Law and religion round-up – 13th March

Sunday trading and EVEL, the EU Referendum, fitness to practise, Belgian Scientologists, vicarious liability, Post Offices – it never seems to stop…

Sunday trading liberalisation defeated

On Wednesday, the Government’s back door attempt to sneak through an extension to Sunday Trading was defeated by a substantial majority. Whilst Christian Today proclaimed “Christian campaigners hail ‘victory’ as government defeated on Sunday trading“, in practice the success of David Burrowes’ amendment was achieved through the non-selection of the manuscript amendments offering Government concessions, which may have swayed some of the Tory rebels, and the support of the SNP members: perhaps the Lords Spiritual had prayed for “deliverance from EVEL” – ‘English Votes for English Laws’ – under which Scottish MPs are excluded from voting in many other parts of the Bill. However, others might also point to the role of the Speaker in these two aspects of the proceedings.

Planning minister Brandon Lewis was reported as saying that “We respect the view of the House of Parliament. The Commons has spoken and given a very clear view – we have to absolutely respect that.” However, the BBC’s Laura Kuenssberg suggested that “Ministers may well try again to get the idea through, perhaps through the House of Lords” – though we cannot work out how, procedurally, they might do that, given that the Bill originated in the Lords and the Sunday trading provisions were inserted in the Commons. Addressing MPs after the defeat, Business Secretary Sajid Javid said he had “respect” for those who opposed Sunday trading in principle, and pressed on whether the Government would now drop the plans altogether, he stressed the majority of English and Welsh MPs had supported the change”. Watch this space.

Sunday trading and the limits of EVEL

Following on from a previous guest post by Bob Morris on the principle of ‘EVEL’, in a guest post this week, Daniel Gover and Michael Kenny discussed the territorial dimensions to this episode, and why the recent ‘English Votes for English Laws’ reform did not help the Government to pass its legislation.

Scottish charities and the EU Referendum

The Office of the Scottish Charity Regulator has released its own guidance on behaviour in the run-up to the EU Referendum. In short, a charity registered in Scotland can take part in the EU referendum debate if it can show that:

  • doing so is advancing its charitable purposes;
  • its governing document does not prohibit such activity;
  • the charity is not advancing a political party; and
  • that the charity’s trustees are acting in the charity’s interests, and with due care and diligence.

On the whole, OSCR’s guidance has been given (fairly muted) approval, in contrast to the Charity Commission’s guidance for England and Wales, which received some fairly scathing, if largely undeserved, criticism from the sector.

Who should judge “fitness to practise”? – II

In last week’s round-up we reported that second-year Masters student on a social work course at Sheffield University, Felix Ngole, has been told that he has been “excluded from further study on a programme leading to a professional qualification” and is “no longer recognised as a University student” after having made comments on Facebook about his personal opposition to same-sex marriage. This week the Judicial Conduct Investigations Office issued a statement that a family magistrate had been sacked for expressing views on same-sex adoption:

“Mr Richard Page JP, a magistrate assigned to the Central Kent Bench has been removed from the magistracy. The Lord Chancellor and Lord Chief Justice found that Mr Page’s comments on national television would have caused a reasonable person to conclude he was biased and prejudiced against single sex adopters; they considered this to be serious misconduct which brought the magistracy into disrepute. They have therefore removed Mr Page from the magistracy.

In 2014 the Lord Chancellor and Lord Chief Justice issued Mr Page with a reprimand after finding that during a Family Court hearing he had allowed himself to be influenced by his religious beliefs and not by the evidence.”

With acknowledgements to Joshua Rozenberg for the link.

Vicarious liability

Last week the Supreme Court handed down two linked judgments about the scope of vicarious liability for wrongdoing: Mohamud v WM Morrison Supermarkets plc [2016] UKSC 11 and Cox v Ministry of Justice [2016] UKSC 10. We shall post a note on them tomorrow, concentrating mainly on Cox.

Arbitration and Mediation Services (Equality) Bill [Lords]

Turning to an entirely different Cox, Baroness (Caroline) Cox’s Arbitration and Mediation Services (Equality) Bill, which was down for second reading in the Commons on Friday, was objected to at the 2.30 call-over. That is probably the end of the Bill for this Parliament.

Scientology in Belgium

On Friday the Tribunal de Première Instance Francophone de Bruxelles threw out the prosecution case against the Church of Scientology Belgium. Two associations – the Belgian branch of the Church of Scientology and the European Bureau for Human Rights, a Brussels offshoot of the US headquarters of the Church – and eleven of their members and (former) leaders were prosecuted for having been a “criminal organisation”, for acts of “fraud”, “illegal practice of medicine”, “violation of privacy” and “extortion”. The charges were based on an investigation that had begun in 1997.

The presiding judge, Yves Régimont, said that the court had to judge on the facts of which it was seised, but that the primary reason why the defendants were being prosecuted was because they were Scientologists. A priori, the nature of the prosecution had been such as to require the accused to defend the doctrines to which they were party: they had mostly been presumed to be guilty and that fact did not allow them a fair trial. He therefore declared the prosecution’s pleadings inadmissible.

The only witnesses were those for the defence: one of them was Professor Marco Ventura of the University of Siena, who appeared as an expert witness on the nature of “religion” (and who will be well known to many readers of this blog). There is a full report of Professor Ventura’s evidence here.

[With thanks to Paul de Mello Jr and Jonny Jacobsen: we hope to post a full note on the case when we have digested the judgment.]

Post Offices in churches

Our post No weddings, one funeral … and a book of stamps considered the broader issues raised by Re St. Peter Whitstable [2016] ECC Can 1 in relation to use of the church as a temporary “hosted” Post Office®. The consistory courts may authorize such use of church buildings by means of a Licence under Faculty or a Lease under S 68 Mission and Pastoral Measure 2011. Annex 3 of the report of the Church Buildings Review Group provides guidance on Legal Agreement for the Use of Open Church Buildings; whilst in many cases a lease is the most appropriate instrument, it is not possible to grant a lease which requires the lessee to vacate the leased part of the church at certain times of the week, as in the case of St Peter Whitstable.

There is growing interest in innovative building use, prompted by the Church of England’s Reform and Renewal programme; however, other organisations serving the public in England have an estimated 8,857 Post Office branches, in comparison to the total for combined church use of 35. There are now fewer opportunities for this option: the largest fall in Post Office numbers occurred in the quarter ending at 30 September 2008, a net reduction of 641, as a consequence of rationalization within the network; at the end of March 2015, the Post Office Network stood at 11,634, a reduction of 62 from the previous year.

Lord Stern, Pope Francis and Laudato Si’

Speaking at the LSE Climate Change and the Laudato Si’ event on 10 March, Lord Nicholas Stern praised the moral leadership of Pope Francis and said he thought his encyclical was “perfectly timed” six months before world leaders met to agree a global warming limit of two degrees above pre-industrial levels. Commenting on the future direction of the papacy on environmental issues, Professor Stern is reported to have said he hoped the Pontiff would use his clout to hold governments to account: “He can call people together on an anniversary of Paris and ask them, round the table: what have you done, what are you doing? …The more [Laudato Si’] is seen as a natural, central, well-founded interpretation of what’s there [in the Bible] the more it has strength to survive a change of regime.”

However, as we have indicated earlier, there is also much that the Roman Catholic Church could be doing internally; the Church has the potential to influence the carbon emissions associated with its own buildings and property holdings, clergy and laity, as well as its investments. It has been suggested that the Vatican’s hesitancy to act may reflect internal divisions about whether investment decisions by the Institute for Religious Works (IOR), and the role of the climate change denier Cardinal George Pell, who acts as the Pope’s chief economic minister – the CofE would probably be in a similar position if Lord Lawson were a Church Commissioner.

How not to do religion in prison

We don’t normally comment on US cases but we could not ignore the extraordinary report in the Cleveland Plain Dealer [thanks to Howard Friedman] about recent goings-on in the Ohio prison system. Cuyahoga County has agreed to pay a combined $81,000 to two Muslim woman who say that they were forced to attend Christian prayer services while imprisoned in the county jail: they claimed that corrections officer Regina Watts had told them that attendance at the services was mandatory and that failure to participate would result in their being moved out of the “trustee pod” where they were housed into the general prison population. County spokeswoman Mary Louise Madigan said that jail staff now hold services in a separate space instead of in the trustee pod: she also said that the county’s decision to settle “was not an admission in liability, but an exercise in risk management” and that Watts was still employed as a corrections officer.

Oh yeah? This in the jurisdiction where Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion or prohibiting the free exercise thereof and where prisoner free exercise cases are a weekly occurrence? Pull the other one, Ms Madigan.

Quick links

  • Cardiff Festival for Law and Religion, 5 & 6 May: Full programme: Celebrating 25th Anniversary of the LLM in Canon Law at Cardiff University, and including the Law and Religion Scholars Network (LARSN) Annual Conference 2016. Come and meet “the editors and bloggers”: Dr Will Adam, Ecclesiastical Law Journal; John Duddington, Law and Justice; Dr Peter Petkoff, Oxford Journal for Law and Religion; and ourselves, and much, much more …
  • Ecclesiastical Law Society London Lecture: Winding up/leaving a religious community: Wednesday 16 March 2016, 5.30 at Winckworth Sherwood: speakers Francesca Quint, barrister and specialist in charity law, and Alastair Hunter FCA. And if one is early for the meeting, across the road is:
  • Southwark Cathedral: Earthworks – the 2016 Lent Art Installation: the artist Peter Burke will be exhibiting a selection of his ‘Earthworks’ from Ash Wednesday, 10 February until Good Friday, 25 March. Public viewing is free.

And finally …

This week the Huffington Post reportedEnglish Defence League Fall For Spoof ‘Hot Cross Buns Without Offensive Cross’ Story”; the Southend News Network (SNN) had published a satirical article claiming a bakery had decided to remove the “offensive” cross from the traditional buns. This was claimed to be in response to “fundamentalist maths teachers” who felt the cross would confuse children trying to learn the difference between a multiply sign and a plus sign. We should point out, however, that those fooled by the spoof were commentators on the Facebook page of the EDL London Division II, the Huff Post headline being a prime example of improper deductive logic in extrapolating from the particular to the general.

Nul points all round.

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