Law and religion round-up – 26th May

A week totally overshadowed by the Prime Minister’s announcement of her forthcoming resignation…

… and with few substantial news items in law and religion, our posts featuring the views of readers, More answers to readers’ queries and comments – late April/May and an announcement from the CofE of a review of the Bishop Whitsey case. Nevertheless, there were several “non feature-length” items which came to our notice: read on…

UK ambassador for the promotion of human rights

The Foreign Secretary, Jeremy Hunt, has appointed Rita French, formerly his Principal Private Secretary, as the UK ambassador for the promotion of human rights. This is the first appointment to such a post in the UK, but other countries including Germany, France and the Netherlands already have ambassadors for human rights. Ms French’s role, according to the Foreign Office, will be to promote the work of the UK at the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva, to act as a human rights advocate inside government and to promote the Government’s human rights campaigns, among them media freedom, freedom of religious belief and action against modern slavery. The FCO press release reports her as saying:

“Human rights are the essential foundations for a fair, open and transparent society. It is tragic that in too many countries these rights are violated and abused. I will speak up for human rights, providing a voice on the international stage for those who are not being represented. I also wish to form stronger partnerships with states, supporting their efforts to fulfil their human rights obligations.”

Perhaps she could make a start by explaining to the Prime Minister the importance of the UK’s adherence to the ECHR for our international efforts to promote human rights. Kirsty Brimelow QC, a former Chair of the Bar Human Rights Committee, told RightsInfo that the creation of the post was “an excellent initiative” – but added that the appointment “emphasises that human rights legislation and implementation in the UK must be at a high standard, otherwise the standing of the human rights ambassador will quickly become one of an international joke.”

A right to sex?

In the round-up on 7 April, we noted a case in the Court of Protection in which the court had to consider whether NB, a woman whose mental health appeared to be declining to the extent that she lacks mental capacity, could lawfully consent to sex with AU, her husband of 20 years. The case provoked a good deal of media comment, a great deal of which, said Hayden J, “was sententious and, in some instances, irresponsible”. His interim judgment, Re NB (Consent to sex) [2019] EWCOP 17, has now been published: as the ICLR Weekly Notes explains, the case “is nothing to do with the husband’s right to override his wife’s inability to consent (as some commentators suggested) but about whether the state had grounds to intervene to interfere in the private marital life of two citizens”. Hayden J concluded:

“I am reserving my Judgment in order that I can take the time to look carefully and in some detail at the case law and its applicability to the facts of this case. It would appear that it requires to be said, in clear and unambiguous terms, that I do so in order to explore fully NB’s right to a sexual life with her husband and he with her, if that is at all possible. I have delivered this short interim ex tempore Judgment in order that AU may receive a copy of it and better understand the focus of the Court’s enquiry. I also want to afford him the opportunity to make submissions, through counsel, if he wishes to do so [17].”

Home abortion in Scotland

In Appeal by SPUC Pro-Life Ltd for Judicial Review [2019] ScotCS CSIH 31, the Inner House dismissed an appeal by the Society for the Protection of Unborn Children against a refusal to review the decision of the Scottish Ministers to issue the Abortion Act (Place for Treatment for the Termination of Pregnancy) (Approval) (Scotland) 2017. The Approval, under powers conferred by the Abortion Act 1967, designates a pregnant woman’s home as a class of place where the second stage of treatment for an early medical termination of pregnancy – where the woman has attended a clinic and been prescribed mifepristone and misoprostol to be taken for the purposes of termination of her pregnancy – may be carried out. SPUC argued unsuccessfully that the home was not a permissible “class of place” where terminations could take place and that the Scottish Ministers’ decision was contrary to the legal requirement that termination treatment be carried out by a “registered medical practitioner”.

Divorce law in Ireland

Voters in Ireland have voted by four to one in a referendum to liberalise the Republic’s divorce laws. Divorce was legalised in 1995, and the Constitution currently requires that spouses must be separated for four of the previous five years in order to divorce. Amending legislation will be brought before the Oireachtas.

Anti-Semitism on the rise in Germany

The BBC reports that Germanys Commissioner for Anti-Semitism, Felix Klein has suggested that Jews should not wear the kippa in public because of a rise in anti-Semitism. Germany recored a sharp increase in the number of anti-Semitic offences last year: 1,646 hate crimes against Jews – an increase of 10% on 2017. Physical attacks against Jews also rose in the same period, with 62 violent incidents recorded, up from 37 in 2017. Speaking to Handelsblatt, Justice Minister Katarina Barley said that the increase in anti-Semitic crimes was “shameful for our country”.

Seal of the confessional in Australia

ABC News reports that clergy in Western Australia will soon have to report child sexual abuse — even if the information is gained during sacramental confession — under planned changes to the state’s laws. Reporting abuse is already mandatory for doctors, teachers, nurses, midwives, police and school boarding supervisors, and the Western Australia Government said it expected to introduce the necessary amendments to the current law in the second half of this year.

According to the report, the new requirements would apply to “recognised leaders within faith communities who are authorised to conduct, religious worship” – which would include priests, ministers, rabbis, pastors and Salvation Army officers. Child Protection Minister Simone McGurk said the move was an important part of the WA Government’s response to the recommendations of the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse. The Northern Territory and South Australia already have laws in place requiring ministers of religion to report child sexual abuse, and several other states are following suit.

France and a “right to die”

In July 2015 we noted the judgment of the Grand Chamber ECtHR in Lambert & Ors v France [2015] ECHR 545. Vincent Lambert is in a vegetative state and, though he can breathe unaided, he must be artificially fed and hydrated: his parents, half-brother and sister want him to be kept fed and hydrated while his wife, his nephew and his medical team want his life-support to be discontinued. In its judgment of 2015, the Grand Chamber upheld the decision of the Conseil d’État that it would not be a violation of Article 2 ECHR (right to life) or Article 8 (respect for private and family life) to withdraw Mr Lambert’s life-support. Nevertheless, he has been kept on artificial life-support ever since while the dispute between his relatives has continued: a further appeal to the ECtHR by his parents was dismissed earlier this year.

The BBC reported that the situation appeared to have been resolved and that he was set to have his treatment stopped at some point during the last week. However, the BBC further reported on Monday that the medical team had switched life-support on again, after the Paris Court of Appeals had reversed the previous decision at the request of Mr Lambert’s parents, pending a review of the case by the UN Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities – the contention being that Mr Lambert is a “disabled person”.

Muslim prayers in an Anglican church

There were reports this week, here and elsewhere, that problems had arisen at St Matthew and St Luke’s church, Darlington, in relation to its arrangement to accommodate local Muslims during Ramadan. The article in Premier was accompanied by a statement from a spokesperson for the Diocese of Durham, who said:

“While it is vital to build good interfaith relations, it is clear that an act of worship from a non-Christian faith tradition is not permitted within a consecrated Church of England building. This is a legal position outlined in Canons B1/2/3 and B5 Section 3 where it states: ‘all forms of service used under this Canon shall be reverent and seemly and shall be neither contrary to, nor indicative of any departure from, the doctrine of the Church of England in any essential matter’. There seems initially to have been some misunderstanding locally of this, but that has been resolved now, with plans for Muslim Prayers to be held in a nearby building then the whole community coming together for a celebratory meal inside the church.”

The situation is not dissimilar to that on which we posted in 2015, Multi-Faith Worship: St John’s, Waterloo. Both incidents could have been avoided if those involved had had even a rudimentary understanding of canon law in the CofE.

Church of England and leadership elections

On Friday, the Diocese of York issued a Press Notice on the public consultation meeting to discuss the requirements for the next Archbishop of York. With regard to more secular matters, however, on Saturday Archdruid Eileen of the Beaker Folk mused on “If the Conservative Party Leadership Candidates Belonged to your Church“. Readers will probably find it difficult to look at the leadership candidates in the same way again – one of Gary Alderson’s best posts.

Quick links

And finally…I

Sharp-eyed readers will have seen the Larry the Cat was removed from outside No 10 just before Mrs May made her resignation announcement. The prize must go to the Secret Barrister for his tweet: “It’s because, and I am not making this up, she cannot be removed if you’re there”.

And finally…II

USA Today reports that the owner of the “life-size replica” (replica??) of Noah’s Ark in Northern Kentucky has sued its insurers for refusing to cover rain damage. Ark Encounter, which unveiled the 510-foot-long (i.e. 340 cubits) model in 2016, says that heavy rains in 2017 and 2018 caused a landslide on its access road, and its five insurance carriers refused to cover nearly $1 million in damages.

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