Law and religion round-up – 3rd December

A relationships-dominated round-up, from cohabiting via prenups to divorce

Baroness Hale calls for no-fault divorce

In an interview in The Times (£), the President of the Supreme Court has called for the reform of divorce law in England and Wales and said that it is time to look again at proposals made when she was at the Law Commission in the 1990s, suggesting that divorcing couples do not want to allege fault and that “it ups the ante. It is a difficult time for everybody”:

“Most people, when their marriage is at an end, do not want to separate for two years, or five if the other party to the marriage won’t consent to a divorce, and so they bring proceedings based on either the adultery or behaviour of the other party. That enables, in most cases, them to get a quick divorce … But the basis of that decree hardly ever tells the whole story, who was to blame. It looks as if it is doing so, but it is not and so causes injustice, possibly on both sides.”


In her Times interview, Lady Hale also expressed support for new legal rights for unmarried couples. Cohabitation has been in the news: during law week, Resolution, formerly known as the Solicitors Family Law Association, published the results of a ComRes survey which found that two-thirds of cohabiting couples wrongly believe that there is such a thing as “common-law marriage” law in England and Wales, while the Court of Appeal decided in  Smith v Lancashire Teaching Hospitals NHS Trust that bereaved cohabitees should be entitled to claim bereavement damages. We noted it all here.

At the same time, the family lawyers at Mills & Reeve LLP, led by Nigel Shepherd, Chair of Resolution, launched a new website, Cohabitation Law.

Royal Marriage: Prince Henry of Wales & Meghan Markle

On 27 November, Clarence House announced the engagement of Prince Harry and  Meghan Markle, although details of the marriage in spring 2018 are yet to be released. From the legal point of view, there is little to be added to our posts earlier this year – Royal Marriages and Celebrity Marriages (and others). The Church’s new legal advice Celebrity Marriages – General Synod, Legal Advisory Commission does not appear to have been uploaded yet onto its new website (or if it has, we can’t find it), so we have changed the link to our own archived copy of the undated original.

And on the blog, Dr Sharon Thompson, family law specialist at Cardiff School of Law and Politics, asked whether the happy couple should perhaps conclude a prenup.

Baptism and Confirmation

On Tuesday were learned that prior to her marriage to Prince Henry of Wales, Meghan Markle would be baptised and confirmed in the Church of England. The possible rationale for this generated a certain amount of copy in the media, and in terms of accuracy, two extreme examples were Prince Harry And Meghan Markle’s Wedding Is A Big Shift For England’s State Church in the Huffington Post, and This is why Meghan Markle will need to be baptised before she marries Prince Harry in the Evening Standard, one of which was a clear contender for the Stool of Repentance. We suspect that a “compare and contrast” exercise was a “no-brainer” for our readers; the former includes links to CofE documentation as well as a quotation from Professor Norman Doe of Cardiff University; the latter was subject to a thorough nine-point fisking on the twitter account of Jules Middleton‏ @redjules. The offending article has now been taken down, although some copies may still be lurking around on the internet.

Quis custodiet?

This week, Ipsos MORI published its 2017 Veracity Index, “the longest-running poll on trust in professions in Britain” under the header “Politicians remain the least trusted profession in Britain”. However, the Daily Telegraph picked up on a different aspect of the report in its piece “Public trust in priests has fallen to an all-time low: how do other professions compare?” The article observes “this continues a long-term trend of decline in trust for the clergy in Britain with 85 per cent of the public trusting them in 1983; the first year for which there is data”. Whether this is correlation or causality we will leave others to discuss, and how it translates to the comments of the Archbishop of Canterbury and Donald Trump, below, is anyone’s guess. What neither report points out, however, is that the veracity of “pollsters” (at 50%) is below the current level of clergy and priests (at 64%), but both are way above that of journalists (27%).

(The poll also found that 50 per cent of the public trusts charity CEOs to tell the truth – which suggests that the other half thinks they tell lies. Not at all good for the charity sector.)

Stoking up religious hatred

In perhaps the most bizarre episode of the week – even by the standards of the Trumpton White House – The Donald retweeted a series of videos posted by a leader of the UK’s far-Right: you can read the full story and the mainstream political reactions to it – which were universally condemnatory – in The Independent. The Archbishop of Canterbury was moved to comment as follows:

Ecclesiastical law

David posted his latest round-up of ecclesiastical court judgments for October and November, ranging from the reordering of churches to exhumation and reburial. We were also moved to post a plea to readers who are seriously interested in law and religion to give some thought to joining the Ecclesiastical Law Society. As we suggested in our post, it’s not just for consistory court junkies and faculty jurisdiction geeks: it ranges much, much more widely than that. And we reckon it represents pretty good value for £40 a year or £25 for concessions. Have a look at the new ELS website.

A Church Near You

Following the re-launch of the Church of England web site on 15 November, the new A Church Near You web pages were launched on Thursday by the CofE Media Centre. This website receives over 13 million page views annually and is one of the Church’s most popular online resources, particularly in the last 72 hours before Christmas Day. The timing of the launch was scheduled just ahead of the #GodWithUs Advent and Christmas campaign going live. The success of this campaign is dependent in part on the information uploaded by churches, which are asked to check the information on the site, add information on Advent and Christmas services and events, and check the profile picture and cover photo.

Quick links

And finally…


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