Law and religion round-up – 17th March

A week totally overshadowed by the massacre of Muslims in Christchurch.


On Friday, 50 people were killed in shootings at two mosques in Christchurch, New Zealand and several more remain seriously injured. An Australian, Brenton Tarrant, has been charged with a single murder and two others are in custody. Tarrant was remanded in custody without plea and is due to appear in court again on 5 April.

Brexit update

In a series of Commons votes last week, MPs voted:

  • against the Government’s Brexit deal, by a majority of 149;
  • against leaving the EU on 29 March without a deal;
  • in favour of extending Article 50 and delaying Brexit until at least 30 June; and
  • against holding a second referendum.

All the votes were on motions that were not in themselves legally binding.

The Prime Minister announced that she will likely hold a third “meaningful vote” by 20 March. If it is passed, she will request a maximum three-month extension to Article 50 for the purpose of ratifying the Withdrawal Agreement in the UK Parliament and the European Parliament. This would give effect to a transition period, possibly until 1 January 2021. If it is not passed, however, she will request a “significantly” longer extension of Article 50, the length being unspecified at the moment.

In either event, an extension would need to be approved unanimously by all 27 EU Member States. It would then require further legislation in the UK Parliament. The EU has said that it will grant a short Article 50 extension if the Government’s Brexit deal goes through Parliament but is split on the conditions for a longer extension. And see Catherine Barnard and Steve Weatherill, below.

Opposite sex civil partnerships

On 15 March, the Commons considered Lords Amendments to Tim Loughton’s Civil Partnerships, Marriages and Deaths (Registration Etc.) Bill. The Lords Amendments were agreed to and the Bill will now go for Royal Assent. At some point, therefore, the Government will bring forward proposals for a digital registration system and will be introducing Regulations for opposite sex civil partnerships. Commenting on the “sunset clause” that had been introduced in the Lords Amendments, Tim Loughton explained:

“The new clause now requires the Secretary of State to amend by regulations the eligibility criteria of the Civil Partnership Act 2004 so that two people who are not of the same sex may form a civil partnership. The Bill requires that these changes be made so as to come in no later than 31 December. That will mean, as we have agreed with Ministers in the other place, that the legislation needs to be in place by December 2, because notification of a clear 28 days is required before a ceremony can actually take place. There was an undertaking that civil partnerships would be available before the end of 2019, and I look forward to a series of invitations to civil partnership ceremonies on New Year ’s Eve”.

Organ Donation

On 15 March, the Organ Donation (Deemed Consent) Act 2019 was given Royal Assent. The Act will mean adults in England will be considered potential donors unless they chose to opt out or are excluded. The act is known as “Max and Keira’s law” in honour of a boy who received a heart transplant and the girl who donated it. Changes to the way consent is granted will take effect in 2020. Before this happens, the government will launch a public awareness campaign to make sure people understand the new system and the choices they have.

Section 3 of the Act, covering the extent, commencement and short title, came into force on 15 March and the remaining provisions will come into force on such day or days as the Secretary of State may by regulations made by statutory instrument appoint.

Parkfield Community School

There was considerable media interest (which we studiously refrained from reporting) in a dispute at Parkfield Community School in Birmingham over teaching about personal relationships and diversity. The protesting parents complained that the lessons promoted gay and transgender lifestyles and were being taught to pupils who were too young to understand what they were about. As a result, there was an Ofsted inspection and on that particular issue it concluded:

“The majority of parents understand how the school helps their children to play a positive role in modern British society by developing their appreciation of British values. However, a very small, but vocal, minority of parents are not clear about the school’s vision, policies and practice. This group of parents feel that staff do not sufficiently listen to their concerns. Their view is that the PSHE education and equalities curriculum focuses disproportionately on lesbian, gay and bisexual issues and that this work is not taught in an age-appropriate manner. Inspectors found no evidence that this is the case.”

Nevertheless, on Wednesday the school released a statement that concluded:

“Until a resolution has been reached, No Outsiders lessons will not be taught at Parkfield  and we hope that children will not be removed from school to take part in protests.”

Bell tower risk assessment

One of the search-engine queries on Tuesday that evidently turned up this site was “church bell tower risk assessment”. In case the inquirer didn’t find it, the Central Council of Church Bellringers website includes a guidance note on Tower safety and risk assessment affecting the ringing of church bells which is far more expert than anything we could possibly hope to write ourselves.

Social work, controversial views and fitness to practise: Ngole

In November 2017 we reported that Felix Ngole, a second-year Master’s student on a social work course at Sheffield University, had been excluded from the course by the Faculty of Social Sciences Fitness to Practise [‘FTP’] Committee after comments he posted on Facebook about his personal opposition to same-sex marriage. Before the Administrative Court, he argued that fitness to practise was a matter for the professional social work bodies rather than for the University. In R (Ngole) v University of Sheffield [2017] EWHC 2669 (Admin) however, Rowena Collins Rice, sitting as a Deputy High Court Judge, rejected his claim. The Court of Appeal considered his challenge to the ruling of the Administrative Court at a two-day hearing last week, and a ruling is expected in the near future.

“till we are wed, and even after…”

In advance of their wedding, a couple sought to reserve space for them both in the family vault after their death, see Re St. Benedict Biscop Wombourne [2019] ECC Lic 2.  The petitioner wished to reserve the remaining two shelves for the burial of himself and his fiancée. There are six shelves for coffins in the vault, four of which are occupied by the interments which have already taken place. The petitioner’s cousin objected to a faculty being granted on the grounds that the reservations would prevent any further members of the family (who might predecease the petitioner and his fiancée) from being placed in the vault; the cousins also considered, incorrectly, that the terms of the original faculty would limit the right of interment to direct descendants only.

In a compromise suggestion, the petitioner proposed that he and his fiancée should both agree that they should be cremated on their death, that the cremated remains of whichever of them died first should then be retained and that, on the death of the survivor, the remains of both should be combined in the same container and placed on a single shelf in the vault.

Unsurprisingly, the Chancellor was having none of it and refused to grant a faculty. However, he issued a direction that a person who married into the family would be eligible to be buried in the vault; an interment should be treated as including the placing of cremated remains in the vault; and if “space remains on any given shelf for the seemly custody of the cremated remains of more than one person then it is permissible for there to be such remains of more than one person on each shelf in the vault*. Nevertheless, this leaves the pastoral issue as to the required wording “till death us do part” in the marriage ceremony, in both BCP and Common Worship versions.

Quick links

And finally…

One you really couldn’t make up: Cornwall MP ridiculed over knife GPS tweet.

3 thoughts on “Law and religion round-up – 17th March

  1. Pingback: Opposite sex civil partnerships | Law & Religion UK

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