5G – a new problem for consistory courts?

On 12 October, The Times carried the headline Councils block 5G as scare stories spread,  and commented “[c]onspiracy theorists spreading health scares about the 5G mobile network are pressuring local authorities to ban the technology from their towns. A number of Councils including Totnes in Devon, Glastonbury, Frome and  Shepton Mallet, have imposed a ban on 5G installations, until they were satisfied that it was safe”. The issue is yet to be raised in the consistory courts, but in view of the Church of England’s recent encouragement for the introduction of this technology in churches, this is a timely point at which to consider the issues this raises.

This post considers:

Health effects of electromagnetic radiation

The potential health effects associated with installing telecommunications equipment in churches were summarized in our 2015 post Wi-Fi in churches – health effects, courts’ jurisdiction and locus standiThis reviewed the issues before the courts at that time and did not consider per se those which might be raised by 5G technology. However, the subsequent application of these scientific criteria to 5G has lead to the conclusion that new health-related effects are not anticipated, infra.

In an earlier consideration of the potential health impacts, we noted that In Re St Augustine, Kilburn [2013] London Cons Ct, Nigel Seed Ch, the Chancellor had observed that health concerns specifically related children and other vulnerable people had been fully litigated in the secular courts, where the position relating to objections on public health grounds had been made clear: T-Mobile & Ors v The First Secretary of State and Harrogate Borough Council [2004] EWCA Civ 1763, in particular the judgement of Laws LJ at 18-19,

“if in any given case the ICNIRP [International Commission on Non-Ionising Radiation Protection] [international] guidelines are met, the planning authority should not have to look further in relation either to an actual health risk or perceived health risks. The rationale of the policy is the first sentence which, to my mind, is important for an understanding of the whole. There, the Secretary of State says this:

‘… it is the Government’s firm view that the planning system is not the place for determining health safeguards.’ ”

Subsequently, in Re Bentley Emmanuel Church [2006] 2 WLR 1008, the Court of Arches held that the ecclesiastical courts should not apply stricter requirements than those of the government and local planning authorities. On a purely technical point, the NHS states:

 “Levels of exposure to radio wave radiation from mobile phone masts (base stations) are generally much lower than from mobile phones and are well below international guidelines. Audits of the amount of radiation produced by base stations in the UK have found that the radiation produced is generally less than 0.005% of the guideline values.

Working within the above framework, the ecclesiastical courts have assessed a range of issues associated with the use of Wi-Fi in church buildings. These have been covered in a number of posts (ref. 1).

Electro-hypersensitivity concerns in the courts

Some objectors to telecommunications installations in churches on the basis that they are hypersensitive to electro-magnetic fields, i.e. “electro-hypersensitive”. This, however, is a condition which is not recognized by mainstream medicine and is one which tends to be self-reported; it is therefore difficult for party opponents to produce evidence acceptable to the courts, or indeed expert witnesses, Re St. James Kidbrooke  [2016] ECC Swk 16. This judgment was preceded by an interim judgment concerning security for costs Re St James Kidbrooke [2016] ECC Swk 13 and followed by an unsuccessful appeal and a detemination on costs.

In Re All Saints Sharrington [2014] Norwich Cons Ct, Ruth Arlow Ch., the objections focused on the health risks to a specific person: here the evidential value of a letter from the consultant neurologist was “very limited”, principally because it was so heavily edited and “at no point in either of the medical reports is any diagnosis provided or any medical opinion expressed which evidences any link between the complainant’s symptoms and the type and strength of electromagnetic radiation produced by Wi-Fi masts”; see footnote [1] to the post Wi-Fi in churches – evidence, system security and commercial considerations.

Westminster Hall debate

On 25 June 2019, Tonia Antoniazzi (Gower) (Lab) secured the Westminster Hall debate Electromagnetic Fields: Health Effects in which she moved “That this House has considered the health-related effects of electromagnetic fields”. Her interest in these potential health effects was prompted by “an old friend who is now a constituent about how a sensitivity to electromagnetic fields seriously affects her health and the way she lives her life”. She noted:

“This Westminster Hall debate is timely. It comes on the back of an historic decision by Glastonbury Town Council to oppose the roll-out of 5G because of a severe lack of evidence about its effect on the health of those living and working around 5G sites.”

She was seeking a government commitment to creating white zones, where with people (with electromagnetic sensitivity) can have respite when they need it; to pledge to provide up-to-date, transparent and independent research on the impact of electromagnetic fields; and to replace the Advisory Group on Non-ionising Radiation (AGNIR) report published in 2012.

Concluding the debate, the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Health and Social Care (Seema Kennedy)  there government’s views on the relative safety of 5G (which is summarized in its response to the e-petition) and said :

“I hope I have demonstrated that the Government take seriously the potential health effects of the introduction of 5G, and that Public Health England is well placed to identify and respond to any important new evidence that may emerge. I reiterate that the public’s levels of exposure to electromagnetic fields from telecommunications networks are currently very low in relation to the international guideline levels, and are expected to stay that way after the deployment of 5G” (Col. 308WH).

Tonia Antoniazzi was by the Minister’s statements, and expressed her “concerns about the international guidelines”, and indicated that “the effect of exposure to electromagnetic fields should not be underestimated”.

 e-petition on health and safety risks of 5G

The e-petition Launch an independent enquiry into the health and safety risks of 5G closed on 3 June 2019 having attracted 32,454 signatures; “As wireless companies prepare to launch the next generation of service, there are new questions about the possible health risks. The National Toxicology Program study ‘was just an indicator that more and better research is needed'”; the petition referred to an article in the Daily Mail which gives examples of 5G use in the United States.

The government response stated:  “Exposure to radio waves has been carefully researched and reviewed. The overall weight of evidence does not suggest devices producing exposures within current guidelines pose a risk to public health”. The full response is reproduced in ref. 2.


WHO is conducting a health risk assessment from exposure to radiofrequencies, covering the entire radiofrequency range, including 5G, to be published by 2022; this will review scientific evidence related to potential health risks from 5G exposure as the new technology is deployed, and as more public health-related data become available.


[1]. Wi-Fi in churches – health effects, courts’ jurisdiction and locus standi and Wi-Fi in churches – evidence, system security and commercial considerations. In addition, our annual indexes of consistory court judgments summarize relevant cases for 2018, 20172016, and 2015. We have reviewed two cases in 2019, Re St. Peter & St. Paul Burton Pidsea [2019] ECC Yor 4 and Re St. Peter & St. Paul Shorne [2019] ECC Roc 4

[2]. The Government response to the e-petition was given on 19 March 2019. It states:

“Exposure to radio waves has been carefully researched and reviewed. The overall weight of evidence does not suggest devices producing exposures within current guidelines pose a risk to public health.

Public Health England (PHE) advises the Government on appropriate public health standards for protection from exposure to radiofrequency electromagnetic fields (EMFs), or radio waves. PHE’s main advice is that the guidelines of the International Commission on Non-Ionizing Radiation Protection (ICNIRP) should be adopted and there is no convincing evidence that exposures below the ICNIRP guideline levels cause adverse health effects. ICNIRP is formally recognised as an official collaborating non-governmental organisation by the World Health Organization (WHO) and the International Labour Organization. ICNIRP is also consulted by the European Commission. Advice from PHE includes comprehensive scientific review reports and statements on particular topics that can be viewed at:

The Government continues to support research on this topic, including the ongoing Cohort Study of Mobile Phone Use and Health (COSMOS, http://www.thecosmosproject.org/) and the Study of Cognition, Adolescents and Mobile Phone studies (SCAMP, https://www.scampstudy.org/) at Imperial College London. PHE keeps the emerging evidence under review and maintains precautionary advice that recognises exposures can be much higher when mobile phones are held to the head to make voice calls than in other situations. Similar advice is not considered necessary with the lower exposures that occur from mobile phone base stations and wireless networks.

PHE’s advice is based on EMF and health evidence reviews have been prepared by scientific expert groups in the United Kingdom (UK) and around the world. The independent Advisory Group on Non-Ionising Radiation (AGNIR) published their report in the UK in 2012 and the European Commission’s Scientific Committee on Emerging and Newly Identified Health Risks (SCENIHR) published their report in 2015. Links to these reviews are below:

The main conclusion from the WHO reviews is that EMF exposures below the limits recommended in the ICNIRP guidelines do not appear to have any known consequence on health. WHO is presently preparing an Environmental Health Criteria Monograph covering the evidence in relation to radiofrequency exposures and health. This publication will complement the monographs on static fields (2006) and extremely low frequency fields (2007) and will update the previous monograph on radiofrequency fields (1993). Information from WHO about EMF exposure guidelines can be viewed at: http://www.who.int/peh-emf/standards/en/.

ICNIRP guidelines apply up to a frequency of 300 gigahertz (GHz), well beyond the maximum frequencies under discussion for 5G (a few tens of GHz). Some 5G technology will use similar frequencies to existing communications systems. Other 5G technology will work at higher frequencies (a few tens of GHz), where the main change would be less penetration of radio waves through materials, for example walls. International product standards applying to mobile phones and other transmitting devices, health and safety legislation, and planning policy for telecommunications developments all look towards compliance with exposure restrictions from the ICNIRP guidelines. While a small increase in overall exposure to radio waves is possible when 5G is added to the existing network, the overall exposure is expected to remain low and well within the ICNIRP guidelines. Guidelines and other information from ICNIRP can be found at the following link: www.icnirp.org.

In 2018, the United States’ National Toxicology Program (NTP) released its final reports on rat and mouse studies. NTP concluded it had found evidence linking high levels of exposure to cancers in the animals. NTP explained that the findings cannot be directly applied to humans for two reasons: firstly, the exposure levels and durations were greater than what people may receive from mobile phones; and secondly, because the rats and mice received exposure throughout their whole bodies, which is different from the more localised exposures humans may receive, as from a mobile phone in their pocket or next to their head. The press release and links to the study are available at:

PHE considers the results from the NTP studies, though interesting, do not alter the balance of evidence in relation to human exposure when using mobile phone technologies. However, the results of this study highlight the continuing uncertainties in this complex area and reinforce the importance of mobile phone users following the long-standing precautionary advice, which is available at the following links:

Department of Health and Social Care.”

At L&RUK we do not give legal or technical advice, or purport to do so. This post reproduces information circulated in Archdeacons’ News Bulletin no. 39 December 2018 pages 6/7, and the Church of England Press Release Church of England to help boost digital connectivity for local communities, 9 October 2019. For specific queries, professional advice should be sought.

Cite this article as: David Pocklington, "5G – a new problem for consistory courts?" in Law & Religion UK, 1 November 2019, https://lawandreligionuk.com/2019/11/01/5g-a-new-problem-for-consistory-courts/

One thought on “5G – a new problem for consistory courts?

  1. Might I refer you to the following: Professor Tom Butler, University College Cork, Ireland. A Review of the Health Risks of Radiofrequency Radiation Employed in 5G Technology and the Implications for UK Policymaking:

    It seems that research has moved on a little of late pointing squarely to biological and thermal harm resulting from exposure to relevant radiation at well below ICNIRP levels. It also seems that ICNIRP and WHO’s pronouncements, as well as those of other bodies such as AGNIR, are compromised by conflicts of interest regarding membership and links with the relevant industry. ICNIRP’s Chair has stated publicly that his organisation has not had the manpower adequately to assess studies reporting biological harm, nor can he account for the fact that governments and other bodies such as PHE have chosen to place ICNIRP’s guidelines on a pedestal.

    Whilst the planning authorities are not the place to rehearse health policy arguments, this position relies upon health policy having been determined after examination of all of the evidence. Otherwise, the authorities are complicit in actions which may have adverse effects on public health and hence on the common good.

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