Law and religion round-up – 24th July

A week in which the Prime Minister put the finishing touches to her ministerial team, Brexit continued to dominate the headlines – and Parliament disappeared for the summer adjournment… 


On Wednesday, David Allen Green (aka Jack of Kent) tweeted the following spoof exchange, the irony of which was lost on some readers:

  • Merkel: What does the UK actually want?
  • May: Brexit means Brexit.
  • [Pause.]
  • Merkel: You don’t know, do you?
  • [Pause.]
  • May: No.

Nevertheless, it does expose the confusion created by this meaningless phrase, on which we attempted to provide some enlightenment in our Monday post “Brexit means Brexit”, doesn’t it? The events of the week brought a number of clarifications which we summarized in Brexit Basics 5 – 23rd July. Parliament is now in recess; and 15 October has been set for the substantive hearing of R (Hardy) v Prime Minister and First Lord Of The Treasury [CO/3527/2016].

We therefore expect fewer developments in this area over the coming weeks, as so the Editors of the Constitutional Law blog who have announced that the blog will be on holiday from 28 July to 25 August.

In the meantime, Allen Green updated his earlier comments with:

“ESTRAGON: Well, shall we Leave?
VLADIMIR: Yes, let’s Leave.
(They do not send the Article 50 Notification).”

The new Government

The Prime Minister’s Office has published a full list of ministerial appointments, available here.

The final piece in the jigsaw was the announcement on Thursday that the new Financial Secretary to the Treasury, Jane Ellison MP, has been given ministerial responsibility for charity and voluntary sector tax, Gift Aid, and the Gift Aid Small Donations Scheme (and for Community Amateur Sports Clubs, which share many features with charities). Which might sound like news for anoraks – but tax policy is immensely important to charities.

UK Bill of Rights

Just when you thought it was safe to come out of the water: answered on 21 July:

Ms Harriet Harman (Camberwell and Peckham) (Lab): To ask the Secretary of State for Justice, when she expects to bring forward proposals for a British Bill of Rights.

Sir Oliver Heald: We will set out our proposals for a Bill of Rights in due course. We will consult fully on our proposals.

Joint Committee on Human Rights report on counter-extremism

On Friday, the Joint Committee on Human Rights published its Second Report of the current Session, on Counter-Extremism: we noted it here. All in all, the Joint Committee was decidedly unenthused, suggesting that “The Government gave us no impression of having a coherent or sufficiently precise definition of either ‘non-violent extremism’ or ‘British values’.” It concluded that If the Government was going to take the matter forward there should be a draft Bill for consultation: moreover, “A consultation which does not provide a clear legal definition of what is meant by extremism would be futile.”

Which, if we may say so, hits the nail on the head. Surely no-one in his or her right mind supports extremism and radicalisation of impressionable youths – but “you’ll recognise it when you see it” is simply not an adequate legal basis for a policy that might involve criminal sanctions.

Doctors and termination of pregnancy

According to a report in the Catholic Herald, the British Medical Association has told an inquiry by the All Party Parliamentary Pro-Life Group that some doctors who object to abortion on conscientious grounds are denied career choices and have complained of being harassed and discriminated against because of their objection. The BMA said in its evidence that it “supports the right of doctors to have a conscientious objection to termination of pregnancy and believes that such doctors should not be marginalised”.

But pace the Catholic Herald, it should be noted that this is not, strictly speaking, “a parliamentary inquiry into the working of the conscience clause of the 1967 Abortion Act”: it is an inquiry by a group of concerned MPs and Peers which, though entirely proper, is without official standing. [Thanks to Paul de Mello, Jr]

The Lord Chancellor

The new Justice Secretary was sworn in as Lord Chancellor at the Royal Courts of Justice on 20 July.  Over at the House of Lords, Lord Pannick (CB) observed [Lords Hansard 20 July 2016 Vol 774 Col 721]

“… Liz Truss is not the first female Lord Chancellor. Lord Campbell, in his 19th century Lives of the Lord Chancellors, included Queen Eleanor, wife of Henry III. In 1253, in the king’s absence abroad, Eleanor performed all the duties of the office, judicial as well as administrative, for the best part of a year. No doubt a 13th century Lord Falconer complained that Eleanor had not been trained as a lawyer and that she had not previously served as a senior Cabinet Minister.”

Clearly one for the pub quiz.

Turkey, the failed coup and its aftermath

Last week we posted some thoughts on the failed Turkish coup, suggesting that Turkey’s already poor record on religious freedom for minorities was likely to get worse and that President Erdoğan’s actions in response did not augur well for the rule of law and judicial independence. Subsequently, the BBC reported that in the latest round of purges more than 15,000 education staff have been suspended. According to the report:

  • 6,000 military personnel have been arrested and more than two dozen generals are awaiting trial;
  • nearly 9,000 police officers have been sacked;
  • close to 3,000 judges have been suspended;
  • some 1,500 employees of Turkey’s finance ministry have been dismissed; and
  • 492 officials have been removed from the Religious Affairs Directorate.

President Erdoğan subsequently declared a three-month state of emergency and derogated from some elements of the ECHR. Tony Fisher, chair of the Law Society Human Rights Committee, suggests in the Law Society Gazette that “Democracy has been protected only for it to be undermined”. And see RightsInfoTurkey Suspends European Convention On Human Rights: Key Questions Answered.

Charities, external influence and the duties of trustees

Last September, we posted on the issue of external interference in the operation of charities and, inter alia, noted the particular problem when an external body such as a church hierarchy or a local authority wished to exercise some measure of control over a charitable trust. We cited Croydon Council’s proposal to become a majority member of recreation and leisure charity Fairfield (Croydon) Limited, which maintained and managed the Fairfield Halls. The Charity Commission had been extremely unhappy with the proposal and, after an investigation, published an operational case report, following which the Council withdrew the membership proposals. The moral, said the Commission, was this:

“Charities are run by their trustees for the benefit of the charity’s beneficiaries. An organisation cannot be a charity if it is run in the interests of anyone beyond the charity, including private individuals and public bodies such as local authorities”.

Last week, the Fairfield charity went bust so comprehensively that it cannot afford to make redundancy payments to its staff.

The Lord Bishop of London

The Bishop of London, The Rt Revd & Rt Hon Richard Chartres KCVO DD FSA, has announced his retirement on 28 February 2017. He has written to clergy and parishes across the Diocese of London indicating that his last public engagement as Bishop of London will be Candlemas at St Paul’s Cathedral on 2 February 2017. The Bishop, who has held the post for over twenty years, will continue his work and engagements as normal until Christmas and will continue to hold the post of Dean of HM Chapels Royal until the appointment of the 133rd Bishop of London.

As a holder of one of the “five ex officio sees” of Canterbury, York, Durham, London and Winchester the appointee will automatically receive Writs of Summons to attend the House of Lords, s 5 Bishoprics Act 1878; such an appointment as Lord Spiritual is irrespective of gender, s1(5) Lords Spiritual (Women) Act 2015.

The Lord Bishop of Oxford

In an earlier post, we examined the question When does +Steven Sheffield become +Steven Oxon? In law, this is when he has taken the oaths of allegiance to the Crown and obedience to the Archbishop, which occurred prior to General Synod in order that he could attend as Bishop of Oxford. On 19 July, Bishop Steven took his seat in the House of Lords following his introduction. He will be enthroned at Christ Church Cathedral on 30 September 2016.

The Lord Bishop of Man and Tynwald

Further to our comments last week on the Isle of Man, the Manx Government has published the report of Lord Lisvane (a former Clerk of the House of Commons) on his Review of the Functioning of Tynwald. He concludes, inter alia, that “I can find no compelling reason to remove the vote from the Bishop, nor the Bishop from the Legislative Council. On the contrary, I think his membership is desirable”. In a comment on the UK Constitutional Law Association blog, Peter Edge suggests that this is striking, given the recurrent calls for the Bishop to lose his place in LegCo or, as a less radical alternative, become like the ex officio Attorney General, with a voice but no vote.

In which connexion, Frank remembers an occasion about fifteen years ago when he had a dozen MHKs in his office in the Commons and the conversation turned to Tynwald reform and the continued presence of the Bishop on LegCo. He suggested that if the island wished to become the Archdeaconry of Man in the Diocese of Blackburn or Liverpool, removing the Bishop from LegCo was the quickest way to get there. He hasn’t changed his view.

(This week, Robert Paterson, the Bishop of Sodor and Man, announced that he will retire on 11 November 2016.)

Objectors to women bishops

On 20 July, WATCH (Women and the Church) published the Press Release “Consecration of female bishops: the presence of objectors” on which we made some initial observations. We have now posted more detailed comments in Acclamation, assent and disruption.

[Shurely too much episcopal news? – Eds]

On the female contemplative life

In contrast to the relatively few women bishops referred to in the WATCH Press Release, Pope Francis’ Apostolic Letter Vultum Dei Quaerare [Seek the Face of God] is likely to affect around 750,000 female religious throughout the world, according to The Tablet. Issued on Friday, Costituzione Apostolica di Papa Francesco “Vultum Dei quaerere” sulla vita contemplativa femminile [Apostolic Constitution of Pope Francis “Vultum Dei quaerere” on female contemplative life], requires all enclosed communities to review their mission, amend their rules and then submit them to the Vatican for approval.

It gives “precise indications with respect to the various elements essential for a life of contemplation” and concludes with 14 new legal norms including that that the Vatican department which oversees religious will issue its own regulations to communities with amending their constitutions. The Tablet notes that this document is not the first centralising move by the Jesuit Pope on the matter of religious: earlier this year he ruled that bishops must consult with the Vatican before establishing a diocesan religious order. Whilst not commenting on the Constitution itself, Dame Catherine Wybourne’s post How To Judge A Monastery “ ‘thinks aloud’ about one very important underlying question: how to judge a monastic community and its fidelity to its vocation”.

Quick links

  • Eva Brems: SAS v France: A Reality Check: examines the judgment from the perspective of the women who wear or wish to wear a face veil yet who live in a place where a face-covering ban is in effect.

And finally …

Whilst the Government continues to sit on its hands with regard to its commitments on caste discrimination, at least it is leading from the top (almost) in relation to cohabitation. On Monday it was announced that the £15 million grace and favour residence of Chevening, the exclusive use of which is regarded as one of the perks of becoming Foreign Secretary, is no longer to be exclusive. Total Politics reports that Number 10 announced that the new Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson will have to share “Casa Brexit” with two fellow Brexiteers: David Davis, the Brexit Secretary, and Liam Fox, the International Trade Secretary. It comments “[t]he fact that the three politicians have never been great pals makes the move all the more awkward. But with 115 rooms it is still possible that they could all be there at the same time without arguing over who gets to sleep in the top bunk”.

2 thoughts on “Law and religion round-up – 24th July

  1. Just on Jack of Kent’s comments on David Davis. If Article 50 is not triggered within Davis’s well-known limited span of patience, he may well resign in a fury. This will enable Jack’s and my scepticism over Article 50 to flourish. As Estragon remarks to Vladimir – “On, on….”

  2. Pingback: Law & Religion 2016 and 2017: retrospect and prospect | Law & Religion UK

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *