to put a cigarette paper between [them]”.

In the courts

Three hearings of interest this week:

  • In Northern Ireland, the Queen’s Bench Division heard the Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission’s application for judicial review of the current Northern Irish abortion law: there is a helpful report of proceedings in the Belfast Telegraph. Horner J reserved judgment.
  • In Nottingham, Canon Jeremy Pemberton’s discrimination case was heard by an Employment Tribunal. Pemberton was claiming that the Acting Bishop of Southwell & Nottingham discriminated against him unlawfully, contrary to the Equality Act 2010, by refusing him a licence to officiate after he married his partner Laurence Cunnington. The Church of England issued a statement about the Tribunal proceedings and Thinking Anglicans has further comment here and here.
  • The Church Times reports that the Court of the Vicar-General of the Province of Canterbury dismissed the legal objection of the Priest-in-Charge of St George’s, Hanworth Park, London, the Revd Paul Stewart Williamson, to the election of the Archdeacon of Hackney, the Ven Rachel Treweek, as Bishop of Gloucester. Fr Williamson, who interjected during the ordination of the Revd Libby Lane as Bishop of Stockport, is well-known to canon lawyers as being declared a vexatious litigant in R v AG ex parte Reverend Paul Stewart Williamson [1997] EWHC Admin 691. The CT states that on 15 June 2015 the Court of the Vicar General debarred Fr Williamson from raising any further objection to the court. We will report on the case when details become available.

A forthcoming prosecution:

  • The BBC reports that a Belfast minister, Pastor James McConnell of the Whitewell Metropolitan Tabernacle, is to be prosecuted for remarks about Islam an Internet broadcast of a sermon in May last year. The Public Prosecution Service had offered him “an informed warning for an offence contrary to the Communications Act 2003” but he had refused to accept it and “the matter is now proceeding by way of a summary prosecution in the magistrates court”.

And a couple of judgments:

  • In A v Watchtower Bible and Tract Society (Trustees of) & Ors [2015] EWHC 1722 (QB) Globe J held the respondents vicariously liable to A for for personal injury and loss arising from sexual assaults by one Peter Stewart (now dead) between 1989 and 1994 when she was between the ages of about 4 and 9. We hope to post a note on the case in the coming week.
  • In R (British Academy of Songwriters, Composers and Authors & Ors) v Secretary of State for Business, Innovation and Skills & Anor [2015] EWHC 1723 (Admin) the exception to copyright infringement for private use has failed to survive a challenge in the High Court. Inserted s 28B in the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988 creates an exception to copyright, under which any person who legitimately acquires content (music, film, books or whatever) can copy that work for his or her own private use without infringing copyright. Green J held that the application for judicial review succeeded. Rosalind English provides a long and helpful analysis on UKHRB. Which saves us the pain of doing it ourselves…

Forthcoming event

On Tuesday 23 June, there will be a Faith and the Public Professions Seminar, “When it comes to religion, is the law an ass?” at Goldsmiths, University of London. The event will be chaired by Professor Adam Dinham, and will include discussion from Dr David Perfect, Equality and Human Rights Commission, and Lord [Paul] Tyler, LibDem peer. The event will run from 5:30pm to 7pm at Goldsmiths in RHB 137, and will be followed by a wine reception. It’s free and open to the public: to book a place, please contact Timothy Stacey at

A brave Hungarian peasant girl …

Monday saw the 800th anniversary of the sealing of Magna Carta; and the Prime Minister used the occasion of his speech at Runnymede to say this:

“Magna Carta takes on further relevance today. For centuries, it has been quoted to help promote human rights and alleviate suffering all around the world. But here in Britain, ironically, the place where those ideas were first set out, the good name of ‘human rights’ has sometimes become distorted and devalued. It falls to us in this generation to restore the reputation of those rights – and their critical underpinning of our legal system.”

Was that a pledge to repeal the Human Rights Act 1998? Perhaps she did die in vain…

Infant cremation: England and Wales

On 15 June, Caroline Dinenage, Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Ministry of Justice), provided answers to a group of questions tabled the previous week by Daniel Kawczynski, following the independent inquiry into infant cremations at Emstrey Crematorium in Shrewsbury, commissioned by Shropshire Council, (questions 1388, 1462, 1463, 1464, and 1465). Daniel Kawczynski is MP for Shrewsbury and Atcham, which includes Emstrey, and these questions follow a similar inquiry to Simon Hughes, then Minister of State for Justice, (questions 225548 and 227773).

Acknowledging that what happened at Emstrey Crematorium over the course of more than a decade was totally unacceptable, the MoJ deeply sympathized with the parents in these tragic cases, and stated that this should never happen again; on the wider issue of an inspectorate of crematoria, “[t]he recommendations of the Independent Report, which took account of the report by the Bonomy Infant Cremation Commission, are receiving careful consideration and the Government will announce its conclusions in due course”.

Second Church Estate Commissioner’s Questions

After a brief welcome from the Speaker on taking up her new responsibilities, Caroline Spelman responded to questions on: the sustainability of church buildings and the lack of heating in churches such as St Mary’s in Lytchett Matravers, 18 Jun 2015 Vol 597(19) Col 461; the persecution of Christians in Iran, 18 Jun 2015 Vol 497(19) Col 463; and the well-being of CofE clergy and broadening the diversity of the General Synod, 18 Jun 2015 Vol 597(19) Col 465. We are not quite sure how the Church might give “some leadership to get more women in the Synod”, although one solution might be to encourage “middle-aged men” like Barry Sheerman not to stand for election this October. [After his birthday on 17 August 2015, Barry would be ineligible to stand as a churchwarden and certain other posts in the CiW, see our post Age-related milestones in the church].

On this last point, we note that in the Pentecost and Trinity edition of Gospel and Law, the Revd Dr Catherine Shelley noted that there is a surprising dearth of lawyers and archdeacons on General Synod, “which can lead to difficulties when the Synod is exercising its role as a legislative body. Synod Members are perhaps understandably reluctant to become involved in considering the minutiae of considering and improving new Measure and Regulations, and repealing redundant law.” However, it is likely that there will be at least one from the Oxford diocese, as Sir Tony Baldry has announced his intention to stand.

Human rights and charity in Ireland

Readers may be interested to learn that the Irish Parliament’s joint Sub-Committee on Human Rights relative to Justice and Equality Matters is currently taking evidence on a review of the Charities Act 2009 “with regard to its omission of human rights organisations to apply for charitable status”.

The 2009 Act bears a very strong family resemblance to the various UK Charities Acts: unsurprisingly so, given that the law in England and Wales traces its genesis back to the Statute of Charitable Uses 1601 and the law in Ireland to the derivative Statute of Pious Uses 1634. Unlike in Ireland, however, the promotion of human rights appears as a charitable purpose in all three UK statutes. It will be interesting to see what the Oireachtas makes of the omission.

Quick links

And finally … As some day it may happen

Staying with quotations from St Francis of Assisi, in a piece entitled Let the Whole World Tremble the Bishop of Providence Rhode Island, the Most Reverend Thomas J Tobin, had a rant against summer Mass congregations: hairy, manspreading slobs, women who dress way too young for their actual age, people coming to Mass carrying their water bottles and coffee mugs, and those “hyperactive gum-chewing kids with messy hair and dirty hands, checking their iPhones and annoying everyone within earshot or eyesight.” Ko-Ko couldn’t have put it better. Not really an issue for those of us in cassocks who can hide our water bottles in the choir stalls; likewise, others might choose to go with the tongue-in-cheek advice of Fr Z: “[n]o doubt His Excellency is addressing himself only to the Catholics of Providence. So, if you are not in that diocese pay no attention.”

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