Law and religion round-up – 17th January

Round-up of a very quiet week – unless you were an Anglican Primate… 

Anglican Primates’ Meeting 2016

This week 37 Primates from the Anglican Communion met at Lambeth Palace at the invitation of the Archbishop of Canterbury for Primates 2016, “an opportunity for Primates to discuss key issues face to face [including] a review of the structures of the Anglican Communion and deciding together their approach to the next Lambeth Conference”. The agenda was set by common agreement, and it was anticipated that this would include the issues of religiously-motivated violence, the protection of children and vulnerable adults, the environment and human sexuality. The announcement on the establishment of a common date for Easter, below, was unexpected.

In view of the sensitive nature of the discussions, no reports on the progress of the meetings were released, although the text of the Archbishop of Canterbury’s opening address was made available on Vanguard, a Nigerian website; and a statement from the Archbishop of Uganda, the Most Revd Stanley Ntagali, on his reasons for leaving the Primates’ conference after two days, which was contained in a letter to his Church, was published online on Thursday.

However, in view of a leaked copy of the concluding communiqué, on Thursday the Primates’ Meeting issued an interim statement; the Communiqué itself was published on Friday, and said that the Primates had decided that:

“for a period of three years The Episcopal Church no longer represent us on ecumenical and interfaith bodies, should not be appointed or elected to an internal standing committee and that while participating in the internal bodies of the Anglican Communion, they will not take part in decision making on any issues pertaining to doctrine or polity.”

On the other hand:

“The consideration of the required application for admission to membership of the Communion of the Anglican Church of North America was recognised as properly belonging to the Anglican Consultative Council. The Primates recognise that such an application, were it to come forward, would raise significant questions of polity and jurisdiction.”

The subsequent press conference is available on YouTube, here.

In contrast to the lack of official reports during the meeting, religious commentators have been in overdrive; and links to the many articles have been provided by Thinking Anglicans, here and here and Anglican Mainstream here. An Editorial in The Guardian viewed the meeting as Archbishop Welby’s holy smoke and mirrors. Focusing on Justin Welby’s negotiating skills, the Article states:

“Clever politics have kept reactionary African churches on-board, while partially excluding liberal Americans. But it might not be long before this latest Anglican fix is revealed as too clever by half … The question remains as to how long this unsatisfactory settlement can last. Opinion within the Church of England has shifted steadily in favour of full equality [of same sex relationships] and that tide shows no sign of turning. Generational change, if nothing else, will sooner or later leave the C of E facing the consequences of Archbishop Welby’s political skill.”

Finally, the Church Times stated that the Archbishop and Primate of ACNA, Dr Foley Beach, had been a full voting participant in the Primates’ Meeting. At which Arun Arora, the C of E’s Director of Communications, tweeted,”No. No he wasn’t. At all”. Clarification on the recording of voting/preferences was issued on 17 January 2016.

House arrest and Article 9

In Süveges v Hungary [2016] ECHR 22 a practising Roman Catholic and teacher of religion arrested on charges of incitement to aggravated murder and unlawful possession of firearms and explosives was held for part of the time under house arrest. He complained, inter alia, that during that time he was not allowed to leave the house to attend Mass and that that decision violated his rights under Article 9 ECHR (thought, conscience and religion). The Fourth Section ECtHR was unimpressed and held that the restriction was proportionate, legitimate and within the margin of appreciation. We posted about the case here. (For some unfathomable reason BAILII has posted the judgment twice, with two different citations, but they’re both the same.)

On not being delivered from EVEL

The new “English votes for English laws” rules have been used in the House of Commons for the first time. On 12 January the Housing and Planning Bill completed its consideration stage, which was followed by [England & Wales] legislative grand committee and third reading. According to the BBC, “Conservative MPs cheered as English and Welsh members prepared to give their consent to parts of the Housing and Planning Bill that only apply to their constituencies”.

For our part, we remain unconvinced – and see Bob Morris’s guest post on the subject – but now that it’s actually happened we imagine that everyone will just get used to it.

An e-mail snooper’s charter?

The ECtHR judgment in Bărbulescu v Romania [2016] ECHR 61 resulted in some banner headlines and a certain amount of confusion in the media. The ECtHR ruled that Mr Bărbulescu’s employers had not violated his right to privacy under Article 8 ECHR (respect for private life and correspondence) when they sacked him for using the workplace Internet for personal purposes during working hours, in breach of the company’s regulations. “Bosses can now read staff’s private messages” wrote The Mail, adding that the ruling “is binding on countries including Britain that ratified the European Convention on Human Rights”. “Workers were warned yesterday by the European Court of Human Rights that their employers can now legally snoop on private Facebook, WhatsApp and email messages” chorused The Mirror.

Not quite. As Naomi Webber explained at RightsInfo, the ECtHR takes employees’ rights to privacy very seriously and has previously ruled that employees have a “reasonable expectation of privacy” in phone-calls and emails from the workplace. The difference in Bărbulescu was that you go to work to work, not to conduct your social life from your desktop. So it was not unreasonable for an employer to check that employees were doing their work during working hours; and the reason Mr Bărbulescu’s employer had originally accessed his account was to see client-related communications.

And the relevance of all this? Churches have workplaces too – the central administration, the synod office, the cathedral gift-shop, whatever. Bărbulescu does not give employers carte blanche to read employees’ electronic communications. As Anna Worthington of Bates Wells Braithwaite points out, employers who propose to monitor workplace e-mails should have a clear policy in place which sets out acceptable use of the organisation’s system and any monitoring which may be carried out of employees’ communications. The policy should be communicated to employees and made readily available to them; and enforcement should be consistent and proportionate.

And, pace the media, judgments of the ECtHR are not “binding”.

Ashers Bakery appeal

The Belfast Telegraph reports that Christopher McCrudden, Professor of Human Rights and Equality Law at Queen’s, has joined the legal team led by David Scofield QC acting for Ashers Bakery in its forthcoming appeal against the ruling that it had discriminated against a customer by refusing to make a cake with a slogan supporting same-sex marriage after initially accepting the order. The hearing is listed for two days, starting on 3 February.

Ecclesiastical Committee

In its 235th Report the Ecclesiastical Committee considered the Safeguarding and Clergy Discipline Measure and the Diocesan Stipends Funds (Amendment) Measure and found both of them expedient.

Joshua Rozenberg QC

On Monday it was announced that Joshua Rozenberg had been appointed Queen’s Counsel honoris causa. The citation said that he had been recommended “for his work as the pre-eminent legal analyst of modern times”. Like every other serious legal blogger, we wouldn’t for one moment argue with that assessment of a very distinguished career.

Quick links

  • Church of England: Statistics for Mission 2014. On 12 January, the Church of England published its statistics for 2014 which showed that just under one million people attend services each week. The survey, carried out over four weeks in October 2014, found 980,000 people attending church each week, with 830,000 adults and 150,000 children. The accompanying Press Release summarized the information and included a comment from the Bishop of Norwich, the Rt Revd Graham James.

And finally … a fixed Easter?

On Friday the BBC reported that the Archbishop of Canterbury had announced after the Primates’ Meeting that he was working with other Christian Churches to agree on a date for Easter. He said that he was in talks with Pope Francis, the Ecumenical Patriarch, Archbishop Bartholomew, and Coptic Pope Tawadros II. He hoped the change would happen “in between five and ten years time” but warned that the first attempt to fix Easter had been in the 10th Century and there had been fifteen attempts to agree a common date since then”.

The story was readily picked up by the media and last April’s post Date of Easter 2016?  suddenly became very popular, thanks to @churchstate on Twitter; but neither Archdruid Eileen nor Michael Sadgrove was keen on the designation of a fixed day. Although Justin Welby expressed the hope that he might announce the date before he retires, the Church of England’s web page The Date of Easter and Other Variable Dates currently provides information up to 2030. However, the C of E and Anglican Communion clearly have more pressing matters to address.


2 thoughts on “Law and religion round-up – 17th January

  1. Pingback: EHRM Barbulescu t. Roemenië: over privégebruik chatprogramma door werknemer – europees recht

  2. Pingback: Law and religion round-up – 24th January | Law & Religion UK

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