Law and religion round-up – 10th July

So it’s Theresa May vs Andrea Leadsom and Sir John Chilcot finally published the report of the Iraq Inquiry: meanwhile…

URC votes to solemnise same-sex marriage

Yesterday, Saturday 9 July, the General Assembly of the United Reformed Church voted to allow its local churches to conduct and register marriages for same-sex couples. A two-thirds majority was needed to confirm the proposal and the Assembly voted overwhelmingly in favour of the resolution, by 240 votes to 21. United Reformed churches in England and Wales wishing to register their buildings for the marriage of same-sex couples will be able to start that process immediately. (In Scotland the legal framework is rather different but the effects of the Church’s decision will be broadly similar.)

The General Assembly has considered the proposal twice before: in 2014 and in a special, single-issue Assembly in June 2015. The 2015 Assembly ruled that the decision on whether or not an individual URC congregation could host marriages of same-sex couples lay wholly with each local church; and that policy was confirmed yesterday.

Methodist Church to reconsider position on marriage

Following a decision at the Methodist Conference in 2014, people from across the Methodist Connexion have been considering marriage and relationships as part of a process overseen by a task group established to consider whether or not the Church should revisit its definition of marriage and its understanding of family life, marriage and the single person. Its report, received by the Conference on 5 July 2016, includes a discussion of the Church’s definition of marriage which, in the existing 1992 “Statement on Christian Understanding of Family Life, The Single Person and Marriage” is defined as “the lifelong union of one man and one woman”.

The Conference has directed that a new Statement on marriage and relationships should now be prepared and that, as part of that process, the definition of marriage should be revisited. Presumably the matter will come back to the Conference in 2017.

Brexit: all the news that’s fit to print

We continued our self-imposed (but nonetheless fascinating) task of logging the (sensible) legal comment on Brexit: see Brexit Basics:  27th June; Brexit Basics 2: update 2nd July; and Brexit Basics 3: update 9th July.

And the first legal challenge to prevent the Prime Minister from initiating UK withdrawal will be heard on 19 July before Cranston J. The petitioner, Deir Dos Santos, is seeking judicial review, arguing that only Parliament can authorise the signing of Article 50 to trigger the formal withdrawal process.

At the time of writing, the e-petition EU Referendum Rules triggering a 2nd EU Referendum had attracted over four million signatures [after some had been removed following scrutiny by the Petitions Committee]. Surprisingly, however, at first sight the mapping of the responses did not appear to reflect the trends clearly shown in the referendum result.

In which connexion…

… it appears that Anglicans were massively more likely to vote Leave than any other faith (or non-faith) group. The latest post on the LSE Religion and the Public Sphere, The EU referendum, religion and identity: Analysing the British Election Study, analyses the data from the post-2015 British Election Study survey on attitudes towards the EU and whether respondents would vote Leave or Remain in a future referendum. Siobhan McAndrew’s analysis finds a notable difference in voting intentions between Anglicans and members of other faith groups. The British Election Study team is currently running a post-referendum survey to ask people how they actually voted; however, the post-2015 data currently available suggests that the percentages of respondents indicating Leave as opposed to Remain, don’t know or would not vote were as follows:

  • No religion 28 per cent.
  • Non-denominational Christian 28 per cent.
  • Roman Catholic 29 per cent.
  • Anglican 43 per cent.
  • Other Protestant 27 per cent.
  • Non-Christian 20 per cent.

She concludes that the most striking feature is the difference between Anglicans and members of other faith groups, including Nones: “Non-Christians are more often of immigrant background and therefore less averse to the EU in general. But why Anglicans are more supportive of Leave than other Protestants, such as Baptists and Methodists, is less self-evident”.

However, the prize for quote of the week must surely go to the Chancellor of the University of Aberystwyth, Sir Emyr Jones Parry, who on 5 July told the Treasury Select Committee [Q 122],

: “… I have to say this frankly to this Committee. Politicians have brought politics into such disrepute through the way that both sides have conducted this debate. There were so many inaccuracies and comments either based on ignorance, a failure to understand, or, at the other end, close to mendacity,”

– to which we, in best academic tradition (and impartiality of this blog), would suggest to readers: “Discuss”.

Eid and Brexit

This year Ramadan finished on 5 July for the world’s 1.6 billion Muslims, marking the “beginning of Eid al-Fitr (translated from Arabic as the “festival of breaking”). However, The Independent reports that the chairwoman of the National Police Chiefs’ Council has warned that there has been a fivefold increase in hate crime since the Brexit vote, and Eid celebrations in Southampton have been cancelled over security concerns following a plan demonstration by anti-immigration activists.

Over the last 30 days, the most-read item on L&RUK has been Public holidays, religion and the law, posted on 25 July 2014. This reported on the Westminster Hall debate which considered the e-petition relating to making Eid and Diwali public holidays; at the time of the debate, it was the largest e-petition that had come to central Government since e-petitions began in August 2011, and had attracted 122,991 signatures.

We noted that, in view of the earlier BIS response to the petition, it was quite clear that the Government was unlikely to concede additional bank holidays for Eid and Diwali, although this could be accomplished within the existing legislation: whilst difficult to justify as “common law”/public holidays, holidays for Eid and Diwali could be proclaimed annually under the 1971 Act, a procedure that would take into account the variability in the dates on which the two festivals fall. We observed that squeezing the debate into this odd spot before MPs left on their 5-week break raised questions about the rigid bureaucracy associated with the e-petition system.

Church of England and Brexit

On Friday, the General Synod voted unanimously on a motion moved by the Archbishop of Canterbury and incorporating an amendment (italicized):

“That this Synod, recognising the result of the recent referendum on the United Kingdom’s membership of the European Union,

(a) welcomes the Archbishops’ call for all to unite in the common task of building a generous and forward looking country, contributing to human flourishing around the world, and encourage all members of the Church of England to play their part actively in partnership with everyone in Civil Society in pursuit of this task;

(b) commend the work already carried out by the Church in bringing communities together and recommend that as a minimum every bishop identify a champion in their diocese to assess what more the Church could do and to make recommendations for creating stronger and more constructive links between local communities as a basis for achieving this common task”.

The Archbishop of Canterbury said  “[t]he length of the EU referendum campaign, the high turnout and the clarity of the result means, it seems to me, that whatever our view of what we would have preferred, we must now deal with the world as it is, and seek not merely survival after Brexit”. The more nuanced approach of the Rev Paul Hutchinson’s amendment was rejected, i.e. that the synod be “mindful of” the result rather than “recognizing” it … [t]he word [to recognize] brings overtones of acceptance, legitimization or acceptance”.

In his blog, the Bishop of Leeds, the Rt Rev Nick Baines commented:

“I stood throughout the substantive debate, but was not called to speak – a little odd and frustrating given that I lead on Europe for the bishops in the House of Lords and chair the Meissen Commission, whose new German co-chair (Landesbischof Ralf Meister of Hanover) had just addressed the Synod.

Much of the debate was good, some was predictable. What was obvious, however, was how few of the ills attributed to the decision by 17 million people to vote to leave the EU actually have/had nothing whatsoever to do with the EU. At some point this has to be named. If people wanted to express alienation for the political discourse or protest at the behaviour of Westminster, then the EU should not have been the target. That said, the vote is a fact on the ground and we now need to get on with the consequences of the result”.

Scottish Child Abuse Inquiry

Susan O’Brien QC has resigned as chair of the Scottish Child Abuse Inquiry, less than a week after another member of the three-person panel, Professor Michael Lamb, had resigned and alleged interference by the Scottish Government. In her letter of resignation, she said “Scottish Government officials have sought to micro-manage and control the Inquiry, and I have resisted this … [and my] position as the independent Chair of this Inquiry has been actively undermined by some Scottish Government officials over the past months”.

Readers may recall that Ms O’Brien’s original appointment was the subject of unsuccessful judicial review proceedings when, in Congregation of the Poor Sisters of Nazareth & Anor, for Judicial Review [2015] CSOH 87, the petitioners – both of whom operated care homes for children between the 1950s and the 1970s that would come under scrutiny in the course of the Inquiry – challenged her appointment because she had represented two clients before the House of Lords in an appeal in which they had sought damages from the Poor Sisters of Nazareth for alleged abuse. Dismissing the petition, Lord Woolman pointed out, inter alia, that Ms O’Brien had “simply advanced her clients’ case to the court. If carrying out that task involves being identified with the cause, every advocate would have a myriad of close associations” [23].

But the parallel Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse in England and Wales, currently chaired by Dame Lowell Goddard QC, has also had its problems. It was originally chaired by Baroness Butler-Sloss, who was appointed 8 July 2014 but stepped down on 14 July 2014 after concerns expressed by MPs and victims about the fact that her late brother, Lord Havers, had been Attorney in the 1980s: the fact that the concerns appeared to be without foundation made not a jot of difference. Her immediate successor, Fiona Woolf, was appointed 5 September 2014 but stepped down on 31 October 2014, again following claims of her perceived closeness to individuals and establishments which would be investigated. Dame Lowell, a New Zealand High Court judge, was appointed on 4 February 2015.

If the history of the two Inquiries tells us anything, it is that historic child-abuse allegations trigger sensitivities far beyond the normal run. With regard to the England and Wales Inquiry, the criticism of the Home Secretary’s judgment in her choice of chairpersons may yet surface again in the election of a new Conservative  leader.

Meanwhile, the Historical Institutional Abuse Inquiry for Northern Ireland chaired by former High Court judge Sir Anthony Hart has concluded its public hearings seemingly without controversy and is expected to report to Stormont by January 2017.

Free access to Church Times digital archive

To celebrate the publication of the 8000th issue of the Church Times, during July its digital archive is free to all, here. However, some current stories, such as Methodist Church to reconsider marriage which we summarized above, remain behind a paywall.

The new Speaker’s Counsel

It has been announced that the new Counsel to the Speaker of the House of Commons is to be Saira Salimi. The Speaker’s Counsel provides legal advice to the Speaker and departments of the House of Commons, scrutinises domestic secondary legislation and private Bills in support of relevant committees and scrutinises EU legislation in support of the European Scrutiny Committee.

Saira is presently the Deputy Official Solicitor to the Church Commissioners, an office that she has held for the past five years. Before joining the Church of England’s legal team she worked for eight years in the Office of the Parliamentary Counsel.

And finally … I

“Ah, the Anglican church. So rich in its diversity. So awesome in its variations. There is a space for everyone. But where do you fit in?” So starts the quiz What sort of Anglican are you? we came across this week, which in six questions purports to determine one’s preferred churchmanship.

However, this is sometimes an issue for the consistory courts when considering “ornaments and ritual”; in Re St Nicholas Arundel [2001] Chichester Const. Ct Hill Ch the evidence of one of the churchwardens suggested a sliding scale with evangelical at 1 and catholic at 10 – he scored the incumbent’s predecessor and a number of priests who had assisted in the interregnum, and “the impression given by the evidence was that Fr Richards had taken the churchmanship up a notch”. As Anglican readers will appreciate, however, a simple rule-of-thumb test is to see which hymn book is being used.

And finally … II

One of the more unlikely searches that picked us up yesterday was “Can I use a normal shirt for a clergy collar?” To which the answer is, “Sorry, folks, we aren’t ecclesiastical fashionistas: you’ll have to ask Wippell’s, Watts & Co or similar”.

2 thoughts on “Law and religion round-up – 10th July

  1. I am not sure your headline ‘URC votes to solemnise same-sex marriage’ is quite accurate. As i understand it the URC General Assembly voted to uphold Congregational Polity on this issue, and that it is therefore a matter for individual Congregations.

    • OK: fair point. Meaningful headlines that encapsulate the story underneath them are almost always the hardest things to get right.

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