Law and religion round-up – 29th April

As usual, a quiet week after Easter…

Northern Ireland, abortion and devolved government

On 25 April, the Commons Women and Equalities Committee published its report on abortion law in Northern Ireland. The report states that, in the absence of an Executive in Northern Ireland since 2017, there are:

  • no devolved government to respond to significant developments;
  • no scrutiny bodies to make sure that policies are working well;
  • no scrutiny of the use of UK Government funds for women and girls seeking abortion in England; and
  • a failure to respond to international human rights obligations.

On Friday, the Prime Minister and the Taoiseach issued a joint statement on setting up a new talks process aimed at restoring devolved government. According to a BBC report, the Northern Ireland Secretary, Karen Bradley, confirmed that fresh talks would begin on 7 May.

Compulsory RSE in English schools

On 24 April, the draft Relationships Education, Relationships and Sex Education and Health Education (England) Regulations 2019 were passed by the House of Lords. Consequently, as from September 2020, all English secondary schools will be required to teach relationships and sex education (RSE), all English primaries to teach relationships education, and all English schools to teach health education. In addition,  if young people aged over 15 are opted out of RSE by their parents, they should be able to override that and opt themselves back in. However, the Regulations do not mandate any particular curriculum content.

Humanists UK notes:

“[s]ince the changes were first proposed, large protests have broken out in Birmingham and elsewhere against the teaching of LGBT-inclusive RSE, with mainly Muslim parents withdrawing their children from schools in opposition to such teaching, and schools suspending lessons as a result. The UK Government has said that it is for schools, not parents, to decide what is and isn’t taught, but also said that it considers it acceptable for primary schools to not teach LGBT education – leaving the schools that have been the victims of protests feeling unsupported”.

Chair of the York Crown Nominations Commission

In our round-up of 7 October 2018, we noted that the Archbishop of York had announced on 1 October that he would retire on Trinity Sunday 2020, three days prior to his 71st birthday. Under s.1 Ecclesiastical Offices (Age Limit) Measure 1975, and the schedule to the Measure, there is a compulsory retirement age of 70 for all clergy (with just a few exceptions, none relevant to archbishops or bishops). 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.

On 25 April, No 10 announced the appointment of Joëlle Warren MBE DL as Chair of the York Crown Nominations Commission. The process for the nomination of Dr Sentamu’s successor was summarized in a CofE Press Release. The Commission will meet between September and December 2019 and seeks to make a nomination before Christmas. The dates for meetings are still being finalised.

Within the Diocese of York, the Vacancy in See Committee had its first meeting on 10 April. The role of a Vacancy in See Committee is to prepare the Diocesan Statement of Needs (a description of the diocese and a statement setting out the desired profile of the new bishop) and to elect diocesan representatives to the Crown Nominations Commission. These elections will be conducted at its meeting in June.

Safeguarding in the Church of England

  • The Church of England has issued a statement on the forthcoming programme “Scandal in the Church of England” which will be broadcast on Monday 29 April. The programme will feature interviews with survivors of church-related abuse. Bishop Peter Hancock, the Church’s lead safeguarding bishop, has also been interviewed for the programme and will give a personal response once the programme has been aired.
  • On 24 April, the Diocese of Chester published a Press Release announcing that the  Bishop of Chester, the Rt Revd Dr Peter Forster, will be retiring from his role on Monday 30 September 2019. Bishop Peter has also issued an Ad Clerum. In our post Safeguarding – Chester Diocese on 29 March 2019, we reported that statements had been issued by the Archbishop of York and Dr Foster concerning the safeguarding arrangements in Chester Diocese.
  • The IICSA second seminar on mandatory reporting will take place on 29 and 30 April 2019.
  • The IICSA has announced that it will publish the investigation report, Anglican Church Case Studies: the Diocese of Chichester and the response to allegations against Peter Ball at midday on Thursday 9 May 2019.

Use of Church of England facilities for community purposes

In response to a written question from Jim Shannon (DUP, Strangford) on the use of church facilities for community purposes, Dame Caroline Spelman (Con, Meriden), representing the Church Commissioners, said there is national guidance regarding the selection of the right legal and funding model to develop church buildings for uses beyond worship, whether that is to tackle issues of social justice or for a commercial partnership. Individual decisions on what is right for particular churches and communities are made by parishes; this includes a number of case studies. In addition, the Diocese of Hereford has produced a comprehensive resource, Crossing the Threshold, on the development of church buildings for additional uses.

Church in Wales

The next meeting of the Governing Body of the Church in Wales will take place on 1-2 May; the Agenda and copies of the papers are here. The Governing Body will be asked inter alia to: (i) receive and welcome the Report of the Working Group on Representation of Women in the CinW and endorse the recommendations therein; (ii) recognise that the equality agenda is the responsibility of the whole Church; (iii) commend the Report to the Province, dioceses, and ministry / mission areas for study and appropriate action, and request each diocesan Standing Committee to monitor progress in their diocese.

In addition, the Ven Peggy Jackson, Archdeacon of Llandaff, seconded by the Revd Dominic McClean, will propose a Private Members’ Motion that: (i) requests that all Bishops, consonant with previous undertakings, agree not to hold in future separate ordination services for any candidates, on the grounds of the candidates’ views on gender; (ii) calls on the Bench of Bishops to resile from paragraph 5 of the Explanatory Note to their 2014 Code of Practice and cease to ordain those who, refusing the sacramental ministry of women, expect to rely upon the conscience clauses of the Code.

…bonus dormitat Homerus

The Dean of Arches’ Practice Note (23 December 2015) concerning neutral citations made no provision for the Isle of Man since it is not part of England, but is a Crown dependency. Consequently, the Vicar General had to decide on his own form of neutral citation and rather than keeping to the potentially problematic convention of a 3-character reference for a diocese, he used opted for “Sodor”. Unfortunately, he inadvertently used “IOM” in his 2018 judgment, and has asked that the citation is changed to match the other judgments. Consequently, this now becomes Re Christ Church Laxey [2018] ECC Sodor 1, and we have updated all our references to the case accordingly.

Transgender marriage in India

Marriage law in India is governed by the personal laws of the parties, which depends on the religious group to which they belong. The Madras High Court has held that a marriage between a man and a transgender woman, both Hindus, is valid under the Hindu Marriage Act and that the Registrar of Marriages must register it. In Arunkumar v Inspector General of Registration 2019 Madras High Ct 22 April 22 WP(MD) No.4125 & WMP(MD) No.3220, the court said in part:

“For too long, the transgender persons/intersex people have been languishing in the margins. The Constitution of India is an enabling document. It is inviting them to join the mainstream. Therefore, it would be absurd to deny the transgenders the benefit of the social institutions already in place in the mainstream [13] …. When the right of the transgender persons to marry has been upheld by the Hon’ble Supreme Court, in the very nature of things, they cannot be kept out of the purview of the Hindu Marriage Act [4]”.

The Court made the following Order:

“A marriage solemnized between a male and a transwoman, both professing Hindu religion, is a valid marriage in terms of Section 5 of the Hindu Marriage Act, 1955 and the Registrar of Marriages is bound to register the same. By holding so, this Court is not breaking any new ground. It is merely stating the obvious. Sometimes to see the obvious, one needs not only physical vision in the eye but also love in the heart” [1].

[With thanks to Howard Friedman.]

Don’t expect the Spanish Inquisition

On 22 April, The Tablet reported that the Pope is proposing a radical shakeup of the Roman Curia. Citing an article in Vida Nueva, “the respected Spanish Catholic publication”, it states that a new Apostolic Constitution on the Roman Curia, Praedicate Evangelium (“Preach the Gospel”) has been drafted by the Pope and his council of cardinal advisers over the last five years and is expected to be published on the Feast of SS Peter and Paul, 29 June. The reforms will include the creation of a new “super ministry” dedicated to evangelisation and this will take precedence over the once-powerful Vatican doctrinal body, The Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, known as “La Suprema” and formerly the Holy Office of the Inquisition, the oldest institution in the Curia. It notes that another reform set out by the constitution is the establishment of the Pontifical Council for the Protection of Minors as part of the Curia which would give the Pope’s child protection body greater authority and make it more effective.

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