“Brexit”, an unexpected snag in the Ashers Bakery case, further documentation on the George Bell saga – and an impending drought at the House of Commons?
In or out?
Much the biggest news of the past week was the draft proposal circulated by the President of the European Council, Donald Tusk, in response to the UK’s request for renegotiation of the terms of its EU membership. It will be considered in detail by the 27 other members states ahead of the European Council meeting on 18-19 February.
“Gay cake” row remains unresolved
On Wednesday the Lord Chief Justice of Northern Ireland announced that the appeal against DJ Brownlie’s judgment in Lee v Ashers Baking Co Ltd & Anor  NICty 2 has been adjourned for three months, following a last-minute intervention by the Attorney General for Northern Ireland, John Larkin QC, on the issue of compatibility between Northern Ireland’s equality legislation and the European Convention on Human Rights. At a short hearing in the Court of Appeal Morgan LCJ, in a polite judicial understatement, described the lateness of the intervention as “most unfortunate”.
For a thoughtful reflection on the issue see Nick Spencer of Theos: Storm in a Gay Cake Tin. We aren’t sure we agree with him but, as Frank observed elsewhere, the balance between free speech and hate/offensive speech is an incredibly difficult one to strike – and it’s not clear we’ve managed to strike it yet.
Turkey, veils and civil servants’ wives
We posted on Sodan v Turkey  ECHR 138 [in French], in which the applicant complained about his forced transfer from being assistant to the Prefect of Ankara to a post in the southern province of Gaziantep as Deputy Prefect. Unusually for cases that are at least partly about religious dress, it was not the applicant’s dress habits that were under scrutiny but his wife’s: she wore the veil. The Court found for the applicant, but not on Article 9 grounds.
Embryology and “gene editing”
We posted an update on developments in embryo modification, consequent on the announcement by the Francis Crick Institute that the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority had approved its research application to use new “gene editing” techniques to modify human embryos.
Opposite-sex civil partnership? not yet
We noted the decision in Steinfeld & Anor v Secretary of State for Education  EWHC 128 (Admin). Rebecca Steinfeld and Charles Keidan were unsuccessful in their application for judicial review of the refusal to remove the bar in the Civil Partnership Act 2004 on opposite-sex couples registering as civil partners.
Church of England Measures
The Safeguarding and Clergy Discipline Measure and the Diocesan Stipends Fund (Amendment) Measure, both passed by the General Synod of the Church of England, were finally agreed to by the House of Commons on 2 February. They were previously reported on by the Ecclesiastical Committee on 13 January, here; considered by the Fifth Delegated Legislation Committee, 27 January 2016, here; and passed after a brief but informative debate by the House of Lords on 28 January, here.
In the consideration of the former Measure by the House of Lords, the Rt Revd Paul Butler, Bishop of Durham, explained its main aspects and commented on the Church’s handling of the recent case of Bishop George Bell [below] [Col 1516]. He stated that, on matters such as whether or not George Bell’s name will remain in the church calendar, “no decisions have been made and no proposals have yet been suggested”; and “one of the lessons learnt in this particular case is that our failing to acknowledge the immensity of the work that Bishop George Bell had done was a failure in our communications process. We should have done it in a different manner”.
Bishop George Bell
The affair continues to rumble on:
- In Bishop George Bell – points on a complex case we published the text of the recent statement by the Diocese of Chichester on the Bell affair.
- In the Mail Online, Peter Hitchens responded to the Diocese’s statement in The Bell Affair – an attempted defence of the C of E and my rebuttal of it.
- The Brighton Argus then published an interview with the alleged victim.
- On 3 February Peter Hitchens commented briefly on the Argus interview in A Major New Development in the George Bell Affair.
- Also on 3 February the Bishop of Chichester issued a further statement following the article in the Argus.
Church Roof Fund reminder
In Warmth and welcome with grants from the Church Roof Fund Lisa McIntyre, Church Buildings Officer of ChurchCare, reminds incumbents, PCCs, circuit stewards, synod property secretaries and similar that the closing date for this second and final round of the Listed Places of Worship Roof Repair Fund is Friday 26 February at midday: in less than three weeks’ time. There is probably insufficient time to work up a new scheme from square one, but the post serves as a useful prompt for the collection and collation of the necessary material from various sources.
A number of beneficiaries of the first round are described, although the links provided give minimal supplementary information on the use of the grants received. In the case of St Peter and St Paul, Blockley, work started in January and ”once the church is watertight, it will be able to progress larger development plans, which will include a new toilet, kitchen and children’s area”. Readers may know SS Peter & Paul through its use as the location of the Roman Catholic church of St Mary in the BBC Television series Father Brown, based upon G. K. Chesterton’s fictional detective.
Eruv to be installed in Brent
The Brent & Kilburn Times reports that an eruv is to be installed in parts of Brent after it was given approval by Camden Council. Establishing the eruv – a ritual enclosure of walls and wires that some Jewish communities construct in their neighbourhoods to integrate a number of private and public properties into one larger private domain – will enable observant Jews to push a trolleys or prams or carrying shopping or keys without breaching the ban on work during Shabbat. The application was made by Brondesbury Park Synagogue: approval was needed from both Camden and Brent borough councils because the proposed eruv strays across the borough boundaries.
- International Business Times: Sharia law UK: Britain’s Jewish Beth Din court ‘an example’ for Muslim legal system: interesting interview with David Frei, Chief Registrar of the London Beth Din, on religious courts: “I think the state has got to be very careful when it starts intervening in matters of individual religious conscience. Nobody is compelled to observe our religion.”
- New Republic: Is it time for France to abandon laïcité?: Elizabeth Winckler suggests that “France’s strict secularism has only exacerbated religious and racial tensions”. Giles Fraser goes much further in The Guardian: France’s official blindness to religion only masks religious hatred.
- Neil Foster: Churches offering sanctuary to asylum seekers: “Ten Anglican churches and cathedrals [in Australia] have invoked the ancient Christian tradition to offer protection to the 267 people – including 37 babies – facing imminent transfer to Nauru after the court on Wednesday upheld the legality of the government’s offshore processing regime.”
- Philip Jones: Ecclesiastical Law: The Proposed Enabling Measure: A Complex Process of Simplification: comment on the proposals for the reform of ecclesiastical legislation in the latest General Synod paper GS 2018.
- RightsInfo: What’s Going On With The British Bill of Rights?: a useful roundup of where we (or at least where Cabinet ministers) seem to have got to.
- Solicitors Journal: The revival of legal blogging: David Allen Green on a subject obviously very close to our hearts.
- Church of England: Week in Westminster, 1st–5th February 2016: This week bishops in the House of Lords spoke to amendments on the Government’s Immigration Bill and in debates on education and renewable energy. Bishops also asked questions on extremism and offence, fixed odds betting terminals, Palestinian statehood and house building on floodplains. In the House of Commons the Second Church Estates Commissioner answered questions on the Queen’s 90th birthday, street pastors, ethical investments, women and BME clergy, credit unions, churches and community use and debt and poverty counselling.
- Beaker Folk of Husborne Crawley: Archdruid Eileen asks, Are You Really Church of England? Worth it for the comments alone: we particularly liked “We condemn homosexuality because of Leviticus 20:13a but Leviticus 20:13b, which mandates the death penalty for it, has to be understood in its historical and literary context. As I was explaining to the chap who bought my daughters off me.” Enjoy.
Howard Friedman reports that In 2014 the UK sold £200 million in sharia-compliant bonds, otherwise known as sovereign sukuk. Under the sukuk arrangement, investors do not lend money in exchange for interest; instead they share in “rent” payments made by the Government on Government property which is first leased to the investors then sub-leased back from them. One of the conditions of the arrangement is that the property that underlies the sukuk arrangement cannot be used in ways that violate sharia – one of which is selling alcohol on the premises.
A Parliamentary committee is currently seeking a place for the Commons to meet while the Palace of Westminster undergoes a major renovation that is likely to last for at least six years; and Richmond House in Whitehall, currently occupied by the Department of Health, has been identified as a possibility. But it is also one of the buildings that has been leased to support the 2014 sukuk bonds.
So if the Commons moves to Richmond House, what happens to alcohol sales? After 36 years as a Clerk in the Commons, Frank suspects that should Richmond House turn out to be the venue of choice, the House will find some mechanism for working round the ban. [dp: As in “The Moral Dimension” episode of “Yes Minister”?] Attitudes to alcohol consumption in working hours may have changed dramatically in the past twenty years or so, but the prospect of six years of Prohibition for the House of Commons is something else entirely.