Law and religion round-up – 3rd September

A busy week on the blog, but nevertheless, a very mixed bag of issues…

…and whilst those concerning the Psychoactive Substances Act have become more important, they are of peripheral interest to L&RUK. We have also refrained from commenting on events surrounding  St. Sepulchre Without Newgate, Holborn (a.k.a. “the Musicians’ Church”), and likewise on yesterday’s story in the Daily TelegraphVictorian Society criticises evangelical group for keeping churches ‘shuttered and barred’“, which appears to escalate the situation.

Brexit documents

The Jack of Kent blog, written by the indefatigable David Allen Green, has posted an extremely helpful Brexit negotiations resource page, covering links and materials relevant to the current Brexit negotiations between the UK and the European Commission (on behalf of the EU) and restricted almost entirely to official documents. The links and materials are set out as follows:

  • Key documentsArticle 50 etc, UK documents, EU documents, joint documents.
  • Structure and format of negotiationsdocuments on how the talks are structured, including on “sequencing” and the “sufficient progress” issue, and the “principles” of both sides.
  • Negotiation rounds agendas, statements etc.
  • Exit Issues (a) background materials from relevant documents (with links), and (b) the position papers (and similar documents) for each topic.  The topics are in the order provided by EU position paper numbering, other than the Irish border (for which there is not an EU position paper (yet)  and some other topics for which the EU has not published a position paper.
  • Partnership papers – the UK has also published “partnership papers” for the broader agreement after the exit agreement.  These are listed at the end but are included where applicable under Exit topics.

Racist comments and unfair dismissal

A lecturer at Blackburn College has had his appeal for unfair dismissal thrown out after telling a colleague, Mr Usman Hussain, who was fasting during Ramadan, that he doubted “whether fasting would do any good” and said something to the effect that “you’ll be all right won’t you mate you could hide a sandwich box in there” – referring to Mr Hussain’s beard. He also made what the Employment Tribunal deemed offensive remarks about black people tanning on exposure to the sun.

The case, which was reported in This is Lancashire on 29 August, is Mr D Parker v Blackburn College (England and Wales: Unfair Dismissal) [2017] UKET 2403130/2016. Judgment was handed down on 21 April, so the press report seems rather late – and thanks to Paul de Mello Jr for alerting us to it.

So it’s goodbye to devolution, then?

The Herald reported that in a conversation at the New Town Theatre in Edinburgh on Sunday with comedian and broadcaster Susan Morrison, Jeremy Corbyn told his audience that the Labour Party was

“looking at the way we bring about genuine devolution and particularly economic devolution. Could you have a separate economic and legal system in different parts of the UK? I think that becomes difficult and very problematic.”

Which will be news to Scots and Northern Irish lawyers everywhere – and gave rise to much derision on Twitter. Maybe he should have read the first part of our idiot’s guide.

Charity Commission consultation on 2018 Annual Return

On Friday, the Charity Commission has announced a consultation on next year’s annual return. The consultation is the second part of a two-year project reviewing the key information that the Commission collects from charities and displays on the Register of Charities. The Commission’s intention is to shift to a more dynamic annual return that is better targeted and easier to use for charities. Smaller charities with simple operating structures will have to answer fewer questions, while larger and more complex charities have to answer more.

The consultation also proposes the addition of some new questions and the removal of others. The intention of the proposed changes is to help ensure that the questions reflect the priority risk areas in the Commission’s strategic plan and help it tackle new regulatory risks as they emerge. However, it is mindful of the need not to create an undue additional burden on charities and believes that further changes made to the service itself, in line with the improvements across its digital services, will mean that the annual return will be easy to use and intuitive for all charities, regardless of their size and structure.

The Commission is keen to hear both from charities and from users. Responses can be submitted via an online survey and supplementary information can be provided by e-mail. The deadline for responses is 5 pm on Friday 24 November 2017.

Psychoactive Substances Act

During the passage of the Psychoactive Substance Bill through Parliament, concern was expressed about its poor drafting and the unintended consequences relating to the use of certain substance not targeted by the proposed Act: for example, incense in the liturgy. (Similar concerns were expressed when the ban on smoking in public buildings was introduced.) Assurances were given that this was not the intention, and this appears to have been borne out as, to our knowledge, no one at Alton Abbey has been charged with the intention to supply of Rosa Mystica.

This week a Crown Court ruled that nitrous oxide, one of the targeted but unnamed “recreational drugs”, does not fall within the ambit of the definition within s2 Psychoactive Substances Act 2016. Furthermore, yesterday the Daily Telegraph reported “[an] undergraduate who became one of the first people to be convicted for selling laughing gas or “hippy crack” is to launch an appeal after similar court cases collapsed over confusion surrounding the law“. The student pleaded guilty on the advice of his legal team to possessing nitrous oxide with intent to supply when he went to the Boundary Festival in Brighton last year.

An urgent review of the provisions of the Act therefore seems likely, and as with any such review, it is important that the earlier assurances on the use incense are restated; unintended consequences resulting from any changes to legislation or procedure must be guarded against.

Quick Answers

The weekly round-up on 13 August 2017 carried the first of our “Quick Answers” sections in which we attempted to answer questions on “issues of law and religion in the United Kingdom – with occasional forays further afield” which arose this week through searches of the blog, details of which are available to us as administrators. We used a tabular format with columns for: the question, verbatim; one for a quick answer; and a final one for further information. We have continued with this format on three subsequent Saturday posts, 19th August, 26th August, and most recently yesterday, 2nd September.

From these posts, a trend to the information sought is beginning to emerge: one group of queries on one of a number of standard requests, which arise in one form or other on a regular basis, and reflect some of our most popular posts (e.g. impersonation of a cleric; holidays for religious groups; sharia law in UK); issues of more topical concern on which we have posted; and those areas we have not yet considered, but to which we give a preliminary answer.

We do not answer queries which are: seeking personal information/ outside the scope of the blog/ requiring specific legal advice, or an opinion relating to a pastoral situation. With regard to this latter group, however, we may paraphrase the question into a more general form that may be answered.

We are now in the process of reviewing the “Quick Answers” format with a view to providing more focussed responses. Readers’ suggestions are welcomed.

Consistory court judgments – August

Until Thursday we had only five consistory court judgements for August and were considering running these over to September. However, on the 31st we received a further six, and are working our way through these with a view to posting towards the end of the week.

Recent publications

  • Iain T Benson & Barry Bussey (eds): Religion, Liberty and the Jurisdictional Limits of the Law (LexisNexis Canada): “This distinctive collection of 18 papers addresses, from a variety of angles, the jurisdiction of law itself and limits of law – an important but often overlooked aspect of settling the boundaries of church and state, religion and law.”
  • Erica Howard: Freedom of Expression and Religious Hate Speech in Europe: using the case law of the ECtHR, analyses “whether legal prohibitions of religious hate speech violate the right to freedom of expression; and, whether such laws should be used to prosecute politicians and others who contribute to current debates when they use anti-Islam rhetoric” – and concludes that, if asked to adjudicate, the ECtHR should hold that the conviction of Geert Wilders for hate speech violates his freedom of expression.

Quick links

And finally… 

A piece of advice with which we firmly agree:

4 thoughts on “Law and religion round-up – 3rd September

    • As it happens, I’m Secretary of the Churches’ Legislation Advisory Service (which used to be the Churches Main Committee) as part of the day-job.

      I certainly aim to take a very careful look at the consultation. I don’t yet know whether my Governors – as trustees of the charity – will want to submit a response because they haven’t had a chance to see the consultation document yet, but I wouldn’t be surprised if they do.


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