Law and religion round-up – 14th August

Professor Alexis Jay agreed to chair the Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse, the Jehovah’s Witnesses failed to head off the Charity Commission’s  inquiry into their safeguarding practices – and we discovered the identity of …

… The Minister for Faith and Integration

Readers may be as interested as we were to learn that the faith portfolio in the new Government has been given to Lord (Nick) Bourne of Aberystwyth. A barrister and former Professor of Law at Swansea, he was appointed Parliamentary Under Secretary of State for the Wales Office in May 2015 and, additionally, Parliamentary Under Secretary of State at the Department for Communities and Local Government on 17 July 2016, where his responsibilities include faith and integration, community cohesion and racial equality. We came across the information about his appointment entirely by accident, in a report in Jewish News.

Charity Commission inquiry into Jehovah’s Witnesses to proceed

On Friday, Third Sector (£) reported that the Supreme Court has ruled that the Watch Tower and Bible Tract Society of Great Britain cannot prevent the Charity Commission from opening a statutory inquiry into the charity’s safeguarding practices, after the Court of Appeal had refused in Watch Tower Bible & Tract Society of Britain & Ors v The Charity Commission [2016] EWCA Civ 154 to set aside the Commission’s decision to open the inquiry.

According to the report, the Supreme Court handed down its ruling on 11 July. In the absence of a judgment, we assume that what happened was that the Court refused the JWs permission to appeal; but the decided PTA applications lists for the period from June onwards are not yet available on the UKSC website.

Civil partnerships in Scotland

On 5 August, the Scottish Government published Review of Civil Partnership in Scotland – Analysis of Consultation Responses, prepared on its behalf by APS Group Scotland. A total of 411 responses was received, over 90 per cent of them from individual members of the public. On the burning question of the introduction of opposite-sex civil partnership, the analysis reports that 360 respondents commented – but it doesn’t tell us which was the majority view.

A British Bill of Rights: is it the long goodbye?

Politics Home reports that “Whitehall sources” have told The Times (£) that the proposal for a “British Bill of Rights” could yet be scrapped and that Theresa May has asked Justice Secretary Liz Truss to rethink the plan. Reportedly, the Prime Minister was apparently unhappy with some of its proposals, especially a concession that the UK would remain a signatory of the ECHR. The  anonymous informants are quoted as saying that “The work had been done bringing on side most of the critics in Parliament and it was clear that there were the votes there to get it through” and “The bill is ready but my hunch is that she might junk it. I think the priority for the Justice Department will be prison reform and she won’t want another fight with the Scottish Government … I just don’t think the will is there to drive it through.”

Mrs May had already said at the start of her leadership campaign that she would not pursue her preference for withdrawal from the ECHR because she did not believe that there was a Commons majority for doing so. So maybe the report simply helps to confirm what we thought we already knew. Confusingly, however, The Times also reports that “The Justice Ministry said that a consultation would be published”; and on 21 July (as we noted at the time), Hansard reported the Solicitor General, Sir Oliver Heald, as telling Harriet Harman that “We will set out our proposals for a Bill of Rights in due course. We will consult fully on our proposals.” So where that leaves things we do not know.

Hyperactive charity trustees?

“‘Interfering chairs’ are overstepping boundaries as they try to improve governance post-Kids Company”, reports Civil Society, based on an interview with Paul Farmer, Chair of the Association of Chief Executives of Voluntary Organisations (Acevo). Farmer is also CEO of Mind, so he can see the issue from both sides; he is quoted as saying that the Charity Commission

“has sent a very strong message that trustees have a fundamentally important role to play – which is very accurate and absolutely spot-on … But that has led to boards and chairs feeling concerned that they don’t know enough about what the organisation is doing and sometimes as though they might need to take a greater degree of control.”

The result, he said, is a “risk that the areas of responsibility and the relationship between the chair and chief executive becomes a bit unclear.”

We can see where he is coming from and we would hope that unnecessary tensions could be avoided. Rather than unwarranted interference, however, the problem is often that the trustees simply regard their positions as honorific and barely engage with the legal and compliance side of running of their charity at all. If things go wrong in a charity, it’s ultimately the trustees that carry the can, not the CEO or the charity’s paid staff – which is why, in our view, trustees need to be vigilant. Better overactive than disengaged.

More on Latin

Last week the Scottish Parliamentary Counsel Office published its drafting guidelines, Drafting Matters!. It provides a lot of very sensible advice, not only on legislative drafting style but on legal writing generally; but the reason for noting it here is that one of the issues it addresses is the use of Latin in drafting bills:

Latin words

Use Latin words only where there is no suitable translation or another good reason for preferring them. To note: terms such as ‘ex proprio motu’ and ‘ex officio’ are to be avoided (since the ready alternatives ‘of its own accord’ and ‘by reason of holding the office’ are more easily understood by the ordinary reader). Examples of acceptable Latin are:

– terms of art (for example, nobile officium, solatium, per stirpes, pro loco et tempore, curator ad litem)

– scientific terminology (for example, for detailed botanical, medical or veterinary classification of plants, diseases or animals)

– simple and recognised terms (for example, ‘vice versa’ or ‘ante-natal’, noting that terms such as these can probably be regarded as having been adopted into English)…”

Evidently the Scottish draftsmen have been no more successful than we have at coming up with a neat translation of nobile officium.

News from Cardiff

Cardiff University has announced that Dr Russell Sandberg, an old friend and a welcome guest on this blog, has been promoted to Reader and is to be Head of Law within the University’s School of Law and Politics. We offer Russell our warmest congratulations – and hope he’ll still be able to find the time to write us the occasional post.

Quick links

  • Maria Strauss: Farrer & Co: Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse (IICSA): Update: concludes that is not clear that the change of Chair will have much impact on the Inquiry: but for now, “institutions are encouraged to continue their preparations and response to the Inquiry particularly if they are already a case study or have been contacted by the Inquiry for disclosure of documents.”
  • US Department of State: International Religious Freedom Report for 2015: published on 10 August, the State Department’s annual review is carefully researched and provides helpful annual snapshots of the state of religion under the law, country by country: see, for example, its analysis of the progress of the controversial law on religion in Hungary.

And finally…

Thanks to Strasbourg Observers, we stumbled across the news that the Fourth Section ECtHR had held in Ziembiński v Poland (No 2) [2016] ECHR 607 that a newspaper editor’s criminal conviction for describing local government officials as “dim-witted” and a “numbskull” violated his Article 10 right to freedom of expression. Says the report, “The judgment may prove decisive for future prosecutions of journalists under article 216(2) of Poland’s criminal code, which makes it a specific offence to ‘insult’ a person ‘through the mass media’ and carries a possible one-year prison sentence.”

We devoutly hope so: if you can’t insult a public official in the media, exactly whom can you insult?

1 thought on “Law and religion round-up – 14th August

  1. Thanks for the news about Nick Bourne. He was a Member of the National Assembly for Wales and leader of the Tories in Wales until he lost his seat in the 2011 election. As my Regional AM, I talked with him at his Mid-Wales “surgery”. A likeable man but unaccountably evasive about the issue I raised (the legitimacy of the State funding religious care in hospitals from the NHS budget). I now understand entirely. I hadn’t realised that he had slunk into the Lords and now is to do the job previously given to Baroness Warsi and the Rt. Hon. Eric Pickles.
    The Telegraph reported that this job had been abolished in August 2015.
    Best wishes Nick – at least you don’t have much to emulate.

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