Religion and law round-up – 19th July

The Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse got under way and the name of the new Minister for Faith & Integration emerged without the customary fanfare…   

New Minister for Faith & Integration

At the beginning of the week the Government made a very low-key announcement (in fact, so low-key that we only picked it up via Twitter) that the faith portfolio previously held by Baroness Warsi and Eric Pickles has been given to Baroness [Susan] Williams of Trafford, Parliamentary Under Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government. Gov.uk lists her responsibilities as follows:

  • departmental business in the House of Lords
  • local government finance and policy
  • integration and faith
  • HS2
  • Travellers
  • supporting the Secretary of State on City Deals and Troubled Families
  • women and equalities, including race equality (supporting the Department for Education in the Lords).

Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse

On 9 July the Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse was officially opened at the Queen Elizabeth II Conference Centre by its Chair, Hon Lowell Goddard DNZM, a judge of the High Court of New Zealand.

She has already written to religious leaders and others about retention/non‐destruction of documents relating to the Inquiry.

The Inquiry is expected to be a long one: in her opening statement she said that it was her “sincere hope and expectation that it will be possible to conclude the Inquiry’s work before the end of 2020.” In the meantime, the Inquiry intends to publish regular annual reports, containing recommendations, starting from 2016. It will also publish more frequent updates on its work as it progresses.

During a private meeting with survivors of clerical abuse earlier this week, the Archbishop of Canterbury is reported to have promised an “independently-led past cases review” to investigate sex abuse in the Church of England if the judge-led abuse inquiry does not look into it within six months. Marilyn Hawes, who was one of five people representing survivors’ groups at the Lambeth Palace meeting, said the archbishop had been compassionate and focused. The initiative was welcomed by Marilyn Hawes, the founder of Enough Abuse UK, who was one of five people representing survivors’ groups at the Lambeth Palace meeting. However, other groups at the meeting were less positive.

Clerical abuse and the Roman Catholic Church

Further to the commencement (and postponement) of the Vatican civil trial of the former nuncio Józef Wesołowski on which we reported last week, David Gibson of Religion News Service has posted “Pope Francis dumps 2 more bishops as house cleaning continues”. The has been picked up by Christian Today, Crux and elsewhere, and we will be unpicking aspects of the canon law involved in a post next week.  

With regard to Józef Wesołowski, Ruth Gledhill reports in Christian Today that he is back in the Vatican under house arrest, following his hospitalization on the day before he was due to face a Vatican trial on charges of possessing child pornography.

Refusal of exhumation request

This week, the Daily Telegraph carried the headline “Church refuses to allow exhumation request from pensioner unable to attend mother’s grave,” which was subtitled “The Church of England’s Consistory Court turns down request from wheelchair-bound Queenie Ivy Gooch, 81.” This Agency-sourced item relates to the recently-reported judgement Re St. Peter Gunton [2015] Norwich Const Ct, Ruth Arlow Ch, an analysis of which will be included in our consistory court round-up in the next few days.

Despite the headline, the Telegraph article is a non-sensational, factual report of the case which leaves the reader (and other media outets) to form their own opinion. We note that the circumstances of this case are very similar to those in Re St. Peter Gunton [2013] Norwich Const Ct, Ruth Arlow Ch in which the Chancellor refused two petitions for the exhumation of cremated remains from this churchyard for their re-interment nearby within the same churchyard. In these cases “the special circumstances relied upon related, in part, to difficulties of access to the graves in light of the advancing years and limited mobility of the petitioners.” Whilst from the consistory court’s point of view the issue of setting a precedent is one of the criteria identified by the Court of Arches in Re Blagdon Cemetery [2002] Fam 299; [2002] 3 WLR 603, there appear to be pastoral issues to be addressed regarding access. However, in the earlier case the Chancellor noted, [4], “[t]he local authority has assumed responsibility for the upkeep of the churchyard and as a result the grass is cut less frequently and the churchyard tended less well. The graves become, at times, overgrown and harder to access.”

Mix-up over reserved burial plot

Another recent consistory court judgement in the news this week was the Church Times report of Re Twyford Cemetery [2015] Oxford Const Ct, Alexander McGregor Ch. The CT article is behind a paywall, but we will be posting an analysis of this case in our monthly consistory court round-up. This is yet another example of “human error” by professionals associated with this sensitive area. The case is notable in that it turned on the interpretation of secular legislation, and it was necessary for the Chancellor to make on-the-spot decisions at the hearing in discussion with the parties involved.

The French and sects

Miviludes (the Mission interministérielle de vigilance et de lutte contre les dérives sectaires) is a French government agency tasked with:

  • observing and analysing movements perceived as constituting a threat to public order or that violate French law;
  • coordinating the appropriate response;
  • informing the public about potential risks; and
  • helping victims to receive aid.

Its activities are not entirely uncontroversial: critics claim (with what justification we are in no position to judge) that its activities tend to be driven as much by an unconscious anticlericalism as by a desire to defend laïcité. But be that as it may, on 2 July, the Court of Appeals in Paris upheld an earlier judgment that Miviludes was guilty of defaming the Society for the Defence of Tradition, Family and Property (TFP), an international lay Roman Catholic association founded in 1960 to defend “traditional Christian values”.

The case dates back to the publication in 2009 of the report of Miviludes for 2008, which mentioned the TFP. When the TFP complained, the 17th chamber of the Paris Criminal Court observed that “greater rigour can be expected in checking facts and greater prudence in expression when the text comes from a state body at the side of the Prime Minister – who can not engage in approximations”. On 2 July the Cour d’Appel de Paris upheld that conclusion.

Assisted suicide

The week also saw the end to the long battle of the late Tony Nicklinson and his widow, Jane, over the issue of assisted suicide in cases of locked-in syndrome and the compatibility of UK law with the right to respect for private and family life under Article 8 ECHR. In Nicklinson & Lamb v United Kingdom (nos. 2478/15 and 1787/15) the ECtHR declared the complaint inadmissible: that decision is final.

Quick links

  • Forum 18 News Service: AZERBAIJAN: Religious freedom survey, July 2015.
  • Elisabeth Becker, First Things: Dear New York Times: A Hijab is not a Burka.
  • David Gibson, Religion News Service: Pope Francis dumps 2 more bishops as house cleaning continues.
  • Church of England: InReview, August Edition, including a General Synod special  covering debates on Climate change, safeguarding legislation (on which we posted here and here), and more.
  • Church of England: InFocus, August’s edition, including an appeal for churchgoers to write to MPs over the new Assisted Suicide Bill, five-year celebrations for Acts 435, and more.
  • Church of England: Week in Westminster 13th-17th July 2015. This week bishops in the House of Lords spoke in debates about religious freedom, the BBC, and shared British values. The Bishop of St Albans led a debate on sustainability of rural communities. Bishops also spoke and voted on the Government’s Psychoactive Substances Bill, the Cities and Local Government Devolution Bill and on universal credit regulations and took part in debates on Private Member’s Bills on accessible sports grounds, online safety and a constitutional convention. The Bishop of Leicester, former Convenor of the Lords Spiritual, gave his final speech to the Lords before his retirement this summer.

Religion and Legal PluralismIMG_0282.jpeg copy 2

If you will forgive us plugging a book to which we have both contributed, Religion and Legal Pluralism, edited by Russell Sandberg, has just been published by Ashgate. It explores how religious laws are already accommodated under English law, particular issues that arise and theoretical analyses that seek to explore the extent to which religious legal systems should be permitted and recognised.

The first section, entitled “In Practice”, provides a number of case studies of how religious legal orders currently operate, ranging from clergy discipline in the Church of England, via the Quaker campaign for same sex marriage, to the use of experts in Roman Catholic marriage tribunals, as well as a chapters setting out the State law affecting religious groups and the findings of the Cardiff project on Islamic, Jewish and Catholic tribunals.

The second section, “Particular Issues”, focuses on matters that have previously neglected in the literature concerning religion and legal pluralism, including the use of quasi-legislation both by religious groups and by the State and the extent to which religions other than Islam, Judaism and Christianity enforce legal and other norms. Chapters focus in particular upon Buddhism, Roma groups, Jediism and Scientology.

The final section, “In Theory”, includes chapters exploring the extent to which and how religious legal systems should be recognised. These explore the different forms of legal pluralism, the motivations behind veiling, a call for secularist pluralism and the potential relevance of the systems theory of Niklas Luhmann. A major theme here is whether we can distinguish legal from social orders and, if so, whether a subjective or objective test is required.

The book concludes with a reform suggestion, the Draft Non-Statutory Courts and Tribunals (Consent to Jurisdiction) Bill, on which we published a guest blog by Russell.

Readers of Law and Religion UK can purchase the hard copy of the book directly from the Ashgate website at 50% discount by using the code 50CNZ15N.

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