Law and religion round-up – 26th August

A week in which much of the news – sadly – has been about historic child abuse

Charities’ Annual Return 2018

The Charity Commission for England & Wales has announced that its 2018 Annual Return Service is now open for business. Registered charities that must make a return can do so here.

The Commission published the final list of questions for the 2018 Return earlier in August, including new questions on areas such as the number and value of contracts and grants from central government and local authorities, funding from outside the UK, safeguarding and the number of employees paid over £60,000.

“Home” abortions

Last week, we reported the decision in SPUC Pro-Life Scotland Limited v Scottish Ministers, for Judicial Review [2018] CSOH 85, in which Lady Wise held that it was not illegal under the Abortion Act 1967 for the Scottish Government to allow a pregnant woman to self-administer the second of the two drugs used for an early abortion – misoprostol – at home. The UK Government has subsequently announced that it will legalise the home use of misoprostol in England by the end of the year. Women meeting certain criteria will still be required to attend a clinic for the administration of the first medication, mifepristone, but will then be given the option of being discharged home to self-administer misoprostol or, if they prefer, to return to a clinic take it.

Pews at Pip and Jims

On 20 August, an article by Harry Farley in the Daily Telegraph announced that the Middle classes have become obsessed with stained glass and church pews rather than religion. Ruling that the Victorian church of SS Philip and James (a.k.a. “Pip & Jim’s) could remove its pews as part of a £2 million overhaul, Diocesan Chancellor June Rodgers of the Diocese of Gloucester said the plans had been blocked by “architectural purists” who cared more about the appearance of the church than its religious purpose. The Team Rector, the  Revd Nick Davies, had expressed frustration that the case had consumed the tenures of his four predecessors.

We have posted on “balancing mission, aesthetics and heritage of parish churches”, here and here, and will review the case of Pip & Jim’s when we have access to the full judgment. [The formal faculty authorization is dated 24 August]. However, until then, readers can gain an impression of the proposed work from the architects’ description, Cheltenham excited by church reordering proposals, (surely a touch of MRDA) and the graphics on the church’s Facebook page.

Conclusion of IICSA Hearings

On Thursday, the Inquiry issued a Press Release announcing that the public hearings are expected to conclude in 2020. The hearing timetable to March 2019 may be accessed here. To date, there is no information on the scope of the further hearings planned in 2019 and 2020, or whether these will extend to the activities of the late John Smyth QC and the organizations with which he worked. 

IICSA Report into Ampleforth and Downside

The report into the IICSA hearing on Ampleforth and Downside hearings was published on 9 August. This was part of a broader investigation into the Roman Catholic Church and in its Press Release stated that there was a culture of acceptance of abusive behaviour and the prioritisation of monks and their reputations over the protection of children. Professor Alexis Jay, Chair of the Inquiry, said:

“For decades Ampleforth and Downside tried to avoid giving any information about child sexual abuse to police and social services. Instead, monks in both institutions were very often secretive, evasive and suspicious of anyone outside the English Benedictine Congregation.

“Safeguarding children was less important than the reputation of the Church and the wellbeing of the abusive monks. Even after new procedures were introduced in 2001, when monks gave the appearance of co-operation and trust, their approach could be summarised as a ‘tell them nothing’ attitude.”

This week, Dame Catherine Wybourne provided some useful insights into the Benedictine Congregation and the operation of the Rule of St Benedict, which some had indicated was itself part of the problem. In Part 1  of Of Abbots, Obedientiaries and Children in the Rule of St Benedict, she considers the authority of the abbot according to the Rule and the abbot’s authority in practice. Part 2 looks at those obedientiaries who have dealings with children in the monastery and examine what the Rule says about them. Dame Catherine comes to the tentative conclusion [emphasis in original]:

“The Rule of St Benedict is quite short —it can be read through in an hour — but its language may be difficult for some because it reflects the age in which it was written, the sixth century…I think no one who reads the text can come away from it thinking it is in any way ‘responsible’ for the kind of dreadful abuse we have read about at Ampleforth and Downside. The responsibility lies rather with a failure to follow the Rule. For that, there is both an individual responsibility…Every Benedictine house has its own ‘feel’, its own ‘take’ on the Rule. At its best, that is an enormous strength; at its worst, it can be misused by individuals to forward aims of their own, and that can be a great weakness.”

Abuse survivors sue Titus Trust

The Church Times reports that survivors of abuse carried out by the former Iwerne Trust chairman John Smyth QC – who died earlier this month – have instructed Richard Scorer of Slater and Gordon Solicitors to sue the Titus Trust, which now runs the Iwerne Trust camps.

Meanwhile in Scotland…

… twelve people, some of them nuns, have been arrested over claims of abuse at the former Smyllum Park children’s home in Lanarkshire, which closed in 1981 and was run by the Daughters of Charity of St Vincent de Paul. According to a BBC report, Police Scotland said that a further four people were due to be reported to Crown Office in connection with the investigation.

The Scottish Child Abuse Inquiry, chaired by Lady Smith, has heard from former residents at the home, who described suffering beatings, abuse and mistreatment, prompting an apology from Sister Ellen Flynn, current head of the Daughters of Charity, who said that the “horrifying” accounts were “totally against” everything the order stood for.

Electronic signatures?

The Law Commission for England and Wales has launched a consultation, which closes on 23 November, on Electronic execution of documents – which has obvious implications for religious groups involved in concluding contracts. The Commission’s key provisional conclusion – on which it invites comments – Is that “an electronic signature is capable of satisfying a statutory requirement for a signature under the current law, where there is an intention to authenticate the document” and that “legislative reform is not necessary to confirm that an electronic signature is capable of satisfying a statutory requirement for a signature”.

But is the Law Commission’s view definitive? Joshua Rozenberg tweeted “somewhat unusual example of the Law Commission telling us what the law is rather than what it should be.”

Quick links

And finally…

Much publicity about the forthcoming film of The Children Act, starring Emma Thompson. Unfortunately however, in a footnote to his judgment in Re JM (A Child) [2015] EWHC 2832 (Fam) Mostyn J pointed out that whether or not a medical procedure should be forced on a 16- or 17-year-old was a matter for the inherent jurisdiction of the High Court and, therefore, that:

“Ian McEwan’s excellent novel The Children Act, which is about a 17-year-old Jehovah’s Witness refusing a blood transfusion, is in fact incorrectly titled”.

That said, The Inherent Jurisdiction of the High Court doesn’t exactly sound like a crowd-puller.

1 thought on “Law and religion round-up – 26th August

  1. Pingback: Lessons from Pip and Jim’s | Law & Religion UK

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