Law and religion round-up – 28th January

A new bishop, a new(ish) blog, but also plenty on burial rights, coroners and animal slaughter

Reuse of graves

On Tuesday, the Ministry of Justice answered a Written Question [122416] from Nicky Morgan (Conservative, Loughborough) asking what representations the Secretary of State has received from (a) the Burial and Cremation Advisory Group and (b) other stakeholders on the reuse of graves; and whether his Department plans to continue to review the matter of such reuse.

The answer was as follows:

“We continue to keep the issue of burial space under review and to maintain a dialogue about it with the Burial and Cremation Advisory Group – an expert group which meets twice yearly and is chaired by the Ministry of Justice – and other stakeholders.

In addition, as part of its 13th Programme of Law Reform, the Law Commission will be undertaking a project to consider the modernisation and streamlining of burial and cremation law, with a view to putting forward a legal framework for the future.”

In short, wait and see.


From Commons Hansard23 January:

“Dr Matthew Offord (Hendon) (Con): T8. Islamic and Jewish religious traditions insist that bodies be buried as soon as possible after death, so does the Minister agree with me that it is reprehensible for the North London coroner, Mary Hassell, independently to insist on a policy in which “no death will be prioritised in any way over any other because of the religion of the deceased or family”? [903481]

Dr Phillip Lee (Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Ministry of Justice): I thank my hon. Friend for his question. I am aware of the situation, having met representatives of the Board of Deputies of British Jews and Muslim burial representatives in October 2016. Coroners are independent of the Government, but I do recognise that there are some sensitivities around this issue and that there have been some difficulties in communication between the coroner and certain parties. That is why I would be very happy to meet my hon. Friend and, indeed, those representatives again in the Department.”

For a discussion of the context, see Coroners, Inquests and Religious Requirements-Where angels fear to tread in Religion, law and the constitution – of which more below.

Burial rights reform

On 17 January 2017, David Burrowes (Enfield, Southgate) (Con) brought forward a Bill on Burial Rights Reform under Standing Order No. 23, (a.k.a. a “ten-minute rule Bill”). This would “enable a person to make his or her instructions concerning burial and related matters binding on their personal representative or beneficiary; to enable a person to make provision about the use of a burial space he or she acquired while living after the person’s burial; and for connected purposes”.

The Bill was opposed by Chris Bryant (Rhondda) (Lab) primarily because it was a “no-hoper”, there being only five more Fridays when the House will be sitting before the end of this Session. He claimed to have probably conducted more funerals than anybody else in the Chamber when a curate at All Saints, High Wycombe, and provided MPs with anecdotes from his experience.

Nevertheless, the Bill was read the first time and the second reading debate will be on Friday 24 March – if there’s time. But don’t hold your breath.

“Parle-moi de ma mère”

On Friday 26 January, the House of Lords gave a second reading to the Registration of Marriage Bill – introduced by the Bishop of St Albans and replicated by Dame Caroline Spelman’s Registration of Marriage (No. 2) Bill, whose Commons second reading is scheduled for 23 February.  The Explanatory Notes state that the purpose of the Bill:

“… is to reform the way in which marriages are registered in England and Wales, moving from a paper based system to registration in an electronic register. This will facilitate change to the register entry both now and in the future, including a line for the inclusion of each spouses’ mother in the marriage entry, and create a more secure system for the maintenance of marriage records” [emphasis added].

The inclusion of spouse’s mothers has been an important driver in pursuing changes to marriage registration, although a specific provision is not included in the proposed primary legislation: the draft HL Bill empowers the Secretary of State to make regulations about marriage registration (clause 1) and consequential provisions (clause 3), and the Registrar General to make regulations (clause 2).

At the end of the second reading debate, Baroness Williams of Trafford expressed the Government’s support for the Bill:

“This is a very important issue that the Government fully support, and I am grateful to him for bringing forward the Bill to remove the current inequality in marriage entries … The marriage entry clearly does not reflect modern Britain and it is high time it was updated. Statistics show that there are currently some 2 million single parents in the country, around 90% of whom are women. As it stands, if any of their children were to get married they would be able to include only their father’s details in the marriage entry … Their mother’s details would not be included, even though they had brought them up as a single parent.


The changes proposed in the Bill would mean that marriage entries would be held in a single electronic register rather than in thousands of books, making the system more secure, more efficient and far simpler to administer and amend, if necessary. As a result, there would no longer be any need for bound marriage registers and certificate stock to be held in churches or other religious buildings”.

She made it clear, however, that the Bill

“… only includes provisions to introduce a schedule system and to change how marriages are registered to facilitate the changes to the marriage entry to include both parents. That is the scope of the Bill. It is very narrowly about marriage registration and not about solemnisation. It is not intended at all to include wider marriage reform … This Bill simply modernises marriage registration … and facilitates changes to the register entry to allow the inclusion of both parents’ names. This Bill is not at all intended to include wider marriage reform.”

She told the Lords that the Government intended to implement the Bill’s reforms as soon as possible following Royal Assent. So it looks as if the Bill is likely to become law.

Although unlikely at present, it would seem prudent to future-proof the prospective Act with the inclusion of a formal definition of “mother”, as already included in the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Act 2008 and as discussed in our post Mothers, Fathers and Parents (130907).

Draft Animal Welfare (Sentencing and Recognition of Sentience) Bill

On 12 December 2017, Defra opened a 7-week consultation on the Draft Animal Welfare (Sentencing and Recognition of Sentience) Bill. The consultation seeks views on the draft Bill which “reflects the principle of animal sentience in domestic law and increases the maximum sentences for animal cruelty tenfold, from six months to five years in England and Wales”. However, the overview of the draft Bill does not explicitly define the terms comprising its title, i.e. “animal”; “sentience”; “welfare needs of animals”, is applicable to all policy areas; and adopts the term ‘should have regard” in relation to the duties imposed on Ministers. One issue which, we suspect, is bound to arise in the course of the consultation is the religious exemption to animal welfare laws regarding slaughter.

The on-line Consultation closes on Wednesday 31 January. Helpfully, it includes a “Save and come back later” option, as most users expect of on-line consultations (and would have been disappointed with the CofE’s consultation on Cathedral Governance).

Renaming of transgender participants

Following the House of Bishops’ statement, publishers DLT were quick off the mark in enabling a free download of Liturgy for a Renaming Ceremony for transgender participants – an extract from the forthcoming book Transfaith: A transgender pastoral resource by Chris Dowd and Christina Beardsley. The legality of these ceremonies will no doubt be a source of endless debate amongst ecclesiastical lawyers, but as with services of blessing after civil partnerships, we suspect that an adverse conclusion will not influence those wishing to use them.

More married Roman Catholic priests?

La Stampa reports that Cardinal Stella, Prefect of the Congregation of the Clergy, has said that the possibility of ordaining older married men to the priesthood, the so-called “viri probati“, is an issue “to be evaluated carefully and without closure or rigidity” [valutare con attenzione senza chiusure né rigidità] in circumstances where the shortage of priests is so acute that congregations are being deprived of the sacraments.  He did so in an interview published in Tutti gli Uomini di Francesco (Edizioni San Paolo), a volume dedicated to the cardinals created by Pope Francis.

Given that there are already married priests in the Western Church (and by no means all of them in the various Ordinariates) and in the Eastern Catholic Churches, who knows how this might progress? [With thanks to Stephen Farrell.]


This week, the Diocese of Oxford eNews – 18 January 2018 contained an item “Safeguarding: what we’re doing | what you can do” and on its inclusion in the February edition of the diocesan newspaper lands; this includes “useful information about what to do if you’re concerned about safeguarding practice at your church, or if you are worried about someone”. Given that on 8 January the findings of the Bishop’s Disciplinary Tribunal upheld the complaint under the Clergy Discipline Measure 2003 against one of its clergy in relation to his abuse of spiritual power and authority, it is surprising that this aspect of safeguarding is absent from the information circulated.

Bishop-elect of London

It has been confirmed that the Rt Revd Sarah Mullally will be installed as Bishop of London at St Paul’s Cathedral on 12 May. Following her election by the College of Canons in the Chapel of St Faith at St Paul’s Cathedral, Bishop Sarah is now ‘Bishop-elect’. The Confirmation of Election will take place on 8 March at St Mary-le-Bow, at which point she will legally take on the responsibilities of Bishop of London; in practice,  however, she will continue to honour her remaining commitments as Bishop of Crediton after then.

Those with an interest in significant dates will note that Bishop Sarah’s election in St Paul’s was on St Paul’s Day, 25 January, and her installation will be on the date of Florence Nightingale’s birthday – which is quite appropriate for a former Chief Nursing Officer.

Alsager vs Blagdon?

Following last week’s sneak preview of some of the judgments to be reported in our next round-up of cases, further judicial considerations have been circulated by the Ecclesiastical Law Association, including one which broaches the issue of whether Christ Church Alsager [1998] 3 WLR 1394 or the later case of Blagdon Cemetery (2002) 4 All ER 482 is the binding authority for the Province of York on matters of exhumation. However, such considerations will soon be irrelevant as we shall discuss in a post early next week.

In another case to be featured, there are strong words from a Chancellor to those who object at the removal of “figurine gnomes, garden gnomes, figurine angels, cupids, balloons, and solar lamps, etc.” together with rose bushes and other shrubs planted on graves.

And a (fairly) new law and religion blog

Sero sed serio, we’d like to give a warm welcome to the blog written by Javier García Oliva and Helen Hall:  Religion, law and the constitution: balancing beliefs in Britain. They explain its rationale as follows:

“Balancing Beliefs is a project which looks at how the legal system can ensure that everyone’s religious, spiritual and ethical beliefs receive appropriate recognition, protection and respect. Some of the key questions we explore include:

– How should we resolve clashes when different beliefs and rights conflict?

– How do we protect vulnerable from abuse or exploitation?

– How should we decide which beliefs are worthy of legal protection?”

The project is tied to Javier’s and Helen’s new book: “Religion, Law and the Constitution: Balancing Beliefs in Britain”, a legal study of how the Constitution and the law generally have evolved in relation to the treatment of religious and other beliefs in England, Wales and Scotland. Law and religion is still a fairly small field and there’s always plenty of room for another blog, so we’re delighted to hear another voice.

Quick links

And finally…I

On Friday, all 17 UKIP councillors in Thurrock – including MEP Tim Aker – resigned from the party and formed a new group, Thurrock Independents. The councillors said they “have had enough of the aggressive and bitter reality of party politics”. The group is now the official opposition to the Conservative majority at Thurrock.

To which all we can say is, “So what did they expect party politics to be? Lapsang souchong and cucumber sandwiches?”

And finally…II

Those who complain of the size of the text of the Church of England’s revised website should go to the website of the Muslim Council of Britain and use the search engine: here the search term is reproduced in large, emboldened and capitalized text. However, one does not run the risk of developing RSI through endless scrolling down the home page, although the number of items included tends to produce substantially truncated headlines.

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