Law and religion round-up – 16th December

So it’s not exactly “Goodbye, Mrs May” just yet…


Inevitably, the biggest news of the week was that the Prime Minister had survived a confidence vote in a ballot of Conservative MPs by 200 votes to 117. But in a last-minute, pre-vote concession, she promised her MPs that she would step down before the next election. Others may wish to comment, but L&RUK is not the appropriate vehicle.

In which connexion, the European Council evidently tried to be as helpful as possible to the PM, given her present difficulties. On 14 December it agreed the following:

“1. The European Council reconfirms its conclusions of 25 November 2018, in which it endorsed the Withdrawal Agreement and approved the Political Declaration. The Union stands by this agreement and intends to proceed with its ratification. It is not open for renegotiation.

2. The European Council reiterates that it wishes to establish as close as possible a partnership with the United Kingdom in the future. It stands ready to embark on preparations immediately after signature of the Withdrawal Agreement to ensure that negotiations can start as soon as possible after the UK’s withdrawal.

3. The European Council underlines that the backstop is intended as an insurance policy to prevent a hard border on the island of Ireland and ensure the integrity of the Single Market. It is the Union’s firm determination to work speedily on a subsequent agreement that establishes by 31 December 2020 alternative arrangements, so that the backstop will not need to be triggered.

4. The European Council also underlines that, if the backstop were nevertheless to be triggered, it would apply temporarily, unless and until it is superseded by a subsequent agreement that ensures that a hard border is avoided. In such a case, the Union would use its best endeavours to negotiate and conclude expeditiously a subsequent agreement that would replace the backstop, and would expect the same of the United Kingdom, so that the backstop would only be in place for as long as strictly necessary.

5. The European Council calls for work on preparedness at all levels for the consequences of the United Kingdom’s withdrawal to be intensified, taking into account all possible outcomes.”

Organ donation and religious sensibilities

The BBC reports that people who join the NHS’s UK organ donation register are to be asked if they want their religious beliefs to be considered in the donation process. Research has found that religious and cultural beliefs are the main barrier to organ donations by people from black and Asian backgrounds and it is hoped that the measure will provide reassurance that donation can take place in line with their faith or beliefs and increase the low proportion of BAME donors.

Abortion law in Ireland

RTÉ reports that the Regulation of Termination of Pregnancy Bill has passed all stages in the Oireachtas and will now go to the President to be signed into law.

“No-fault” divorce: the Bar Council’s view

The Times reports (£) that the Bar Council has responded rather cautiously to the proposals of the Ministry of Justice for reforming divorce law in England and Wales.

In its response to the MoJ’s consultation, the Bar Council said that it agrees with the principal recommendation – that fault should be removed from the divorce process. However, it disagrees with the proposal that the ability to contest divorces should be removed as a general rule, believing that such a move could put vulnerable wives and children at risk. The Council said that it was “mindful of the sensitivities within some communities of divorce and the stigma it may bring, more often to the ex-wife than the ex-husband” and that there were merits in “retaining the ability to contest divorce so as to avoid unilateral divorce that may bring with it intended or unintended detrimental consequences to the respondent spouse”.

Forthcoming Grand Chamber judgment on the application of sharia

The Grand Chamber of the ECtHR will be delivering judgment in the case of Molla Sali v Greece (No. 20452/14) on 19 December 2018. The case concerns the application by the Greek courts of sharia to a case about an inheritance right in relation to the estate of the deceased husband of Ms Molla Sali, a Greek national belonging to the Muslim minority.

Religious freedom in Australia

The long-awaited Australian Religious Freedom Review: Report of the Expert Panel (chaired by the Hon. Philip Ruddock) has been published, together with the Government Response. Neil Foster has just published the first instalment of a two-part evaluation: The Ruddock Report has landed! (Part 1).

Bigamy and Mrs Wilson

The three-part television docudrama Mrs Wilson ended on Tuesday with those of us who stayed with it not much wiser about the multiple marital exploits of Alexander Wilson, serial bigamist. However, his grandson Sam commented on the BBC website,

“After he died in 1963, the fabrications Alexander – known as Alec – had built up during his 22-year “marriage” to Alison quickly collapsed. He was still married to his first wife – there had never been a divorce – making Alison, as well as Alec, a bigamist.”

Surely not. Section 57 Offences Against the Person Act 1861 declares that:

“Whosoever, being married, shall marry any other person during the life of the former husband or wife, whether the second marriage shall have taken place in England or Ireland or elsewhere, shall be guilty of felony, and being convicted thereof shall be liable to be kept in penal servitude for any term not exceeding seven years” [our emphasis].

But Alison Wilson was not married when Alec Wilson entered a bigamous marriage with her. So, though he committed bigamy by marrying her, on a plain reading of s.57 we can’t see how she could have committed bigamy by marrying him. Or are we missing something?

Oxford Journal of Law & Religion 7(3), October 2018

A special issue on informal religious-only marriages within Muslim communities in various jurisdictions with differing traditions of marriage and state regulation:

How many bishop does it take to satisfy a PCC?

On 13 December 2018, Sir William Fittall, the CofE Independent Reviewer, issued his Report, Grievance from the PCC of St George’s Headstone, concerning the matter of episcopal oversight for this London church. Although this concerns the somewhat singular views of one Anglo-Catholic church, the analysis of the circumstances by the Independent Reviewer provides useful general guidance to the operation of episcopal oversight under the House of Bishops 2014 Declaration. Our review of the Report will be posted next week.

According to our arithmetic, seven bishops have been directly involved in the resolution of this issue: Bishops of London, past, present and acting; the Bishop of Fulham; three Provincial Episcopal Visitors; and a former Bishop of Whitby.

Erskine May

On 13 December, the Leader of the House of Commons, Andrea Leadsom, that the new edition of Erskine May, which is due to be published in 2019, will be publicly available on Parliament’s website, as well as on Parliament’s intranet and in hard copy as normal. The first edition was published in the mid-19th century and new editions are published approximately every six or seven years, but this will be the first one publicly available online. The current edition, published on 30 June 2011, has a RRP of £439.99 although significant savings are available at some outlets.

Quick links

And finally… I

Answering questions in the Commons after the CJEU judgment on the revocability of the UK’s Article 50 notification, the Brexit Secretary, Stephen Barclay,  at column 97 (scroll down):

“Of course the Government accept the judgment of the Court, as would always be the case. As for whether we will look to appeal in the Scottish court, this judgment was reached today and we will need to consider that in due course.”

Was he seriously suggesting that the Government might “look to appeal” a judgment of the Full Court of the CJEU to the Inner House of the Court of Session? Or maybe the Supreme Court? Surely not.

And finally… II

To which we both contributed. But, unfortunately, it’s only an ideal Christmas present for law & religion geeks and incurable insomniacs. Rather like the online Erskine May.


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