Law and religion round-up – 7th October

This week’s miscellany of news, from escaped sheep, a three-headed dog and a man in a tiger skin, to provocative flags and crosses, whisky and cake. 

Civil partnership

Perhaps the major news of the week was the Prime Minister’s announcement that the Government intends to legislate to open civil partnership to opposite sex couples in England and Wales. In a statement, she said that “This change in the law helps protect the interests of opposite-sex couples who want to commit, want to formalise their relationship but don’t necessarily want to get married. By extending civil partnerships, we are making sure that all couples, be they same-sex or opposite-sex, are given the same choices in life.”

As we noted, it now remains to be seen how the issue will be taken forward. The Scottish Government is currently consulting on the future of civil partnership, with the alternatives of opening it up to opposite sex couples or closing it completely. It would be very strange – though not totally inconceivable – for Westminster and Holyrood to go in opposite directions on this.

All we like sheep

Our recent round-up of consistory court cases for September was posted just before Re St Chad Saddleworth [2018] ECC Man 2 was circulated to us. As it is a long time until the end of the month, we thought that we would share this somewhat unusual case in which the Chancellor granted a faculty to authorise the introduction of 8-10 sheep into one of the three churchyards of the parish, for the purpose of keeping down the vegetation.

Replying to the objection that “sheep will eat all the flowers”, the Petitioners stated:

“The objector doesn`t appear to understand that the flock will be enclosed within electric sheep fencing in the old graveyard, some distance from the Parish Council`s cemetery, and will be visited daily by the shepherd, or in his absence, by responsible members of the congregation. The sheep will be placed in areas, and there are many, where graves are not visited and therefore devoid of flowers”.

The sheep which had eaten flowers on the grave of the objector’s husband had escaped from a surrounding field and not the New Graveyard. Having recently visited Saddleworth for reasons unconnected with this application, the Chancellor commented that he was “well aware that it is a delightful rural area where the escape of sheep from fields is, in reality, a hazard of everyday life”.

Dress in court

Last week, the Court of Appeal of Québec upheld the right of a Muslim woman to wear a hijab in court: we noted the case here – but we cannot entirely understand what the initial fuss was about or why judges should get so twitched about hijabs, skullcaps and the like.

It was not always thus, as the novelist Henry Cecil (aka HHJ Leon, judge at Willesden County Court) recounted in his 1970 Hamlyn Lectures:

“On one occasion, a defendant, who was known apparently as Screaming Lord Sutch, came to my court. I had not the least idea who he was. My clerk told me, but, if necessary, I should have had to ask the question in court … Mr Sutch came to court dressed only in a tiger skin and accompanied by two reporters to see the fun. I asked him if those were the clothes he usually wore and he said that they were. So we got on with the case and there was no fun to report. It seemed to me that it was not my business to dictate to people what they should wear in my court, provided their dress was decent and not intended to bring the court into contempt. If Mr Sutch usually wore a tiger skin, why should I object to his clothes any more than I should object to those of a nun or an Arab? In fact, Mr Sutch turned out to be a very sensible young man, who conducted his case with courtesy and ability.” [The English Judge 108].

Clothing that conceals the face is, obviously, a separate issue: but if a tiger skin is acceptable in an English court, why not a hijab in a Canadian one?

Ashers Baking

The Supreme Court is to hand down judgment in Lee v Ashers Baking Company Ltd & Ors and the two associated references by the Attorney General for Northern Ireland on devolution issues on 10 October.

Archbishop of York announces retirement

On 1 October, The Archbishop of York, the Most Reverend and Right Honourable Dr John Sentamu, announced that he would retire on Trinity Sunday, 2020, 3 days prior to his 71st birthday. Dr Sentamu said:

“I will be retiring from my post as Archbishop of York in June 2020. I have decided to announce my retirement now in order to provide the Church of England with the widest possible timeframe to pray, discern with wisdom and insight and put in place a timetable for my successor and to consider fully the work they will be called to do in service to the national church, the Northern Province and the Diocese of York.”

“I am deeply grateful to Her Majesty The Queen for graciously allowing me to continue as Archbishop of York until June 2020 in order to enable me to complete the work to which I have been called.”

Peter Owen has explained:

“In the Church of England there is a compulsory retirement age of 70 for all clergy (with just a few exceptions, none relevant to archbishops or bishops) … This is set out in S1 Ecclesiastical Offices (Age Limit) Measure 1975, and the schedule to the measure.

However in certain circumstances such clergy may continue to serve for a limited period past 70. For archbishops this is for a maximum of one year, provided that the Queen considers it desirable and authorises it. This is set out in section 2 of the measure.

“[2] Archbishop may continue in office for certain period after attaining retiring age at discretion of Her Majesty.
Where Her Majesty considers that there are special circumstances which make it desirable that a person holding the office of archbishop should continue in that office after the date on which he would otherwise retire in accordance with the foregoing section, She may authorise the continuance in office of that person after that date for such period, not exceeding one year, as She may in her discretion determine.”

Peter notes that in his understanding, “Her Majesty would, as usual, exercise her powers under the measure on the advice of her prime minister. The British constitutional convention is that she always accepts that advice, as for example she does when appointing bishops and archbishops”.

As with other church appointments, we do not intend to speculate on potential candidates for the post, although we note the observation in the York Press from the Revd Emma Percy, chair of Women and the Church (WATCH); she suggested that it was unlikely for a woman would be appointed because of a lack of experience amongst most female bishops, as many of these are suffragan bishops, adding “the expectation is that it is normally someone who has been a diocesan bishop of a while,” she said.

Readers will be aware, however, that two of the five senior bishops in the Church, the Rt Revd and Rt Hon Sarah Mullally DBE, Bishop of London, and the Rt Rev Tim Dakin, Bishop of Winchester, did not have prior diocesan experience on appointment.

Provocative flags…

Further to our report last week that flying the Vatican flag (or certain others) in a “provocative manner” could potentially be viewed as a crime, on Thursday the matter had another airing, this time in the Scottish ParliamentJames Kelly (Glasgow) (Lab) said:

“It is simply unacceptable that flags that demonstrate religious and political beliefs should be restricted. It is a breach of civil liberties. It is outrageous that the Vatican City flag can be considered one that might get somebody criminalised. Can the cabinet secretary make it clear to Police Scotland that, as lawmakers, the Scottish Parliament finds it deeply offensive and unacceptable that such flags are listed and that people’s civil liberties are being breached?

However, Humza Yousaf replied:

I will give James Kelly the benefit of the doubt, because he might not have read the guidance in detail. As I said in my previous answer, the guidance states that flying the Vatican City flag, for example, in its unaltered state—that is important—would not, in itself, be a criminal offence. Police Scotland has said that, and it is happy for me to say that, too. Particular actions, such as altering any national flag, could make flying that flag an offence. As attendees at football matches, James Kelly and I know that flags could be altered to include the names of organisations that are proscribed under the Terrorism Act 2000. Flying national flags, such as the Vatican City flag, in their unaltered state would not, in itself, be a criminal offence. I give that reassurance to James Kelly and other members”.

[On which note, Frank recalls that when the then Taoiseach, Bertie Ahern, visited the Scottish Parliament in 2001, the St Andrew’s Cross flew from one tower of the Assembly Building on the Mound and the Irish Tricolour from the other.]

… and provocative crosses

The controversial decision taken in April by the Council of Ministers of the State of Bavaria to require the display of crosses in Government buildings as “a visible avowal of the fundamental values of the legal and societal order in Bavaria and Germany” is to be tested before the Munich Administrative Court on the application of the League for Freedom of Thought [Bund für Geistesfreiheit] and 25 other petitioners.

… but less provocative Zwarte Piets

In October 2016, we posted Christmas must be coming … Zwarte Piet is in the news again“. It’s that time of year again, but there appear to be some signs of progress. The Guardian reports that the Dutch public broadcaster, NTR, has announced that it will change the appearance of the traditional Christmas season character Black Pete, whose blackface outfit sparks annual controversy. It stated that the character of Zwarte Piet – the helper of Saint Nicholas, or Sinterklaas as he is known in Dutch – would this year only have soot smudges on his face for his official arrival in November.

“’The NTR respects both tradition and change, but it is our public duty as an independent public broadcaster to reflect these changes in society,’ the broadcaster said on Wednesday. ‘Therefore the Black Petes this year will have soot on their hands and faces because they came through the chimney. They will have different types of hair and will not be wearing golden earrings.’”

However, as with support for the Bacup “Nutters” in the UK, there are many who Dutch strongly defend the traditional Black Pete. “Protests – on both sides of the debate – are scheduled this year for the arrival of St Nicholas, which is due on 17 November in Zaanstad, north of Amsterdam, before the festival of Sinterklaas on 5 December when the Dutch traditionally give each other presents”.

Call for papers

Nottingham Law School’s Centre for Rights and Justice will be holding its one-day Flashpoints conference exploring themes which ignite debate in the field of Law, Human Rights and Religion. Proposals for papers are invited: further information here.

  • Submission deadline: Thursday 1 November, 17:00.
  • Conference date: Monday 17 December 2018, 09:30 – 16:00.
  • Venue: Level 1 Chaucer Building, City Campus, Nottingham Trent University.

Quick links

And finally…I

Question: “What makes a drink a cocktail?” asks the BBC. Answer: “Putting soda (or worse) in whisky.” Next question?

Disclaimer: As a long-standing member of the SMWS, David would never contemplate putting anything but water into his whisky. 

And finally…II

In view of the return of Dr Who to our screens today, a highly relevant question was posed to Fr Z on his blog:

Sacraments and time travel. Specifically, what if someone were to be transported to a time before Christ and outside of Judaic influence? If the time-traveller were a priest, would he be able to administer the sacraments and say Mass? Would he have an obligation to preach the risen Christ, or act more like a prophet?”

However, Fr Z does not seem to have been impressed by the question, responding “Finally, something important to write about!”

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