Law and religion round-up – 18th October

Two difficult medical cases,  an announcement on the devolution of abortion law, same-sex marriage in the Isle of Man – and more…

Can parents choose alternative remedies against medical advice?

In JM (a child), Re [2015] EWHC 2832 (Fam) a ten-year-old child, J, has a very rare aggressive cancer in his right jawbone. The NHS Trust sought permission to perform urgent surgery: his parents want to use Chinese medicine instead. The unambiguous medical evidence before the court was that, without surgery, in six months to a year J would die “a brutal and agonising death”. Mostyn J found for the NHS Trust:

“The NHS trust has permission to provide and administer all treatment to J (notwithstanding that his parents do not consent to such treatment on behalf of J) in accordance with the treatment plan supplied to the court and appended to this order” [18].

Since UKHRB has posted a full note of the case there is no point in us writing another one.

Vincent Lambert and the right to life

On 9 October the Tribunal Administratif of Chalons-en-Champagne rejected the request of his nephew François to remove treatment from Vincent Lambert, in a vegetative state since 2008, after the decisions of the Conseil d’Etat and the Grand Chamber ECtHR in Lambert & Ors v France [2015] ECHR 545 – on which we posted at the time. The Tribunal Administratif ruled that doctors of the University Hospital of Reims, where Mr Lambert is currently being cared for, were entitled under their “moral and professional independence” [indépendance professionnelle et morale] to suspend the shutdown process initiated last July after the decisions of the Conseil and the ECtHR validating the interruption of care.

That, however, does not appear to be the end of the story, since the Tribunal said that that type of decision was “subject to judicial review”. François Lambert’s lawyer, Maître Bruno Lorit, said that any further decision would engage the hospital and could be referred back to the Tribunal. Moreover, Vincent’s parents, Viviane and Pierre, were to apply to the Tribunal de Grande Instance (the civil rather than the administrative court) to have him transferred to another facility on the grounds that the care he is currently receiving is inadequate.

Devolving abortion law to Scotland

The Secretary of State for Scotland has announced that the Government will bring forward an amendment to the Scotland Bill at Report Stage to transfer the responsibility for abortion law to the Scottish Parliament.

“Holyrood already has responsibility for dealing with end of life issues. It has responsibility for the NHS and for criminal justice in Scotland. I do not see a convincing constitutional reason for why abortion law should not be devolved and that is what has led me to this decision. What will follow is proper engagement with interested parties as we take this matter forward.”

He confirmed that he had informed Deputy First Minister John Swinney of the UK Government’s decision. The UK and Scottish Governments have been discussing the devolution of abortion law since the conclusion of the cross-party Smith Agreement in November 2014.

Coroners and Justice Act 2009: post-implementation review of coroner reforms 

When the last Government implemented the coroner reforms in the Coroners and Justice Act 2009 it undertook to review their impact after they had been in place for 18 months. The new Government has now, launched the post-implementation review.

The aims of the 2009 Act were to put the needs of bereaved people at the heart of the coroner service; for coroner services to be locally delivered within a framework of national standards; and to put in place a more efficient system of investigations and inquests. The review seeks to find out whether the reforms are operating as expected and whether there have been any unintended consequences. Responses can be made online here.

Same-sex marriage in the Isle of Man

The Isle of Man Government has launched a consultation on plans to legalise same-sex marriage. The proposed Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Bill is based on the system introduced in England in 2014 and would enable couples to marry in a civil ceremony or subject to agreement, in a religious one. The proposal has the backing of Chief Minister Allan Bell who, according to a report by the BBC, believes that “the time is right for this legislation to be introduced”,  The consultation runs until 13 November.

Equal civil partnership

On Wednesday 21 October Tim Loughton (Con, Worthing East and Shoreham) will move a Ten Minute Rule motion for leave to bring in the Civil Partnership Act 2004 (Amendment) Bill: “a Bill to amend the Civil Partnership Act 2004 to provide that opposite sex couples may enter into a civil partnership; and for connected purposes”. Further progress is certainly not guaranteed.

Sustainable church building management

On 13 October the Church of England published an important report and launched a consultation on the support and management of its 16,000 church buildings, and the association legislation regulating those matters. This was widely reported in the media, which was summarized in the CofE Daily Digest, here and here, and elsewhere. Less coverage was given to the earlier short debate at the National Assembly for Wales “The Future of Chapel Buildings in Wales,” where congregations are faced with a similar dilemma – as are those in Scotland. However, an article in the Daily Telegraph, How we kept a tiny rural parish church alive, demonstrates what has been achieved at St John the Baptist, Kingston Lisle, and the other five churches in the Ridgeway benefice.

Ofsted, Multi-Academy Trusts and church schools

Lee Coley provided an interesting guest post on the inspection educational trusts that operate more than of academy school: a much more common phenomenon than previously. He suggests that success of existing MATs will be crucial to the long-term success of the Government’s academisation policy and that this will necessarily mean a greater scrutiny of MATs. He also suggests that the development will affect Church of England MATs and that the reputational implications flowing from criticisms of strategy, resourcing and approach will be different from those for secular trusts.

Turkey and proselytisation

We noted the judgment of the ECtHR in  Bremner v Turkey [2015] ECHR 877 about an applicant who had been secretly filmed for a Turkish television exposé of “foreign religious influence”. Apart from the fact that Turkey lost – as it frequently does – the facts of the case prompted us to wonder how an affair that began in 1997 could take so long to come to a conclusion.

Quick links

  • C of E General Synod: The Church of England is posting the Synod election results as they become available.
  • CofE: Week in Westminster 12th-16th October 2015: Bishops in the House of Lords spoke on apprenticeships, the EU referendum, child trafficking and air pollution. A bishop also led a debate on rural housing and right to buy. Questions were put to Government on benefit fraud and short term benefit advances, and human rights in Saudi Arabia.
  • US State Department: International Religious Freedom Report for 2014: useful summary of religious freedom issues: it is also a helpful source of up-to-date information on church-state relations in individual countries – though, bizarrely, it declares that “Twenty-five senior bishops of the Anglican Church are given places in the House of Lords…”.
  • Church of England: Response to consultation on devolving Sunday trading rules: the Mission and Public Affairs (MPA) Council of the Church of England states that extending Sunday trading hours would erode common leisure time essential for family life and shared social activities such as amateur sports, community involvement and religious observance. A different but complimentary perspective on shopping habits in contained in the unconnected report, The Year of the ‘Master Shopper’, comprehensive review of Britain’s shopping habits by the John Lewis Partnership which analyses current shopping, which “proves that today’s customer is more savvy and empowered than ever; with powerful research tools, extensive options and engaging experiences at their fingertips. Shoppers now combine channels to achieve their optimum shopping journey.”

And finally…

Data on religious affiliation recently released by the country’s National Registry reveals that Iceland has exactly 666 registered Jehovah’s Witnesses. If we were Icelandic JWs we’d be getting rather worried…

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