A week totally overshadowed by the atrocities in Brussels…
Abortion guidelines in Nothern Ireland
It’s a long story. As we have noted on numerous occasions, Northern Ireland’s abortion law is much more restrictive that the law in Great Britain: it is only permitted if the woman’s life is at risk or there is a permanent or serious risk to her mental or physical health. Most recently, as a sequel to his judgment in Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission, Re Judicial Review  NIQB 96, Horner J concluded that the current law breached Article 8 ECHR (private and family life) because it did not provide adequate protection for the human rights of pregnant women where there was a serious malformation of the foetus or a fatal foetal abnormality or where the pregnancy was the result of rape or incest. He therefore made a declaration of incompatibility under the Human Rights Act 1998.
The end of ecclesiastical exemption in Northern Ireland?
And while we’re in Northern Ireland… The Province currently has over 900 listed churches and one listed synagogue; and those in active use as places of worship are exempt from listed building consent for alterations. On Monday, Environment Minister Mark Durkan launched a consultation on a proposal to remove the ecclesiastical exemption. He notes that ecclesiastical exemption is common across the UK but points out that the parallel systems of control for named denominations used elsewhere were never introduced in Northern Ireland.
The consultation proposes that DOENI should issue an order under s 85 Planning Act (Northern Ireland) 2011 to remove the exemption, which will introduce a requirement to apply to district council planning departments for listed building consent for proposed changes that might alter the architectural or historic interest of a place of worship that is in use for ecclesiastical purposes. The planning authority will have to pay due regard to the building’s architectural and historic character when assessing such proposals: in parallel, DOENI is to develop and publish guidance on alterations to listed buildings in ecclesiastical use and consideration of liturgical requirements by planning authorities. The consultation will run until 13 June. Whether not planning authorities are competent to opine on liturgical requirements is another matter…
The Goddard Inquiry gets under way
The preliminary hearings in the Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse chaired by Dame Lowell Goddard, have begun. The preliminary hearings relate to the first investigations in the Inquiry: they are not televised; but transcripts are published on the IICSA website after each hearing. Maria Strauss, of Farrer & Co, attended the Inquiry to listen to the proceedings on the investigation into the Anglican Church and absorbing the atmosphere of the room; and the following, reproduced with her permission, are her reflections on what she heard:
“The size of the Inquiry and the task ahead is vast. Institutions that are subject to a specific investigation should act in a proactive and positive way, and co-operate fully with the Inquiry, as this should assist the Inquiry’s work.
Counsel to the Inquiry, Mr Ben Emmerson QC, explained that although the Inquiry is bound by its Terms of Reference it is possible for it to amend the scope of its investigations which ‘are not set in stone’. This may be another reason why representatives of institutions that are subject to the Inquiry will want to build a good relationship with the Inquiry, so that they can stay on top of any developments relating to their investigation.
The Inquiry will carefully scrutinise past case reviews conducted by both the Church of England and the Church of Wales to see whether the Churches thoroughly and accurately examined their history. There are several core participants in the Anglican investigation, including a number of victims or alleged victims of Peter Ball. Renewed applications for core participant status were made on behalf of other victims who were young adults at the time of the abuse. If granted, this could be another way that the scope of the Inquiry becomes broader than originally anticipated.
Overall, an enormous task. There is plenty that institutions of all sizes can do to prepare for and potentially interact with the Inquiry.”
Ilott v The Blue Cross & Ors: permission to appeal
The Supreme Court has granted permission to appeal against the decision in Ilott v Mitson & Ors  EWCA Civ 797, in which the Court of Appeal had awarded Mrs Ilott £143,000 out of her estranged mother’s estate to buy a property and a capital sum not exceeding £20,000 in order to purchase an annuity. Her mother had cut her off without the proverbial penny and left the bulk of her estate to The Blue Cross, the RSPB and the RSPCA: we posted about it here. The relevance of the case is that religious organisations are almost invariably charities and are just as anxious as their secular counterparts to secure legacy income – and the issue of charity trustees pursuing legacy claims in the courts has become the subject of a good deal of adverse media comment.
Scotland Act 2016
The Scotland Bill received Royal Assent. The majority of the Scotland Act 2016 will be brought into force by statutory instrument.
Following the comments of Lord Nicholas Stern at the LSE public discussion on Climate Change and the Laudato Si’, in which he praised the moral leadership of Pope Francis his “perfectly-timed” encyclical, this week has seen more self-congratulatory posts on the role played by religious groups in relation to climate change: the Threads blog The Church: At the forefront of environmentalism; and the Church of Scotland’s Press Release Climate change campaigners congratulated for efforts.
The former reports the results of a recent poll by the Evangelical Alliance which found that “96 per cent of UK evangelicals believe human beings have a God-given responsibility to take better care of the environment and 77 per cent are at least somewhat concerned or taking action against carbon emissions and global warming”. In contrast, the analysis was critical of the views of 25 “leading environmental leaders”, although they date back to a survey of the Environment Agency undertaken in 2008; surprisingly, Laudato Si’ does not feature. The item by the Church of Scotland appears to have been prompted by the participation of the Kirk’s Climate Change Officer Adrian Shaw in an international webinar titled “The Paris Agreement: What’s Next? Grassroots voices and the fight for climate justice” which reflected on the outcome of the United Nations Climate Change Conference in Paris in December.
There has, to date, been relatively little scrutiny of the environmental performance of faith-based groups, but this is inevitable in view of their involvement in relation to the Paris talks. However, to avoid their environmental statements being labelled as “greenwash”, any organization with a serious environmental/sustainability agenda must base this on realistic time-bound targets; those such as the CofE’s Shrinking the Footprint and Church and Earth 2009 – 2016 provide a useful benchmark.
Returning to Laudato Si’ and the Roman Catholic Church, an article in The Guardian noted “[t]he Vatican may consider, but is not committed to, divesting its holdings in fossil fuels … despite Pope Francis’s call for bold action to fight climate change and global warming”. It was suggested that “the hesitancy to act may reflect internal divisions about whether investment decisions by the Institute for Religious Works (IOR) … ought to reflect Pope Francis’s values, particularly ones that might still be considered contentious within the church’s hierarchy, (i.e. the climate change denier, Cardinal Pell)”. However, there is another potential reason: if the state of the Vatican finances is as chaotic as portrayed in Gianluigi Nuzzi’s Merchants in the Temple, even an ardent believer in climate change would be hesitant to act at the present time.
Sustainability and the environment
Before readers segue to the next item, we should point out that the Government’s sustainability review of English churches and cathedrals, below, is directed towards their financial sustainability, not the broader context of sustainable development addressed in the above item, i.e. as defined in Our Common Future as “development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs” [Gro Harlem Brundtland]; and assessment of the “triple bottom line” of environmental, social and financial impacts.
The Government has announced further detail on the English Churches and Cathedrals Sustainability Review. A church buildings task force will work with the Church of England to explore new models of financing repairs and maintenance of churches and cathedrals, including reviewing existing maintenance costs and repairs funding from lottery and central government grants. It will also consult stakeholders, including the C of E, churchgoers, charities, local residents and business on ideas for uses of listed buildings for purposes beyond worship, on current barriers that prevent this and on how to generate revenue from those uses. The Taskforce will be chaired by Bernard Taylor, supported by experts and a working group comprising of officials from the Cathedral and Church Buildings Division of the Church of England, Historic England, the Heritage Lottery Fund and DCMS. It will report to the Secretary of State for Culture and the Chancellor in April 2017.
Which leaves unanswered the question, “why just the C of E, even if it has the lion’s share of listed places of worship?” What about listed cathedrals and churches belonging to other denominations and, indeed, to other faiths?
On Thursday, we reported on the recent investigations at Holy Trinity, Stratford-upon-Avon, that suggested the grave within the church might not contain the skull of William Shakespeare. Archaeologist Kevin Colls concluded:
‘We have Shakespeare’s burial with an odd disturbance at the head end and we have a story that suggests that at some point in history someone’s come in and taken the skull of Shakespeare. It’s very very convincing to me that his skull isn’t at Holy Trinity at all.”
However, the Revd Patrick Taylor of Holy Trinity was not convinced that there is sufficient evidence to conclude that his skull has been taken, and nor are we: Colls’ conclusions are based on an interpretation of Ground-Penetrating Radar (GPR) scan and a story published in The Argosy magazine in 1879, “hitherto dismissed as fiction”. In Re St Leonard Beoley  Worcester Const Ct, Charles Mynors Ch the consistory court took expert evidence on the two articles in The Argosy, which it discounted as “Gothic fiction”. Coincidentally, one of the £2 coins produced by the Royal Mint to mark the 400th anniversary does feature a skull, but this is that of Yorick in Hamlet. Further details on the story here.
- Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights: Report by the UN Special Rapporteur on freedom of religion or belief in Denmark: worth reading if only for its description of the current position of the Established Church.
- Bright Blue: Conservatism and human rights: An essay collection: Bright Blue is an independent think tank and pressure group for liberal Conservatism: foreword by Dominic Grieve – need we say more?
- BBC: Why can’t the date of Easter be fixed? Good question… but see Michael Sadgrove’s piece Should We Fix the Date of Easter? and the CofE’s Table to find Easter Day (from the present till the year 2199 inclusive, for those who prefer to take the long view).
“Was it the presence of sponge that allowed McVitie’s, for example, to refer to their produce as Jaffa cakes rather than biscuits?” mused the hero on p 43 of Sidney Chambers and The Forgiveness of Sins (which Frank has been rereading as a change from writing an interminable piece on the relevance or otherwise of US First Amendment cases to UK law).
On which note, a Happy Easter to all our readers.