Law and religion round-up – 9th April

“Egg-bound” thinking by Church and State this week…

… but un oeuf is un oeuf, and so no more egg-related puns. However, we certainly didn’t expect the CofE Easter story statement to be about the “Trinity of Chocolate” (Cadbury, Rowntree and Fry). It was left to Dr Michael Sadgrove, Dean Emeritus of Durham, to inject a degree of sanity into the Church’s position in his comments to the Church Times.

Gratefully accepting a gift-horse of a metaphor, the BHA described it as a storm in an eggcup; it was a gift to the cartoonists and bloggers, while Quakers might shed a silent tear for three businesses founded by Friends. Meanwhile, the willingness of Theresa May to wade into this media-generated nonsense emphasized her lack of action on weightier matters. David Tollerton, of Exeter University, suggests that the whole affair is redolent of “dog-whistle politics”: an undercooked mess that feeds English nationalism, while Esther McConnell, a direct descendant of John Cadbury, pointed out in a tweet that, as a Quaker, he didn’t celebrate Easter anyway.

A busy week in the courts

On Tuesday, judgment was handed down in Tayo v Charity Commission [2017] UKUT 134 (TCC), in which the Jehovah’s Witnesses failed in their latest attempt to block the Commission’s statutory inquiry into the JW’s New Moston Congregation: we noted it here.

On Thursday, in Klein and Others v Germany [2017] ECHR 327, Strasbourg upheld the legality of the German church tax – to the relief, not doubt, of Austria, Denmark, Finland, Iceland and some of the cantonal administrations in Switzerland, as well as the German Government.

Also on Thursday, the Supreme Court used its unanimous judgment in Essop & Ors v Home Office (UK Border Agency) [2017] UKSC 27 to clarify the law on indirect discrimination in employment. While the second appellant in the case, a Muslim prison chaplain, lost his appeal in a claim of indirect religious discrimination on the basis that the higher courts could not disturb the factual findings of an Employment Tribunal, Essop is likely to be important for similar claims in future. We noted it here.

Discrimination in employment

And while we’re on the subject, the Law Society Gazette, here, and Legal Futures, here, reported a case before the Solicitors Disciplinary Tribunal in which a solicitor who sent a string of abusive messages as part of a long-running dispute with a colleague has been fined £2,000. Anup Shah, the senior partner at CVS LLP, sent a consultant at the firm – a former equity partner – three e-mails which made reference to his age, religion and mental state. One of them included the comments, “What all this hatred? Maybe you need to seek help” and “I thought Catholic Christians would know better than to spread such hatredness (sic) especially during Christmas”.

Shah admitted two allegations: that he directly discriminated against an individual on the grounds of religion and/or age and perpetrated unlawful acts of harassment and victimisation in breach of the rules governing the conduct of solicitors. He and his firm were ordered to pay £18,509 compensation for injury to feelings.

Child marriage in Germany

Religion–Weltanschauung–Recht reports that the Cabinet has adopted a draft law to combat child marriage. Under the proposal:

  • the age of consent to marriage will be raised from 16 to 18;
  • if a spouse at the time of marriage had turned 16 but not was not yet 18, the marriage must be annulled by court order;
  • a marriage where one of the spouses was not 16 at the time of marriage shall be void ipso facto, without a court annulment; and
  • the principles also apply under foreign law [Diese Grundsätze gelten auch für nach ausländischem Recht].

In England and Wales, the age of marriage with parental consent is 16; however, under Scots law, a sixteen-year-old may marry without parental consent. So, if the draft law is adopted by the Bundestag, does that mean that if two 17-year-old Germans marry in Scotland, their marriage will not be recognised in German law? Presumably, not without a court order annulling it, but it’s an interesting conundrum. And what if they have a baby? Article 8 ECHR, maybe?

Changes in the Lords Spiritual

On Monday 4 April, the Archbishop of Canterbury announced that the Rt Revd Tim Thornton, currently Bishop of Truro, would take up the post of Bishop at Lambeth in September, following the retirement of the Rt Revd Nigel Stock. His duties at Lambeth will include supporting the Archbishop of Canterbury’s work in the House of Bishops, General Synod and the Archbishop’s Council; he will also be heavily involved in the Lambeth Conference 2020, and take on the role of Bishop to the Forces.

The post of Bishop at Lambeth is generally held by an experienced bishop, but as a non-diocesan appointment is not subject to the normal procedure of selection via the CNC &c. However, as a non-diocesan bishop, he will no longer be eligible to be a Lord Spiritual under S5 Bishoprics Act 1878, which states:

“Provided, that where a bishop is translated from one see to another, and was at the date of his translation actually sitting as a Lord of Parliament, he shall not thereupon lose his right to receive a writ of summons to Parliament”.

When there is a vacancy in the Lords Spiritual in September there is unlikely to be an eligible bishop who is a woman, as the only two women diocesan bishops are currently members of the Upper House; the provisions of the Lords Spiritual (Women) Act 2015 will not apply, and the vacancy will be filled by the most senior male diocesan bishop – and on Friday it was announced that the new Bishop of Sheffield is to be the Very Revd Pete Wilcox, Dean of Liverpool, infra.

Since the package of measures whereby female bishops could be appointed became effective in November 2014, only Rachel Treweek and Christine Hardman have been appointed to diocesan Sees: Gloucester and Newcastle. Male diocesan appointments in this period have included: St Edmundsbury and Ipswich; Southwell and Nottingham; Leicester; Lichfield; and Oxford (translated from Sheffield). The Sees of London and Sodor & Man are currently vacant.

Appointment of Bishop of Sheffield

On 7 April, No 10 Downing Street announced that the Very Reverend Peter Jonathan Wilcox, currently Dean of Liverpool, had been appointed as the next Bishop of Sheffield. The Diocese of Sheffield and the wider church will be pleased that the CofE has acted quickly and a prolonged interregnum has been avoided.

In view of the relatively short time involved, it appeared that it has not been necessary to refer the matter back to the CNC, and the appointment process has proceeded as if the Rt Rev Philip North had not accepted the nomination when first approached, rather than following his acceptance and withdrawal. This was confirmed in the Very Revd Pete Wilcox’s Announcement Speech.

By making a seemingly uncontroversial appointment prior to the report from the Independent Reviewer, the Archbishops have ensured that Sir Philip Mawer’s deliberations will focus on the events leading to Bishop North’s withdrawal, rather than how the See of Sheffield might be filled. It will then be for the Archbishops and General Synod to consider the broader issues of episcopal appointments in relation to the “Five Guiding Principles” within the Bishops’ Declaration.

General Synod Legal Advisory Commission

On 4 April 2017, the following legal advice was added to the Church’s Document Library:

None of this advice carries a date of issue, although the Church’s Legal opinions and other guidance pages indicated that the above documents are dated 7 April 2017. A post on “Celebrity Marriages” will appear next week.

[Links to the above guidance updated 1 April 2019]

Quick links

  • Farrah Ahmed, UK Constitutional Law Association: The Autonomy Rationale for Religious Freedom: argues that “autonomy does not count in favour of the full range of protection currently offered by the right in liberal states.”
  • “Bishops behaving ecumenically”: not an early script for the Tentacles of Doom episode of Father Ted, but the title of an undated document which appeared in the Church of England’s Document Library last week. For anyone interested, it is subtitled “Courtesies and Practicalities”, so it’s clearly nothing to do with the television series.
  • Sionaidh Douglas-Scott, Modern Law ReviewBrexit and the British Constitution: An Update: “The British Constitution has become a contested and uncertain object, of sometimes ghostly and shifting form. As a result, we are thrown back onto politics, where the most powerful tend to dominate.
  • Equality & Human Rights Commission: Healing the divisions: a positive vision for equality and human rights in Britain: the Commission’s 5-point plan on how the UK can retain its status as a world leader on equality and human rights after Brexit: by protecting parliamentary sovereignty over the equality and human rights legal framework; keeping our equality and human rights legal framework as we leave the EU; making sure that we remain a global leader on equality and human rights; protecting our equality and human rights infrastructure; and promoting the UK as an open and fair place to live and do business. We do hope the PM is listening.
  • Cécile Laborde, Religion and the Public SphereIs the liberal state secular?: starting from four universal liberal-democratic ideals, she asks how much, and what kind of, state separation from religion is required to secure them: by extracting the minimal secular core of liberal democracy she shows that there is a broad range of permissible secularisms.
  • Pierre Tevanian, LMSI.netUne révolution conservatrice dans la laïcité: commemoration of the tenth anniversary of the French law on “conspicuous religious symbols” banning Islamic headscarves (and skullcaps and turbans, etc) in schools.


We seem to have been suffering badly from downtime this week and we’ve asked our service-providers whether the problem is with our site or their servers – though we suspect the latter. This is infuriating for users and all we can do is apologise. It’s also deeply frustrating for us.

And finally… I

On Tuesday, the Beaker Folk of Husborne Crawley published a timely post, Donkey Risk Assessment, which appears to have been prompted by a Tweet on “what they don’t teach you at theological college”. Amusing [“Check the hooves. Ensure you have not used both cross-ply and radial, or the donkey may lose traction on corners”] but nevertheless practical [“Don’t forget – the end that doesn’t do the biting is the end that does the kicking. And vice versa“] and one to “cut and keep” for next Palm Sunday.

To Archdruid Eileen’s 11-point plan we would add: [12] Is the donkey ecumenical? – as the procession will include most the town’s churches; [13] Is it affected by impatient motorists? – as the procession halts the traffic for 15 minutes; and [14] How musical is the donkey? Will it be spooked by the Silver Band or the church choir? Will it join in with the singing, as some have seemed happy to do?

And finally… II

Who do you think you’re apostrophising? The dark side of grammar pedantry, writes Rob Drummond, Senior Lecturer in Linguistics at Manchester Metropolitan University. Our immediate reaction was that we’d have written Whom do you think…? – but we then began to wonder whether, in fact, he could be right and we would have been wrong…

5 thoughts on “Law and religion round-up – 9th April

  1. “….the provisions of the Lords Spiritual (Women) Act 2015 will not apply, and the vacancy will be filled by the most male senior diocesan bishop…”

    I suspect you mean ‘most senior male diocesan bishop’! If not, it would be interesting to know what test is proposed for the most male…

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