Law and religion round-up – 20th December

And as we slide imperceptibly into the period when people have more interesting things to do than to read blogs…

… but watch out for our End of Year Quiz and Law & Religion 2015 and 2016: retrospect and prospect.

COP21 Agreement

The House of Commons, the Lords, the EU and many others have welcomed the COP21 Agreement on global warming at the conclusion of the talks in Paris from 30 November to 11 December 2015. For the Church of England, the final agreement was welcomed by the Most Rev Justin Welby and Bishop of Salisbury, and also by the Rt. Revd. Nick Holtam, who leads the Church of England’s environmental campaigning, here, and by Edward Mason, Head of Responsible Investment, Church Commissioners for England, here. On 16 December, the Commissioners announced that the ‘Aiming for A’ investor coalition, which secured successful shareholder resolutions at BP and Shell, had confirmed that it is calling for the major mining companies to make a step change in their disclosure to investors about their response to the challenges posed to their businesses by the global drive to mitigate climate change.

Jonathon Porritt, George Monbiot, and others were more sceptical as to what had been achieved in Paris and the role of UK government. The EU claim that it had “played a key role in brokering today’s historic agreement in Paris, where 195 countries adopted the first-ever universal, legally binding global climate deal” is a tad disingenuous since, as Viscount Ridley pointed out, [Col 1978], “the only thing legally binding on countries which are increasing their emissions in this agreement is that they must produce voluntary plans”. The substitution of “shall” for “should” in a section of the final draft on the financial obligations was a potential “show stopper” for Secretary of State John F Kerry and the US delegation, who insisted on the original, less demanding wording.

Consultation on cremation

On Wednesday the Ministry of Justice launched an online consultation on cremation, seeking views on proposals for a number of changes to the Cremation (England and Wales) Regulations 2008 and for improving other aspects of cremation practice. The consultation follows the Government’s consideration of the recommendations of two inquiries into infant cremations:

  • David Jenkins’s inquiry into the way infant cremations were carried out at Emstrey Crematorium in Shropshire between 1996 and 2012 established that during the periodic under consideration Emstrey Crematorium failed to obtain ashes to return to parents following infant cremations.
  • Lord Bonomy’s Infant Cremation Commission concluded in 2014 that in some cases parents in Scotland had been incorrectly told that there had been, or would be, no ashes from their babies’ cremations.

A majority of the twelve recommendations of the Emstrey report were for the Government, including the recommendation that the Government should also consider Lord Bonomy’s recommendations (burial and cremation law in Scotland being a devolved matter). This consultation therefore considers both sets of recommendations: it will close on 9 March 2016; we will post a short commentary on relevant aspects.

Marriage law in England & Wales

On Thursday the Law Commission for England & Wales published Getting Married: A Scoping Paper, in response to the Government’s request in December 2014 for a review of marriage law. The Commission conducted a preliminary study involving research into domestic and comparative law: and this scoping paper represents the next stage in the process. The next step is for Government to respond to the Commission’s recommendations for further work; if ministers wish to proceed further, the Commission will discuss with Government its role in an ongoing review.

We posted about it here. In October 2013, when the Commission was working up its next five-year reform programme, Frank made a submission suggesting that marriage law should be included. He argued that the Marriage Act 1949 was by now so overlaid with primary and secondary legislation as to be incomprehensible to the people who had to operate it: a proper consolidation was required at the very least and that the preferable course would be to start over from scratch. To which he received a very polite and understandable “no”. What brought matters to a head was the result of the Government consultation on humanist weddings: whether the matter will be progressed any further remains to be seen.

Abortion law in Northern Ireland

Last week, in the sequel to his judgment in Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission, Re Judicial Review [2015] NIQB 96, Horner J held that because the current abortion law in Northern Ireland does not provide adequate protection for the human rights of pregnant women where there is a serious malformation of the foetus or a fatal foetal abnormality or where the pregnancy is the result of rape or incest it violates Article 8 ECHR (private and family life); and he made a declaration of incompatibility under the Human Rights Act 1998.

The ball is now in the court of the Northern Ireland Executive and Assembly – though whether they will make the necessary changes to make the law Convention-compliant remains to be seen. Alternatively, there might be an appeal; but we don’t rate its chances of success very highly.

The “Lord’s Prayer” advert 

The Equality and Human Rights Commission announced that the issues raised by the decision of Digital Cinema Media (DCM) not to show a Church of England cinema advertisement about the Lord’s Prayer is to be examined as part of the Commission’s work on the adequacy of the law protecting freedom of religion or belief. A report will be published early next year.

Canon law – theory and practice

Commenting on the Moneyval Committee Report on Vatican finances, Dr Ed Peters observed “Almost every time outside experts look at Vatican law and administration, they say ‘Your rules actually look pretty good, but you have to abide by them internally and you have to enforce them against violations.’ How many times have I and others said exactly that about canon law?”

Quick Links

  • The Heritage Foundation: Roger Scruton: The Future of European Civilization: Lessons for America in which he argues that the Christianity that “provided foundations to the moral and legal inheritance of Europe” has been replaced by human rights – “a quasi-religion that is inherently foundationless”. Mark Movsesian responds with Human Rights As a Religion: he can see what Scruton is driving at but he’s not entirely convinced.
  • Modern Church: Martyn Percy: Sex, Sense and Non-Sense for Anglicans The Very Revd Prof Martyn Percy, Dean of Christ Church, Oxford calls on the Archbishop of Canterbury to apologise for the Church’s mistakes in its response to homosexuality around the world. Professor Percy examines the Archbishop’s approach to the Anglican Communion’s tensions over homosexuality and same-sex marriage ahead of the meeting of Anglican Primates he has convened for 11-16 January 2016 in Canterbury.
  • Church of England: Week in Westminster 14th -18th December 2015. This week bishops in the House of Lords spoke to amendments to the Government’s Welfare Reform and Work Bill and Education and Adoption Bill and spoke in debates on the Paris climate change agreement and the Heritage Lottery Fund.

Bishops also asked questions on Sunday trading, academy conversions, airport expansion, learning disabilities, Syrian refugees, the cost of military action in Iraq and Syria, and freedom of religion in Iraq. Bishops also took part in votes on the EU Referendum Bill and the Education and Adoption Bill.

In the House of Commons the Second Church Estates Commissioner answered questions on Syrian refugees, fossil fuel investments and the welfare of hedgehogs. She also tabled a Bill to reform marriage registration certificates, including the addition of mothers’ names.

And finally …

This year, the Church of England launched Grave Talk, an initiative “for those with big questions about death, dying and funerals”. Meanwhile in South Korea, the Daily Telegraph reports on the extraordinary lengths to which employers are going in order to combat the country’s high suicide rate, estimated at 40 per day – the highest suicide rate in the developed world. The Hyowon Healing Centre in Seoul is running sessions at which attenders are encouraged to reflect on the meaning of life. The process involves the group, dressed in white robes, writing farewell letters to loved ones before getting into their own wooden coffins, holding a picture of themselves, draped in black ribbon. The coffin is then closed by a man dressed in black with a tall hat representing the angel of death, leaving those inside to reflect on how they have spent their time on earth. Hmm.

And a very happy Christmas to all…

kieran xmas tree

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