Law and religion round-up – 24th December

And before you settle down to turkey, mince pies, crackers and possibly Mrs Brown’s Strictly Come Bake-off Yuletide Special, a bit of law… 

Undue spiritual influence again

Lutfur Rahman, a non-practising solicitor who had formerly been a partner at McCormacks Law, is the former Mayor of Tower Hamlets who In 2015 was found guilty by an election court of illegal and corrupt practices and barred from holding office for five years. We reported the case here because one of the issues in Erlam & Ors v Rahman & Anor [2015] EWHC (QB) 1215 was “undue spiritual influence”.

In August 2015, the Solicitors Regulation Authority charged him with failing to uphold the rule of law and administration of justice, failing to act with integrity and failing to behave in a way that maintains the trust that the public places in him and in the provision of legal services. The Law Society Gazette now reports that Mr Rahman has been struck off the Roll by the Solicitors Disciplinary Tribunal after an attempt to adjourn the hearing was rejected. A three-person SDT decided that his claim that he was unable to represent himself should not be taken into account and rejected his plea to take note of the fact that he had applied to amend a petition for leave to seek judicial review of his conviction. As well as being struck off, he was ordered to pay costs of £86,400.

Vicarious liability: the Queen’s Bench ups the ante

We have previously mentioned the issue of vicarious liability for tortfeasors, principally in the context of historic sexual abuse cases such as Various Claimants v Catholic Child Welfare Society [2012] UKSC 56 – aka the Christian Brothers case. In the recent case of Various Claimants v Wm Morrisons Supermarket PLC [2017] EWHC3113 (QB), the supermarket was held vicariously liable for a criminal breach of data protection by a disgruntled employee, one Skelton, who had been earlier sentenced to eight years’ imprisonment for breaches of the Computer Misuse Act 1990 and s.55 of the Data Protection Act 1998 – even though Morrisons itself was not legally at fault and not, therefore, directly liable for the data breaches and even though the company was itself, in effect, a victim of the crime. Concluding his judgment, Langstaff J expressed his misgivings at the conclusion that he was obliged to reach and gave Morrisons leave to appeal on the vicarious liability point:

“The point which most troubled me in reaching these conclusions was the submission that the wrongful acts of Skelton were deliberately aimed at the party whom the claimants seek to hold responsible, such that to reach the conclusion I have may seem to render the court an accessory in furthering his criminal aims” [198: emphasis added].

Amy Wren discusses the case in detail on Farrer & Co’s WorkLife site: Data breaches just got a lot more worrying for employers.

Bath Abbey Footprint Project

Following a two-day consistory court hearing in October, the Chancellor of the Diocese of Bath and Wells has granted permission for the permanent removal of the pews from the nave of Bath Abbey and their replacement with chairs in the main body of the church once the historic floor has been repaired, Re: The Church of Saint Peter and Saint Paul, Bath (Bath Abbey) [2017] ECC B&W 1. Replacement of the pews is a vital component of the Abbey’s Footprint Project, a £19.3 million programme of capital works and interpretation which will provide innovative and sustainable solutions to the community’s needs.

The petition was opposed by the Victorian Society, which argued that the Abbey’s plans for the permanent removal the nave pews, a major element of Sir George Gilbert Scott’s reordering of the church in the mid nineteenth century, were unnecessary and would harm the significance of this listed building.

Of relevance to this and future high-profile reordering cases was the Chancellor’s rejection of the results of the Victorian Society’s on-line petition, for although admissible, little evidential weight could be attached to it: many respondees had no proper (legal) interest in the proceedings; and the invitation to respond was couched in terms which did not engender an objective response [26].

After applying the guidelines in Re St Alkmund Duffield [2013] Fam 158, as further considered in Re St John the Baptist Penshurst [2015] Court of Arches (Rochester), Chancellor Timothy Briden concluded:

“[62]. In my judgment the balance falls firmly in favour of granting the order sought by the Petitioners, even after the listing of Bath Abbey and the strong presumption against change are properly brought into account. Bath Abbey is in many respects an exceptional building. Even if, contrary to my findings, the disposal of the nave pews were to be viewed as causing serious harm, the exceptional set of circumstances relied on by the Petitioners (including a significant element of heritage benefit) would have satisfied the “Duffield” criteria and justified the proposed change”.

Similar cases on the replacement of Victorian pews &c that have been considered this year include Re Holy Trinity Hull [2017] ECC Yor 1 in which, as a party opponent, the Victorian Society objected unsuccessfully to the proposed removal from the nave of “one of the most magnificent and extensive suites of Victorian church seating in the country”. However, it was more successful in Re St Botolph Longthorpe [2017] (final Order t.b.a.) following a protracted legal battle between the parish and the Victorian Society, much of the Victorian interiors of the chancel are to be retained.

A future post will consider Re: The Church of Saint Peter and Saint Paul, Bath (Bath Abbey) and other similar cases in greater detail.

With thanks to Mark Hill QC for a copy of the judgment.

Revised directions on beatification

Those reading the Vatican Bollettino in Italian for 16 December (no English version is available) will come across a link to Istruzione della Congregazione delle Cause dei Santi su “ Le reliquie nella Chiesa: Autenticità e Conservazione”, an instruction from the Congregation for Causes of the Saints revising the canonical procedures to be followed by local bishops in the process of beatification.

The Tablet explains that this Instruction replaces the Appendix, “Canonical Recognition of the Mortal Remains of the Servant of God,” included within Sanctorum Mater, the congregation’s “Instruction for Conducting Diocesan or Eparchal Inquiries in the Causes of Saints,” released in 2007. The interest in the instruction lies not in its exact provisions, which are not for the squeamish, but in its link to the on-going US case Cunningham v Trustees of St Patrick’s Cathedral last considered in the Appellate Division of the Supreme Court of the State of New York’s First Judicial Department on 10 October 2017. Business Insider commented:

Officials said the instruction was necessary to update the church’s 2007 rules given some obstacles that had emerged when families and the church didn’t agree on what to do with the remains of a saintly candidate. One current case is before a U.S. appeals court in the battle over the remains of Fulton Sheen, a prominent 20th-century American bishop”.

A detailed overview is given the American Magazine, which suggests “this legal battle is perhaps better known by the question both sides ask and offer answers for: “What is to be done with the body of Archbishop Fulton Sheen?” This is clearly a long way from the general principle on the permanence Christian burial that was considered (in a CofE context) by the Rt Revd Christopher Hill when he was Bishop of Stafford to assist the Court of Arches in Re Blagdon Cemetery [2002] Fam 299.

The new Bishop of London

Nothing whatsoever to do with law (except insofar as the holder of the office has an automatic seat in the House of Lords), but the Rt Revd Sarah Mullally, Bishop of Crediton, is to be the new Bishop of London. Her appointment is further proof that, like general election results, predictions (and the bookies’ favourites) are often not a good guide to the outcome.

Future comments policy

Up till now, we have only binned comments that appear to us to be utterly irrelevant, so out of date as to be meaningless, which might be libellous of a third party, or which might engage the law on hate-speech. We certainly don’t take offence at being told that we’ve got it wrong because we sometimes do get it wrong.

However, we have always felt very equivocal about anonymous comments. If either of us submits a comment to another blog he always signs it: similarly if either of us publishes a post on this blog which reflects his own views. Why wouldn’t you? So our conclusion is that, as from tomorrow, anonymous comments will be binned as a matter of course, without exception.

Quick links

And finally…I

Words of advice for the clergy tweeted by the Bishop of Burnley, (and endorsed by the Bishop of Newcastle and others):

“Key Christmas rules of Christian ministry. Never be Santa. Don’t mix it with flower arrangers. Never eat chocolates made by Cubs.”

With a nod towards Dave Walker’s cartoon “The Chain of Command“, this advice appears to be the ecclesiastical equivalent of W C Fields’s reputed advice to young actors:  “Never work with children or animals.”

Meanwhile, in a piece worthy of Fr Z’s blog, the Catholic Herald solves the dilemma faced by the faithful as Christmas Eve falls on the 4th Sunday of Advent: Do I have to go to Mass twice on Christmas Eve this year?  Quick Answer: Yes, but there are four options – Sunday morning + Christmas Day; Sunday morning + Sunday evening; Saturday evening vigil + Sunday evening vigil;  Saturday evening vigil + Christmas Day. Simples.

And finally…II

For those of you who are already bored witless by endless out-of-tune renditions of We Three Kings From Orient Are (and there’ll be more of them come Epiphany), try this instead:

And a very Happy Christmas to all our readers.

4 thoughts on “Law and religion round-up – 24th December

  1. “So our conclusion is that, as from tomorrow, anonymous comments will be binned as a matter of course, without exception.”. Amen! Amen!

    As Voltaire once wrote, “We owe respect to the living, to the dead we only owe truth.” So if you follow that, one does not need to be anonymous. Even on Twitter!

  2. Pingback: Ecclesiastical court judgments – December | Law & Religion UK

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