Law and religion round-up – 22nd January

A fairly quiet week for the blog, but certainly not for politics…


On Tuesday, the Prime Minister unveiled her plans for Brexit – or at least her desiderata. We summarised the main points here. To describe reactions as “mixed” is something of an understatement.

Northern Ireland elections

As expected, the power-sharing Executive in Belfast duly collapsed. Minutes after the deadline for a nomination to replace Martin McGuinness as Deputy First Minister had passed, the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, James Brokenshire, announced that elections for Stormont would take place on 2 March.

The Social Democratic and Labour Party proposed joint rule of Northern Ireland by the UK and Irish Governments as an alternative to devolution if a new Executive could not be formed following the election. However, the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, Lord Dunlop, dismissed that option as incompatible with the Good Friday Agreement. Speaking in the Lords on Wednesday, he said:

“I can confirm that the Government remain fully committed to the Belfast Agreement, including the principle of consent governing Northern Ireland’s constitutional position. It is on that basis that Northern Ireland is, and remains, a full part of the United Kingdom. Clearly, any form of joint authority would be incompatible with the consent principle. The Government’s priority remains to work intensively to ensure that, after the Assembly elections, strong and stable devolved government is re-established in Northern Ireland.”

The Charity Commission for Northern Ireland issued a reminder about the need for charities to behave in a non-partisan way during the election campaign.

Institutional abuse in Northern Ireland

On Friday, Northern Ireland’s Historical Institutional Abuse Inquiry published its report, which concluded that some children in 22 homes run by the state, Churches, religious orders and charities between 1922 and 1995 had been physically and sexually abused by those entrusted to look after them. The reactions are here.

The Charity Commission and the Jehovah’s Witnesses

The Charity Commission and the Watch Tower Bible & Tract Society have settled their legal proceedings and the Commission’s inquiry into safeguarding concerns is to continue. In a statement on Thursday, the Commission said that it had “obtained additional information from the charity and other sources” and had therefore withdrawn the order, while the charity had withdrawn its application for judicial review. The separate investigation into the Manchester New Moston Congregation is also continuing. We noted the background here.

Assisting suicide: the DPP’s policy

In R (Kenward & Anor) v The Director of Public Prosecutions & Anor [2015] EWHC 3508 (Admin), a three-judge Administrative Court (Sir Brian Leveson P, Wilkie and Cranston JJ) dismissed an application for judicial review of the amendment in October 2014 of the DPP’s Policy for Prosecutors in Respect of Cases of Encouraging or Assisting Suicide. The policy had been issued in 2010 and the amendment followed the decision of the Supreme Court in R (Nicklinson & Anor) v Ministry of Justice; R (AM ) (AP) v DPP [2014] UKSC 38.

Delivering the judgment of the Court, Leveson P had concluded:

“It is important not to misunderstand the effect either of the policy or the impact of the amendment to the policy introduced by the DPP. The policy does not remove bright lines where previously they existed and no assistance or encouragement is rendered lawful that previously was unlawful. The gradation between circumstances in which it is appropriate to prosecute and those in which it is not will always involve a very detailed consideration of all the facts and, ultimately, a balanced judgement … Neither does the policy impact on the view which professional regulatory bodies are entitled to take about the obligations and responsibilities of those whom they regulate: the criminal law identifies minimum standards of behaviour and professional requirements may well be set at a higher level. Thus, although I recognise that Mr and Mrs Kenward hold very strong views, I do not accept that this policy provides support for the proposition that those views will not be respected by all with whom they come into contact” [53].

According to the Daily Telegraph, the Court of Appeal (Longmore and Kitchen LJJ) – in a decision as yet unreported – has now ruled there is no point allowing a full Court of Appeal hearing because the High Court decision will inevitably be upheld, concluding that “Although it does raise difficult and delicate issues, it does seem entirely inappropriate that the case should go any further.”

Burial rights reform

On Tuesday, David Burrowes (Enfield, Southgate) (Con) sought leave under the Ten Minute Rule to bring in “a Bill to enable a person to make his or her instructions concerning burial and related matters binding on their personal representative or beneficiary; to enable a person to make provision about the use of a burial space he or she acquired while living after the person’s burial; and for connected purposes.”

Its purpose is

“[to] ensure that a person’s burial wishes are properly carried out by surviving relatives and that the ownership of a grave does not lead to exclusive rights being gained by one family member to use against another family member. At present, the only answer when there is a family dispute about grave ownership is to consult a solicitor and conduct expensive litigation. However, the issue of respecting the wishes of the deceased demands a less contentious approach. My Bill would ensure that a statutory requirement is imposed on the parties involved in burial arrangements to take greater responsibility for considering the deceased’s wishes for burial arrangements and to give greater significance to any existing will or public register.”

The motion was opposed by Chris Bryant (Rhondda) (Lab), but on the grounds that the bill would have no chance of making progress because there was insufficient private Member’s time left in the current Session. The House gave leave to bring in the bill without a division: whether we will ever see a text is another matter.

Unsafe memorials in cemeteries

The House of Commons Library has published a briefing paper on headstone safety and actions to address the risk of accidents caused by unstable memorials in cemeteries. The paper, which deals with the position in England and Wales only, notes that the issue of memorial safety was brought to a head following cases where memorials toppled over and caused injuries, sometimes fatal, to members of the public. In particular, the death of a child in Yorkshire in 2000 highlighted the problem of unstable memorials.

 In 2007, the then Government stated that reliable data were not available, but that the available data showed that 21 serious accidents, caused by falling gravestones and memorials, had been reported to the Health and Safety Executive over the previous seven years. According to the Ministry of Justice, over the previous 30 years to 2009, eight people in the UK were killed when a memorial fell on them.

The guidance adds that, in view of the number of memorials and the number of visitors to burial grounds in any year, the risk of any injury is extremely low. Responsibility for maintaining individual memorials rests primarily with those who erected them; however, local authorities, acting as burial authorities, have general powers of management in relation to public cemeteries, including the power to take any action necessary to remove a danger which arises because of the condition of a vault, tombstone or memorial. Burial authorities also have duties of care under health and safety legislation and under the principles of occupier’s liability.

The UKSC Brexit judgments: R (Miller) etc

On Tuesday 24 January at 9.30 the UKSC will hand down judgment in the Brexit appeals:

The hand-downs will be streamed on Supreme Court Live and will then be made available on the Supreme Court’s video-on-demand service.

Call for papers

The Centre for German-Jewish Studies, University of Sussex, and the Woodbrooke Centre for Postgraduate Quaker Studies in Selly Oak are inviting submissions for a joint one-day conference to be held at the University of Sussex on 13 October, entitled Jews and Quakers: On the borders of acceptability.

Quick links

  • Church of England, General Synod papers: the first batch of papers for the February session is now available online.
  • Neil Foster, Law and Religion AustraliaOverseas Muslim marriages and Australian law: two cases involving purported marriages under Islamic law, entered into overseas by Australian residents, which illustrate some important principles of Australian law.
  • Vishva Samani & Athar Ahmad, BBC: Why are UK Hindus against a caste law?: “some British Asians say they still experience discrimination due to their caste. So, why are so many Hindu bodies in the UK opposed to this being made illegal?” (including Prakash Shah, who has previously guest-posted on this blog and who has criticised the proposal here).
  • Chris Shannahan, Public SpiritThe Casey Review: Great leap forward or a missed opportunity?: concludes that it fails because of its over-emphasis on immigration, its dubious analysis of apparent segregation, its reluctance to explore White identities in any depth and its neglect of the link between class and lack of social mobility.

And finally… I

To our surprise, David’s post on the “fundamentally flawed” application to the consistory court for an injunction to stop the Dean & Chapter of York Minster preventing the ringing of the Minster bells has been read over 1,400 times in just over a week. We wonder whether Ringing World has a Facebook page – but if it has, we haven’t found it.

And finally… II

On Friday, Donald Trump was inaugurated as the 45th President of the United States.

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