Rebecca Steinfeld and Charles Keidan unsuccessful on opposite-sex civil partnerships, Ofsted’s objections to niqabs, Baroness Cox’s Arbitration and Mediation Bill – and a new blog…
Heterosexual civil partnerships? Not yet
On Friday Andrews J handed down judgment in Steinfeld & Anor v The Secretary of State for Education  EWHC 128 (Admin) (Our first thought was Education?? shurely shome mishtake: however, the Education Secretary also has the equalities brief in her portfolio.) She held that the refusal to allow Rebecca Steinfeld and Charles Keidan to register a civil partnership had not violated their Convention rights because it was their own choice “not to avail themselves of the means of state recognition that is open to them. The state has fulfilled its obligations under the Convention by making a means of formal recognition of their relationship available.” Denying them a civil partnership was not, therefore, unlawful state interference with their Article 8 rights .
In short, the provisions of the Civil Partnership Act had not become incompatible with Articles 14 and 8 ECHR “just because same-sex couples now have two routes to achieving legal recognition of their relationship by the state and opposite-sex couples continue to only have one. The difference in treatment … does not infringe a personal interest close to the core of the right to family life, still less the right to private life protected by Article 8” .
Adam Wagner has posted a “breaking news” analysis on RightsInfo and the BBC reported that the couple intended to appeal. We hope to post our own analysis tomorrow. [Disclosure: their legal costs are being supported through crowdfunding, to which Frank made a donation.]
Niqabs and Ofsted
On Monday HM Chief Inspector of Education, Sir Michael Wilshaw, made a statement on full face-veils in schools: we posted about it here. None of the teachers’ unions supported him, while some Muslims reacted strongly against him. Dr Sheik Howjat Ramzy, director of the Iqra Institute in Oxford and former head of an Islamic school, told the Telegraph that he estimated that only one in 500 pupils wore the veil in the UK, adding: “The veil doesn’t make pupils intelligent or not. It gives them their identity and some security. Pupils have the right to wear the veil if they go to Islamic schools. That is no problem.”
Stamp Duty Land Tax surcharge
Most readers in the UK will be aware that, as from April 2016, there will be 3 per cent SDLT surcharge on the purchase of second homes. This gave rise to a degree of consternation among faith-groups and conservation organisations, who were worried that it might be applied to those who are obliged to live in work-related accommodation. On our reading of the consultation document we could not believe that that was the Treasury’s intention; however, the Bishop of Derby, in his capacity as Chairman of the Churches’ Legislation Advisory Service, wrote to the Chancellor of the Exchequer seeking a definitive view – and we have his permission to publish the Chancellor’s reply. In short, the Chancellor confirms that:
“work related accommodation which is provided and owned by an employer, such as a parsonage house, does not count when considering whether an individual is purchasing an additional property or not. This will mean, for example, that a member of the clergy who purchases a first property to rent out (whilst living in accommodation provided by the church) will not be subject to the higher rates.”
Which, though not unexpected, is a great relief. (We also checked the relevant part of the Land and Buildings Transaction Tax (Amendment) (Scotland) Bill: it is worded similarly to the Westminster legislation and similar considerations no doubt apply.)
Misconduct in public office
On Friday the Law Commission for England and Wales launched a consultation on the current law governing misconduct in public office and the problems caused in practice by the law’s lack of clarity. The second phase of consultation will begin later this spring with the publication of a paper exploring options for reform. A final report will be published in 2017.
Readers may recall that in October 2015 the former Bishop of Lewes and Bishop of Gloucester, Peter Ball, was sentenced to 32 months for misconduct in public office and 15 months for indecent assaults, to run concurrently: the Church subsequently announced an independent review of the way it responded to the case.
Church of Scotland Law Department
On Monday the Church of Scotland announced that Mary Macleod has been appointed as Solicitor of the Church and Law Agent of the General Assembly, in succession to Janette Wilson. Ms Macleod is currently Mrs Wilson’s Depute.
Bishop’s amendment in Lords
During the Report stage of the Welfare Reform and Work Bill, the Bishop of Durham’s Amendment 2 to make ministers report annually on income levels in the poorest families received strong and resulted in a Government defeat: Contents 290; Not-Contents 198, although Hansard records “the Tellers for the Not-Contents reported 198 votes; the Clerks recorded 197 names,” [HL Hansard 25 Jan 2016 Vol 768(98) Col 1046]. However, there is a possibility that the amendment will be overturned in the Commons.
News from Newcastle
The Bishop of Newcastle, the Rt Revd Christine Hardman, enthroned as the twelfth Bishop of Newcastle in St Nicholas’s Cathedral, Newcastle upon Tyne on 12 December 2015, became the second female bishop of the Church of England to take her seat in the House of Lords when she was introduced on Tuesday 26 January.
Elsewhere in the diocese, the consistory court judgment in Re St Aidan Thockrington  ECC New 1 approved a Restoration Order in respect of some of the ashes of the author Tom Sharpe and other items that had been buried illegally in the churchyard. The Chancellor made a further Order in relation to costs and Directions for the subsequent treatment of the ashes, bottle of whisky &c. A summary of the proceedings to date is covered in our post Tom Sharpe burial no longer “Blott on the (ecclesiastical) Landscape”; further details, which seem more bizarre than some of the author’s plots, are included in the full judgment. Anyone tempted to visit the church of St Aidan should be aware of its inaccessibility. The otherwise welcoming website of the Chollerton Benefice states: “There is no nearby bus service … Access to our church is across a private field of rough pasture. Stock will normally be found in the field, either sheep or cows. The pasture can be very wet at times and appropriate footwear is essential. The ground is often slippery. It is not possible for people in wheelchairs to come to church without considerable help and without an appropriate wheelchair suitable for crossing rough and soft ground.”
Hail Thee, Festival Day?
An Association of Festival Churches has been set up by the Church Buildings Council, (CBC), to give support and advice to parishes looking at the Festival Church model. It has a standing committee based at Church House, London with members who have between them expertise in liturgy, law, and community outreach. Dioceses and parishes can choose to affiliate themselves to the Association, which means they will get regular updates and materials sent to them, and can benefit from the experience and mutual support of other members. The Association is planning a fringe meeting at General Synod in the Westminster Room on the morning of Tuesday 16 February to be chaired by Sir Tony Baldry, Chair of the CBC. Assuming the Association wishes to keep the organists on-side, perhaps it should avoid references to RVW’s Salve Festa Dies. [Which Frank thinks is a dreadful tune.]
New blog: Religion: Going Public
Religion: Going Public developed out of a collaboration between researchers in three research projects funded by the SAMKUL programme of the Norwegian Research Council. It discusses various aspects of contemporary religion in the public sphere and aims to disseminate current research findings to a wider audience and engage with and inform public debates on religion. One of the regular contributors, Helge Årsheim, told us that the intention is to continue where the PluRel blog left off.
Arbitration and Mediation Services (Equality) Bill 2015-16
And one which we missed last Sunday: Baroness Cox’s Arbitration and Mediation Services (Equality) Bill [Lords] passed the Lords unamended on 19 January. Russell Sandberg’s critique of the Bill is posted here. Bs Cox told Christian Today that she was scheduled to meet the Justice Secretary on 1 February and that she was “confident” that the Government would take up the Bill: “But if it does not, there are at least three Labour MPs who are interested in taking it on as a private Member’s bill.” We’ll see.
- Law, Custom, and the Ordinariate Liturgy: interesting speculation on whether members of the Ordinariate can be said to have “customary law” that they brought with them from the Church of England when they were received into communion with Rome.
- South African Human Rights Commission: Mostert & Ors v Joshua Generation Church  SAHRC WP/1213/0887: on 21 January the Commission issued a case report in which it concluded that the Church should stop advocating corporal punishment of children and that the Cabinet should bring forward legislation to ban corporal punishment in the home. Readers with long memories may remember R (Williamson & Ors, R) v Secretary of State for Education and Employment & Ors  UKHL 15 which dealt with a rather similar issue and cited the great Albie Sachs J in Christian Education South Africa v Minister of Education  ZACC 11.
- Theos: A Soul for the Union “This report charts the development of the European project, from its origins in 1950s Christian Democracy, with a strong focus on solidarity and peace, through to its current period of crisis. It argues that today’s EU has lost sight of its founding principles and instead placed excessive focus on a particular conception of national economic performance. Ultimately, this report argues that this is a weak basis for political union. A union worth saving would be on stronger ground if it could develop a clearer, explicit moral purpose that resonated with its citizens. Perhaps more simply, if the EU is going to be worth saving it needs to discover a soul.”
- Jewish Chronicle: History shows why we need a Human Rights Act: Dominic Grieve on the “profound implications both for the UK and for human rights worldwide” of repealing the Act.
- OpenDemocracy: The BBC must lead the effort against religious illiteracy: Aaqil Ahmed, Head of Religion and Ethics at the BBC, on “living with religion in a culturally diverse society with poor levels of religious literacy in a world defined by religion and conflict”.
And finally… Whitby contra mundum?
The Catholic Herald reported one of the more amusing (not to say barmy) stories of the week: the news that councillors in Whitby are up in arms about the Archbishop of Canterbury’s desire to fix the date of Easter. Readers with a taste for Anglo-Saxon history will remember that it was the Synod of Whitby in 664 that resolved the dispute between Celtic and Roman Christians over the date. Town Mayor of Whitby, Councillor Heather Coughlan, is evidently furious:
“Whitby jealously guards its history and heritage of which the Synod and Captain James Cook are a major part. I don’t think it necessary to interfere with something which has worked well for 1,400 years and I’m sure the people of Whitby will take the same view. It sounds more like a suggestion from an office manager than the Church.”
Which will no doubt strike terror in the hearts of the Pope, the Ecumenical Patriarch and the Archbishop of Canterbury. It occurs to us that an acceptably-Yorkist solution might be to fix Easter Day as the first Sunday after Sheffield Wednesday…