Law and religion round-up – 26th February

Opposite-sex civil partnerships, RE, funny handshakes – and some of the media still don’t understand the difference between Brussels and Strasbourg…

Opposite-sex civil partnerships? Not yet

Rebecca Steinfeld and Charles Keidan lost their appeal against the Administrative Court’s refusal to review the Government’s policy on the extension of civil partnerships to opposite-sex couples: see Steinfeld & Anor v Secretary of State for Education [2017] EWCA Civ 81: we noted the decision here. Arden LJ, dissenting, would have allowed the appeal. Beatson and Briggs LJJ rejected it, but Beatson LJ felt that it was “clear that the Government will need to make a decision to eliminate the current discriminatory position and to do so within a reasonable timescale” and acknowledged “the appellants’ frustration with the uncertainty surrounding when the Government will make its decision” [161].

So a narrow defeat – and it will be interesting to see what the Supreme Court makes of it, should the matter get that far.

[The BBC website carries an interesting piece on Where in Europe a man and woman can get a civil partnership. However, under S 212 Civil Partnership Act 2004, these will not be recognized in the UK.]

“…and with a qualifying connection”

On Wednesday, the Marilyn Stowe Family Law and Divorce Blog included W v X (Jurisdiction in matters of parental responsibility) [2017] EUECJ C-499/15 (15 February 2017), a divorce dispute involving several countries, which was referred to the  CJEU for a ruling on jurisdiction. Given the complexity of the case, we felt that we couldn’t improve on the summary in the blog [emphasis in original]

W v X concerned multinational parents. The father, ‘W’, was from Lithuania while the mother, ‘X’, was from the Netherlands but with also had family connections to Argentina. The couple married in the United States before later moving to the Netherlands, where their child, V, was born in April 2006.

The parents moved again after V’s birth and spent a period in Italy, where the boy gained Italian nationality in addition to his Lithuanian citizenship. The family later relocated yet again, this time to Canada, eventually separating in December 2010.

X and V moved back to Italy after the split and from there returned to the Netherlands, their current place of habitual residence (residence for legal purposes). She began divorce proceedings in the Canadian courts where she received sole custody of V.

However, W, who had since returned to Lithuania, began parallel proceedings in the capital Vilnius, alleging that his estranged wife was responsible for the breakup and seeking primary care of their son instead of her. The Vilniaus miesto 1 apylinkės teismas (First District Court of Vilnius) made an interim order that the boy should live with him while the proceedings continued. But this decision was quickly overturned and an appeal by W failed.

The District Court instead awarded custody to the mother, giving W visitation rights and specifying child maintenance payments. The father unsuccessfully appealed the ruling all the way to the Lietuvos Aukščiausiasis Teismas (Supreme Court of Lithuania).

Further proceedings were launched in the Dutch courts. Judges there also confirmed that V would live with his mother and specified a programme of child maintenance payments, subject to annual review.

However, the Dutch would not recognise most of the Lithuanian divorce ruling, accepting only the programme of contact visits drawn up by its north-eastern counterpart.

This led to a standoff between the Lithuanian and Dutch court systems, with the former declining to enforce the decisions of the latter. Following a series of legal manoeuvrings between the two countries, the Lithuanian court referred the entire case to the European Court of Justice for a decision on authority and enforcement.

Justices there concluded that, under EU law, the jurisdiction which makes a binding ruling regarding the parent a child will live with and the financial support to be provided by the other parent, will nevertheless lose responsibility for any further decisions in the case if the child subsequently acquires habitual residence in another country.

Of Bishops

Bishops have been in the news again this week. Concerns were expressed in the media regarding the nomination of the Rt Revd Philip North, Bishop of Burnley, to be Bishop of Sheffield. This resulted in a Statement from the Church of England Communication Office and a response by the Archbishop of York in the Yorkshire Post in which he reaffirmed his support for the nomination

The Church in Wales is seeking a new bishop of Llandaff, but three days’ deliberations concluded without any of the prospective candidate receiving the requisite two-thirds majority of votes. Under the terms of the Constitution of the Church in Wales the responsibility of filling the vacancy falls to the Bench of Bishops. The Bishop of Swansea and Brecon, John Davies, who is President of the Electoral College, said the process leading up to an eventual appointment will include a wide-ranging consultation of both the laity and the clergy from across the Church in Wales. Further background to the election is given Christian Today.

A “British Bill of Rights”? Also not yet

In an interview on 23 February with PoliticsHome, the Lord Chancellor, Liz Truss, confirmed that the Government’s plan to replace the ECHR with a “British Bill of Rights” had been shelved until – presumably – the next Parliament.

And a candidate for the Stool of Repentance…

Not much to add to what Shoaib Khan has already said, except to note that in 2013, the European Parliament Information Office in the UK commented that it did not normally find it worthwhile challenging Daily Express “Euromyths” and was resigned to the attitude of some in the UK media. Perhaps readers will find that the best approach is stony silence, except to remind them of our post on the subject, here: even though it’s five years old, it’s still correct (at least until Brexit).

Re Christ Church, Spitalfields

On 5 February, Chancellor June Rodgers, sitting as Deputy Chancellor in the Consistory Court of the Diocese of London, handed down a 497-page, 167,000-word judgment in the latest round of litigation relating to Christ Church, Spitalfields. The petitioner sought a confirmatory faculty to authorise the retention of an existing building currently standing in and on the disused graveyard of Christ Church: the “new building” [2] – which is, in fact, a new addition to the Christ Church Primary School. The objectors, who wished to restore the churchyard as an open space, sought a restoration order to demolish the school extension [3], which had cost just under £1.5 million [5].

Rodgers Dep Ch granted a confirmatory faculty and rejected the application for a restoration order [792]. She also granted faculty for a café to be run by Graysons, the PCC’s preferred caterer [793]. In what we suspect is still a fairly novel departure, she also directed that her judgment and subsequent order be displayed in full on the Christ Church website for three months, as well as being made available in hard copy in the church [796]. (She made similar orders about website publication in Re St Giles Uley [2014] Gloucester Cons Ct and in Re Emmanuel Church, Leckhampton [2014] Gloucester Cons Ct)

When and if we ever get our heads round the judgment we will post a longer note – but we may be some little time in doing so. In the meantime, if you want to see what the dispute was about, the piece in The Observer in October 2013, The unholy row over Hawksmoor’s London masterpiece, has a picture of the school extension next to the church.

Religious education and school curricula

The Jewish Chronicle reports that Department for Education has said there is no limit on the time that can be spent on religious studies in a free faith school. The Board of Deputies had been pressing the Government to clarify its policy following the rejection two months ago of applications from Barkai College and Kavanah College to open a new Jewish secondary free school in London. Both Barkai and Kavanah had had their applications turned down partly because of the amount of time they planned to devote to Jewish studies and Hebrew. According to the JC, a DfE spokesman said on 15 February:

“All schools are required to teach a broad and balanced curriculum. We do not set a requirement on how much of the curriculum should be dedicated to any particular subject.

In discussions with the DfE last week, Barkai representatives had been asked what arrangements they would make for non-Jewish pupils if the school closed at lunchtime in winter because of Shabbat. Eve Sacks, chairman of Barkai, said the question highlighted an expectation that the school would be equally attractive to children of other faiths and of no faith and that the DfE “would expect a Jewish free school to run an optional extra curriculum club on Friday afternoons in the winter until normal school closing time”. [Thanks to Paul de Mello Jr]

Freemasonry and the Church of England

On 18 February 2017, a service was held at Canterbury Cathedral to celebrate the Tercentenary of the formation of English Freemasonry. The Service was prepared in conjunction with the Dean of Canterbury, the Very Revd Dr Robert Willis, who preached, and was attended by the Duke of Kent, the Grand Master of the Freemasons, along with “other High Rulers in the Craft”.

The service prompted media speculation on the length of the service – some suggesting that it would last for three hours – and whether Masonic regalia would be worn. However, masons applying for tickets for the event were informed: “The Service will be approximately one hour in duration and regrettably on this occasion there will be no parking in the Cathedral Precincts. The Dress code will be lounge suits”.

Nevertheless, the event generated comments on various aspects of the service from a number of quarters which we will examine at a later date. However, as we noted in our post, Masonic symbol banned on headstone, “[t]here are nevertheless ambiguities within the CofE – such as the support of Freemasonry by some senior churchmen and cathedrals hosting Masonic events – which would benefit from a clarification”. [Neither of us is a Freemason.]

Quick links

  • Rebecca Black, Belfast TelegraphAs a coroner you don’t get paid to cry: an interesting interview with Joe McCrisken, the youngest judicial office-holder in Northern Ireland: “Resilience shouldn’t be confused with being case-hardened.”
  • Lois Lee, Religion and the Public SphereWhat of nonreligion in the public What of nonreligion in the public sphere?: argues that “a positive role for religion in the public sphere will rely on finding egalitarian models that incorporate the nonreligious alongside the religious”.
  • Office for National Statistics: Who are the UK’s trading partners? “As the UK starts the process to remake its political and economic relationship with the European Union, the future trade relationships we will have with the EU and the rest of the world are a key talking point. As a soon-to-be ex-member of the European Union, the UK will have to renegotiate its trade relationship with the remaining 27 partner countries, as well as with the entire world, as it no longer relies on the trading arrangements afforded by membership of the EU. In the months since the June 23 referendum last year the UK Government has signalled it is looking to build new partnerships with countries like India, the United States, Australia and New Zealand. But what do we know about our trade with the world?”
  • Church of England: Electronic voting on item 14: the “Take note” vote at last week’s General Synod: how did your Synod representatives vote?
  • Church of England: Archdeacons’ News Bulletin no. 22, February 2017: including: available to a good home: Archdeacon’s Clerical frock-coat on offer – no charge to an Archdeacon! – 1950s vintage, from amongst the possessions of a former Archdeacon of Doncaster, height about 5’9”, chest about 36”. If interested, e-mail Edward Martineau:

And finally… I

And finally… II

Don’t want a botched execution? Arizona says bring your own lethal injection drugs: you couldn’t (and we didn’t) make it up – unfortunately.

4 thoughts on “Law and religion round-up – 26th February

  1. Well, I have just reached the end of the Re. Christ Church, Spitalfields judgement. Wow. I wonder if this will in turn be appealed…? And good luck to the Charity Commission looking into it all (p. 440).

    • You will therefore probably appreciate why the consistory court round-up for February is a little late (and will appear in the next day or so). Whilst I used Franks summary of the St Peter’s Church, Bratton Fleming judgment, this was one of a total of 19 including 2 CDM cases, Re St John’s Waterloo at 69 pages and Re St Peter’s Church, Bratton Fleming at a modest 17 pages. However, we normally have first sight of Ray Hemingray’s summaries for the Ecclesiastical Law Association.

      • You know when you have some thick holiday novel, and you’re not that taken with some of the characters, and the plot is long and ridiculously complex, and you’re really not sure why you’re still reading it, but something just compels you to keep going so you can find out how it all ends?

        It was a bit like that.

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