A week in which the news was largely about Brexit and Prorogation: lots of law and not much religion…
… although on 29 August, we passed another milestone when the number of page-views of the blog exceeded 1.5 million. This prompted a short review, Recent interest in law and religion in the UK in which we identified the most popular posts.
Brexit, Prorogation and all that
We put up a few posts during the week on the unfolding saga of Brexit and attempts to seek judicial review of the Government’s actions – not because any of it has much to do with “religion”, but because the various legal proceedings raise much wider questions of constitutional and administrative law. At the moment, there are three sets of proceedings in play. A group led by Joanna Cherry QC MP sought interim interdict – unsuccessfully – in the Court of Session, but the petition is to go to a full hearing this week. Gina Miller is seeking judicial review in the High Court of the decision to seek an Order in Council for prorogation, while in Nothern Ireland, Raymond McCord is arguing that leaving the EU without a Withdrawal Agreement would breach the Belfast Agreement. The timetable is:
- Cherry & Ors on Tuesday.
- Miller on Thursday.
- McCord by Friday at the latest.
And last Thursday, Ruth Davidson resigned as Leader of the Conservative Party (and Leader of the Opposition) in Scotland. With three hearings scheduled, what this week might bring is anybody’s guess.
Implications of proroguing parliament
On 23 July, we noted that proroguing Parliament could give rise to a “Catch-22” situation. The Institute for Government noted in a recent post: “[i]f Parliament was prorogued to facilitate no deal, it would not be possible to pass any bills or remaining secondary legislation needed to prepare the UK statute book for such an outcome. It would also prevent the Government from legislating to change the ‘exit day’ currently legislated for in the EU Withdrawal Act and give effect to any new extension to Article 50”.
With regard to remaining Bills, one potential casualty is the Domestic Abuse Bill. Further, the Civil Partnerships, Marriages and Deaths (Registration etc) Act 2019 was granted Royal Assent earlier in the year but none of the associated secondary legislation has yet been laid and the provisions relating to opposite-sex civil partnerships are subject to a very tight timetable; the “sunset clause” requires regulations to be in place by the end of the year.
Irish Legal News reports [scroll down] that the number of humanist wedding ceremonies in Northern Ireland has risen dramatically, from 60 in 2018 to 180 so far in 2019. Humanist weddings have been available in Northern Ireland since last summer, when the Court of Appeal ruled in Smyth, Re Application for Judicial Review  NICA 25 that they were valid under the Marriage (Northern Ireland) Order 2003 – before that, couples having a humanist wedding would have to have a separate civil ceremony at a register office.
On the same theme, Scottish Legal News reports that, increasingly, English couples are travelling to Scotland for a humanist wedding ceremony – of which there were around 6,400 in 2018.
Cardinal George Pell
Last week’s round-up reported the case of George Pell v The Queen  VSCA 186, in which Cardinal Pell lost his appeal against his conviction for five charges of child abuse in 1990 by a majority of 2-1. The Catholic News Agency reports that sources close to the cardinal said on 26 August that he would be exercising his final appeal to the High Court of Australia in Canberra, Australia’s supreme court, and that, while the majority of “special leave to appeal” cases were not granted by the High Court, his case would likely be accepted, given the controversy triggered by the split decision in the Supreme Court of Victoria. In seeking to take his case to Canberra, Pell will be exercising his last legal avenue to overturn a conviction which has divided opinion in the country and internationally.
The Roman Catholic Church and China
Vatican News reports that the first episcopal consecration has taken place under the framework of the Provisional Agreement between the Holy See and the People’s Republic of China signed in Beijing on 22 September 2018. Mgr Antonio Yao Shun was consecrated Bishop of Jining/Wulanchabu, Inner Mongolia, and received the Papal Mandate on 26 August. Union of Catholic Asian News then reported that Stephen Xu Hongwei had been ordained as coadjutor bishop of Hanzhong in the northern state of Shaanxi on 28 August.
Freedom of religion in Australia
The Australian Government has published exposure drafts of three bills on religious freedom and has invited submissions on the package. [With thanks to Neil Foster.]
And later this week…
… a couple of interesting hand-downs have been scheduled by the ECtHR. It will be such a relief to get back to some nice, crunchy, black-letter law.
- BBC: Q&A: Same-sex marriage in Northern Ireland.
- Erasmus, The Economist: Blasphemy laws are quietly vanishing in liberal democracies.
- Full Fact: What does proroguing parliament mean?
- Rachel Giles, Lexology: New marriage registration rules could affect newlyweds: certainly – that’s precisely the group that they will be intended to affect.
- Siddique Patel, The Law Society: podcast about the problems caused by unregistered Muslim nikah weddings.
- Danielle Roberts, Oxford Human Rights Hub: LGBT+ Rights in Northern Ireland: on the prospects for same sex marriage and abortion law reform for Northern Ireland in 2020.
- Stephen Sedley, London Review of Books: A Boundary Where There Is None: on Jonathan Sumption’s Reith Lectures critique of judicial activism: Sedley is massively unimpressed.
- Max Steinbeis, Verfassungsblog: Brexit as Fate: perceptive as always: “Procedure matters. A decision taken in a correct procedure is more likely to be accepted even by those who disagree with its content. The dispute about substance is disburdened by the procedural form. A variety of interests and opinions can coexist in a pluralistic democracy to the extent of procedures being in place and allowing them to compete without taking up arms against each other.”
- John Tasioulas, New Statesman: Are human rights taking over the space once occupied by politics?: “By presenting political demands as human rights, we risk blurring the line between genuine rights and laudable aspirations.”
The Prime Minister raised the topic of pork pie exports at the G7 summit in Biarritz, in the context of a possible post-Brexit free trade deal with the US. He alleged that “Melton Mowbray pork pies, which are sold in Thailand and in Iceland, are currently unable to enter the US market because of, I don’t know, some sort of food and drug administration restriction”. His claim was immediately disputed by the Melton Mowbray Pork Pie Association.
You really couldn’t make this one up. However, it has been suggested that the US pork lobby is desperate because US pigs are given ractopamine – which is banned in the UK, the EU, Russia, China and more than 100 countries – and pork-related issues could scupper a US-UK trade deal. We wonder whether the pork pie comment is the new “dead cat on the table”.
The BBC reported that a Government advertising campaign informing EU citizens how to stay in the UK after Brexit has been banned for being “misleading”. On a series of radio adverts which aired in April this year, EU citizens living the UK were told that they only had to provide passport details to apply to the Government’s EU Settlement Scheme: “All you need is your passport or ID card and to complete an online form,” said the advertising campaign. The Advertising Standards Authority ruled that the Government’s advice was “misleading” because many EU citizens have been required to provide more than just passport details. It ordered the Government not to broadcast the advert again.