Law and religion round-up – 14th January

Reforming the coronial system, school lunches in France, smacking children in Wales, screening Star Wars in Stornoway – 2018 is in full swing…

…and following that comment directed at certain countries by President Trump (referred to by the BBC as “a disparaging remark”), the Revd Jody Stowell suggested that many vicars would be pondering whether they can quote him verbatim in their Sunday sermon. Baroness Jenkin of Kennington was not so constrained in the Thursday HL debate on Social Media. Prefaced by “please, my Lords, forgive the unparliamentary language and block your ears if you are sensitive or easily offended”, she repeated offensive comments made to Tory candidates during the last election; Hansard reported her speech without resort to circumlocution or asterisks.


In Inertia on inquests, Joshua Rozenberg returns to the question of the disappearance of the review of coroner services launched by the MoJ in October 2015. Everyone assumes that the overwhelming response has been a call for a national Coroner Service to replace the present system under which coroners are appointed – and dismissed – by local authorities. The reform is supported both by the current Chief Coroner, HHJ Lucraft QC, and his immediate predecessor, Sir Peter Thornton QC. The current piecemeal system has particular implications for adherents of religions such as Judaism and Islam in which the practice is for burial to take place as soon as possible after death.

The Jewish Chronicle subsequently reported that the Adath Yisrael Burial Society proposes to seek a judicial review of the decision of the Senior Coroner for Inner North London not to prioritise the deaths of Jews and Muslims over other deaths in spite of the Jewish and Islamic religious requirement for prompt burial.

Unregistered religious schools

The Children and Young People’s Scrutiny Commission appointed by the London Borough of Hackney has finalised its draft report into unregistered educational settings: the Council is to consider it on 15 January.

In a year-long inquiry, the Commission heard that up to 6,000 children attend as many as 290 unregistered educational settings across the country. In Hackney, around 29 unregistered yeshivas offer religious teaching to approximately 1,000-1,500 boys within the Charedi Orthodox community. The Commission received evidence from organisations including the Department for Education, Ofsted, the City and Hackney Safeguarding Children Board, Interlink, the London Fire Brigade, Hackney Council’s children’s social care and education departments, the Union of Hebrew Congregations and the Partnership for Jewish Schools. It also conducted a survey, inviting members of the Charedi community to share their experiences anonymously.

The report’s key concerns are an apparent lack of safeguarding procedures, the narrow educational focus of yeshivas and a lack of interaction with education and safeguarding professionals. The investigation also argues that there are serious failings in Government policy, which allows illegal ‘schools’ to operate without appropriate safeguarding, health and safety or curriculum standards. The report calls on the Council to continue its lobbying of Government for an effective legislative framework.

Complaint under the Clergy Discipline Measure 2003

The Archdeacon of Dorchester made a complaint pursuant to Rule 4 CDM against the Revd Timothy Davis, Vicar of Christ Church Abingdon, in respect of the mentoring he provided to a 15/16-year-old schoolboy whose family were members of his congregation. The complaint was that from the end of 2011/beginning of 2012 he began to mentor the boy

“with such intensity and in such a manner that he was in breach of safeguarding procedures both of the national Church but also of the parish and that this amounted to spiritual abuse and thereby he is guilty of misconduct”.

The Tribunal concluded that by his behaviour Mr Davis had abused his spiritual power and authority over the boy “and in so doing placed himself in breach of the Guidelines for professional conduct of clergy” and that this amounted to misconduct unbecoming and inappropriate to the work and office of a Clerk in Holy Orders. He was therefore guilty of misconduct under s.8 CDM [59]. The Tribunal emphasised that there was no suggestion of any sexual touching by Mr Davis. There would be a further hearing to fix penalty.

Sparing the rod in Wales

The BBC reports that the Welsh Government’s proposal to outlaw smacking children and removing the defence of reasonable punishment will be the subject of a three-month consultation. The Minister for Children and Social Care, Huw Irranca-Davies, said that it was time “to ensure it is no longer acceptable anywhere”. The move is supported by the Children’s Commissioner for Wales and the NSPCC but is controversial nonetheless.

Pork in French schools again

The Guardian reports that Beaucaire, near Avignon, is no longer serving pork-free meals in its schools: as from the first day of the new school term the National Front mayor, Julien Sanchez, scrapped the scheme brought in by his predecessor. In a newspaper article announcing the policy change in December, Sanchez said that the pork-free meals were “anti-Republican”.

In August 2017 we noted an earlier decision by the Tribunal administratif de Dijon, Ligue de Défense Judiciaire des Musulmans et autres (N° 1502100, 1502726, 28 août 2017), in which the Tribunal annulled a similar decision on the grounds, inter alia, that the Mayor’s decision in that instance had not given primary attention to the interests of the children within the meaning of the International Convention on the Rights of the Child.

What will happen in the event of a judicial challenge to the Beaucaire decision is anyone’s guess – but from a UK perspective, the whole thing simply looks bizarre and racist in equal measure. [With thanks to Donlu Thayer.]

Abortion in Ireland

The Irish Times reports that the Taoiseach, Leo Varadkar, has said that he is concerned that proposals to allow abortions on request up to 12 weeks’ pregnancy may be “a step too far” for most Irish people. Mr Varadkar said the legislative recommendation in the Report of the Joint Committee on the Eighth Amendment of the Constitution “went further than many people may have anticipated” and that it went further than he himself would have anticipated a year or two ago. But he also said that he understood “the logic behind” the recommendation, given the widespread availability of the abortion pill.

The proposed referendum on repealing the Eighth Amendment was the main item of discussion at the first Irish Cabinet meeting of the year. There is to be a statement on the Report in the Dáil on 17 January.

Christ Church Spitalfields and the Garden Building judgment

Following a Consistory Court hearing in the summer of 2016 regarding Christ Church Spitalfields’ Garden Building, the judgment was finalised in March 2017 by Chancellor June Rodgers as Deputy Chancellor of the Diocese of London. The judgment was updated in December 2017 upon hearing representations from parties opponent and from objectors

The materials concerning Re Christ Church, Spitalfields are available on the London diocese web siteSpitalfields Judgment all 3 parts 17th December 2018 FINAL as published: paras 1-811, handed down 12th March 2017; paras 812-851, dated 22nd November 017; and paras 813-859 dated 17th December 2017; Spitalfields Order Plan with 17 Dec 17 Order. [With thanks to David Lamming for the link.]

Quick links

And finally…I

And finally…II

On 11 January, Lord Bourne of Aberystwyth, Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State at the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government and the Wales Office, informed the House of Lords [HL Hansard 11 January Vol 788 Col 345]

“People referred to the new name of the department. In fact, it is now a ministry—the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government, or MoHoCoLoGo, as I am told it is being called in the corridors of power. It makes us sound like a Mexican nightclub”.

[With thanks to Richard Chapman.]

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