Law and religion round-up – 11th June

A week dominated by the last gasp of the General Election campaign and the same-sex marriage vote in the Scottish Episcopal Synod…

You’re joking – not another one?

The UK finally struggled to the polls after what seemed an interminable campaign. After the Brexit referendum, every commentator seemed to be an expert on constitutional law; after Thursday’s vote, it’s now time for “hung parliament” expertise, to which we would look towards the Commons Library Briefings here. In brief:

“Hung Parliaments may result in formal coalition agreements, or government by a minority administration by way of a ‘confidence and supply’ arrangement. If no party or group of parties is able to form a government, a further general election might be triggered under the Fixed-term Parliaments Act 2011. It is possible that over the lifetime of a Parliament, two or more of these options might occur”.

On Saturday, it was announced prematurely that the Conservatives had concluded a “confidence and supply” agreement with the DUP. On Sunday, however, that was then unannounced: Downing Street and the DUP issued separate statements overnight, emphasising that the deal between them had not yet been finalised.

Our immediate thought is that the advent of a Conservative minority government relying on the support of the DUP is likely to mean that the Irish dimension of Brexit will loom very much larger in the upcoming Article 50 negotiations. DUP leader Arlene Foster is already on record as rejecting a “hard Brexit”, declaring that withdrawal needs to be done “in a way that respects the specific circumstances of Northern Ireland, and, of course, our shared history and geography with the Republic of Ireland”. Which might not prove to be the easiest part of the negotiations.

From the Churches’ point of view, perhaps the most high-profile ministers to lose their seats were Rob Wilson, the Minister for Civil Society, aka charities, and Jane Ellison, the Financial Secretary to the Treasury, whose portfolio included VAT and charity tax.

Party-political activity and the General Election

According to a report in Third Sector, after a complaint, the Charity Commission told the Central Jamia Masjid Southall in west London to remove a YouTube video in which it apparently advocated voting for the Labour Party candidate for the Ealing Southall constituency, Virendra Sharma, before Thursday’s general election. The complainant alleged that the video, which has since been taken down, showed a political event at the mosque in which the trustees allegedly endorsed Sharma, the sitting MP since 2005, with Pakistani media in attendance.

The Commission’s guidance on campaigning and political activity for charities reminds trustees that political campaigning can be carried out only in support of the delivery of a charity’s charitable purposes. In any event, party political activity is not a charitable purpose.

Scottish Episcopal Church approves same-sex marriage

Apart from a few exit polls, the final outcome of the General Election was almost impossible to predict. Not so the voting of the Scottish Episcopal Church on the critical motion #6 on same-sex marriage: GAFCON had a new “Missionary bishop for Europe” lined up for a Press Conference in Edinburgh at 17:00 following the vote, and the Church of England’s anodyne statement could very well have been written well in advance. Kelvin Holdsworth, Provost of St Mary’s Cathedral, Glasgow, was commendably quick off the mark with a tweet stating that wedding bookings were being taken for all couples, gay and straight alike. Readers wishing chapter and verse on Thursday’s proceedings will find a summary in our post, SEC approval of same-sex marriage; reaction in Anglican churches, which was updated throughout the afternoon as new material became available.

To this should be added the response of the Primus of the SEC to the statement of the Secretary General of the Anglican Communion, made in a Press Release carrying the heading  “Unity in diversity” – the motto of, inter alia, the European Union. Also, the Bishop of Maidstone, the Rt Revd Rod Thomas, has issued a Press Release stating that he will no longer meet with SEC bishops and imparting the information that over 100 evangelical churches in the Church of England have passed resolutions under the House of Bishops’ Declaration on the Ministry of Bishops and Priests.

Summaries of media reaction have been provided by Thinking Anglicans and Anglican Mainstream. However, we are still puzzling over: the item in the Mail on Sunday regarding a confidential letter send by the Archbishop of Canterbury to fellow Anglican leaders (and seen by the MoS); and the position of the GAFCON Missionary Bishop For Europe “with a special focus on providing Episcopal oversight to those clergy and congregations in Scotland who have asked for our help, and those in England who are outside of the two existing Provinces there”.

Humanist weddings in Northern Ireland

On Friday, Colton J handed down judgment on the judicial review brought by Laura Lacole  [alias Smyth] and Eunan O’Kane in which they argued that the absence of recognition of humanist weddings in Northern Ireland was discriminatory and breached their Article 9 rights. He quashed the General Register Office’s decision to refuse an application for authorisation for a humanist marriage and ordered the GRO to grant the application, which would give temporary authorisation for a humanist celebrant to perform a legally valid and binding humanist wedding ceremony.

The full judgment is not yet available: we published a note based on the court summary. The Belfast Telegraph reports that the Attorney General for Northern Ireland intends to appeal the decision.

Kirpans in Drayton Manor

ITV reported that a Sikh children’s party was denied entry to Drayton Manor after one of the group, a Coventry primary school teacher, refused to remove a ceremonial dagger; he was said to have been offered another kirpan to wear as a necklace but that was considered a poor alternative. In a statement, Drayton Manor said that kirpans had not been allowed to be worn in the park for a number of years as they posed a health and safety risk to members of the public. The Park offers an alternative to the Sikh community which has been acceptable – a necklace worn next to their skin in exchange for the kirpan, which is then handed over for safe keeping for the duration of their visit.

The Sikh Press Association is seeking discussions with Drayton Manor to resolve the issue. Perhaps a release of the Risk Assessment on which this practice is based might be informative? And how does it play against Mandla v Dowell Lee and Watkins-Singh v Aberdare High School? And what about s 139(5)(b) Criminal Justice Act 1988?

Installation of Pete Wilcox as Bishop-elect of Sheffield

The election of the Very Revd Pete Wilcox as the eighth Bishop of Sheffield, by the College of Canons at Sheffield Cathedral on Friday 5 May, was confirmed at a service held by the Archbishop of York on the evening of Monday 5 June. Attended by representatives from the Diocese of Sheffield, he took his oaths of allegiance and canonical obedience; he then became recognized in law as the Bishop of Sheffield and with spiritual jurisdiction over the Diocese. However, he cannot as yet perform the sacramental acts of a bishop until his consecration as a bishop, which will take place at York Minster on 22 June at 11 am. Following that he will pay homage to the Queen, acknowledging her as Sovereign and Supreme Governor, during a brief private ceremony at Buckingham Palace.

Canada to repeal its blasphemy law

The Government has introduced Bill C-51 which, inter alia, will remove s 296 from the Canadian Criminal Code. (The Bill is entitled, “An Act to amend the Criminal Code and the Department of Justice Act and to make consequential amendments to another Act” – it doesn’t have a Short Title). Under s 296 of the Code as it stands, “Every one who publishes a blasphemous libel is guilty of an indictable offence and liable to imprisonment for a term not exceeding two years.”

The Department of Justice’s Charter Statement on Bill C-51 says that:

“the repeal of the prohibition on publishing blasphemous libel (section 296 of the Criminal Code) would enhance freedom of expression protected by section 2(b) as well as section 15(1) equality rights. The offence has its origins in the 17th century, when blasphemy was considered an offence against God.”

Quick links

And finally… I

And finally… II

Anthony Lane in The New YorkerThe Book of Jeremy Corbyn. Enjoy.

3 thoughts on “Law and religion round-up – 11th June

  1. The Fixed-Term Parliaments Act 2011 curtailing the Royal Prerogative facilitates the entry of Jeremy Corbyn into No 10 in the event of Government fracturing. The Legacy of David Cameron continues unabated.

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