Law and religion round-up – 17th November

A new week, a new swathe of lies and misinformation from all sides…

… aka a modern UK General Election campaign. The good news: Full Fact has been awarded funds from the Nuffield Foundation to fact-check Election claims – or as Onan might have said to his brother, “Er, that’s it”.

Akhter v Khan again

Regular readers will no doubt recall the dispute in Akhter v Khan [2018] EWFC 54, in which Williams J held that Nasreen Akhter was entitled to a decree of nullity after the breakup of her marriage to Mohammed Shabaz Khan, notwithstanding the fact that they had married in a nikah ceremony in 1998 but had never had a civil wedding. An appeal began on Wednesday, and The Times reports that the Attorney is intervening to argue that Williams J was wrong to recognise their relationship as a void marriage rather than a non-marriage.

Same sex marriage in Northern Ireland: here we go again

The Guardian reports on an unfortunate glitch in the new law providing for same sex marriage in Northern Ireland. When it was introduced in England and Wales in 2014, the legislation provided an automatic route for those already in civil partnerships to convert their unions into marriages – but no parallel procedure has yet been put in place for Northern Ireland. As the law stands, the 1,200 couples in Northern Ireland already in civil partnerships will not be able to convert them into marriage in the New Year – and some of them are preparing for a legal challenge to the anomaly.

Parking restrictions and places of worship

In Anand & Anor v Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea [2019] EWHC 2964 (Admin), Lang J rejected a challenge to the Borough’s decision to make a traffic management order imposing additional parking restrictions in an area including a gurdwara. The claimants had argued that the new restrictions would make it more difficult for elderly and less mobile members of the congregation to attend. Local Government Lawyer carries a report here.

Clergy Discipline Measure

The Bishop’s Disciplinary Tribunal for the Diocese of Sheffield handed down its Decision and the Order and Findings in the case of the Revd Keith Hanson whose conduct, as found and admitted, was considered by the Tribunal to be unbecoming or inappropriate to the office and work of a clerk in Holy Orders, in that “he, a married man: (i) had an adulterous relationship with XY; and (ii) sent indecent and sexually explicit messages by electronic means to XY“.

Whilst the respondent claimed that he was incapable of intercourse on account of his medication, his particularly explicit messaging suggested that this was not the case. In areas of dispute, the Tribunal preferred the evidence of the complainant and concluded that, in the public interest, there was only one proportionate sanction that could be imposed: prohibition for life. A fuller review of the case will be made in the monthly round-up of ecclesiastical court judgments.

Extinction Rebellion clergy arrests

This week the Revd Sue Parfitt of Bristol wrote to the Church Times regarding her arrest during the recent Extinction Rebellion protests in London in October. Ms Parfitt said that her bishop, though kind and sympathetic, felt that she had to consider whether to remove her Licence, and asked whether there were any other clergy in the same position. Unsurprisingly, Ms Parfitt was not the only member of the clergy to be arrested and the website of the Community of St Mary the Virgin (CSMV) includes an item on the arrest of Revd Tim Hewes of Wantage outside Downing Street.

There is clearly support for highlighting the need to act on climate change; on 18 November, the Diocese of Bristol tweeted declaring a Climate Emergency, and the CSMV  news item was supportive of the action of Mr Hewes. Leaving aside the wisdom of seeking public input on an essentially disciplinary matter, our post Permission to Officiate – the new policy noted that House of Bishops’ Guidance (at 2.11) states: “PTO is held entirely at the bishop’s discretion and may be withdrawn by the bishop at any time, and without any right of appeal”; furthermore (at 6.16, 6.17):

“There is no provision for the suspension of PTO. The diocesan bishop can simply withdraw the permission in circumstances where suspension from the exercise of ministry would otherwise be appropriate”. “If circumstances change, then PTO may be reoffered.”

According to Crockford’s, both of these clergy have a PTO, not a Licence. 

Mandatory labelling of foodstuffs from the West Bank

In Organisation juive européenne and Vignoble Psagot [2019] EUECJ C-363/18, on a request for a preliminary ruling under Article 267 TFEU from the French Conseil d’État, the CJEU has ruled that, under the terms of Article 9(1)(i) of Regulation (EU) No 1169/2011 on the provision of food information to consumers, read in conjunction with Article 26(2)(a) of that Regulation,

“foodstuffs originating in a territory occupied by the State of Israel must bear not only the indication of that territory but also, where those foodstuffs come from a locality or a group of localities constituting an Israeli settlement within that territory, the indication of that provenance.”

How not to run a religious charity…

… or any kind of charity, for that matter. Christ Embassy has over 90 churches throughout the country and has a substantial domestic and international following. An investigation by the Charity Commission into its running “uncovered numerous failings” in its management, including making grants totalling more than £1.5M without due diligence –  including an informal grant of over £1.2M to a broadcasting company, Loveworld Television Ministry, which was wholly owned by a trustee of the charity. The result of the inquiry has been the appointment of a new board of trustees. The Commission temporarily froze the charity’s bank accounts to protect more than £600,000 of charitable funds and took action to remove two of the existing trustees – who resigned before they were pushed. It then appointed an interim manager, who instigated a full governance review.

The cost of all this – the interim manager, the legal advice and the fees – was a whopping £1.2M excluding VAT, which, of course, had to be met out of the charity’s funds. Amy Spiller, head of the investigations team at the Commission, said:

“Charities are trusted in a way that is unique, and people often put a lot of faith in religious charities. It is therefore vital that trustees, particularly those with a large following, do all that they can to inspire public trust, so that they can help to uphold wider public confidence in charities.”

Too damn right it is.

Pell v The Queen (of Australia)

George Pell’s application to the High Court of Australia for special leave to appeal against his conviction in Victoria for sexually assaulting two choirboys has been referred to the Full Court. Some of the media reports were rather misleading: Associated Press, for example, carried a piece headlined Australia’s highest court will hear Cardinal Pell’s appeal.

Our understanding is that it’s rather more complicated than that. The order of Gordon and Edelman JJ was that

“the application for special leave to appeal to this Court from the judgment and orders of the Court of Appeal of the Supreme Court of Victoria given and made on 21 August 2019 be referred to a Full Court of this Court for argument as on an appeal. The parties will be made aware of the directions necessary for undertaking that hearing.”

On that basis, if the Full Court allows the application for special leave, there will then be a substantive appeal hearing – at which Pell might or might not be successful. If the Full Court turns the application down, however, that will be the end of the matter. But the assumption seems to be that in the event of the Full Court allowing the application, it will then go on to hear and determine the substantive appeal straight away, rather than deferring it to a later occasion. [With thanks to Neil Foster for the clarification.]

Professor Jeremy Gans of Melbourne Law School has a useful explainer thread, here.

Quick links

And finally…

Joshua Rozenberg tweetedLady Hale tells me that her Scarman lecture on the Children Act 1989 will be published shortly on the @UKSupremeCourt website. The @Law_Commission, which arranged the lecture tonight, has been told it cannot publish or publicise it until after the general election”. Hmmm.

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