Law and religion round-up – 8th December

Your oven-ready roundup of stuff that didn’t quite merit a free-standing post… 

Opposite-sex civil partnership

On Monday, it became possible for opposite-sex couples in England and Wales to choose to enter into a civil partnership rather than getting married. Those who entered into civil partnerships in jurisdictions that already provide for them, such as the Isle of Man, the Netherlands, South Africa and New Zealand, had their unions recognised automatically as from Monday; however, the first civil partnership ceremonies in England and Wales may not take place until 31 December, since 29 days’ notice is required and in certain cases, this may be extended to 71 days, depending on immigration status. A civil partnership does not require a ceremony and couples can choose to sign the schedule in front of two qualified witnesses by booking a statutory ceremony appointment; however, it is possible to combine the signing with a full ceremony.

Adoption and discrimination

In 2016, Adopt Berkshire refused to register Sandeep and Reena Mander, a British couple of Sikh heritage, with the agency and told them that their chances of adopting would be improved if they looked to adopt in India or Pakistan. With the support of the Equality and Human Rights Commission, they duly sued the Royal Borough of Windsor and Maidenhead Council – and on Friday, HHJ Clarke held that the couple had been discriminated against on the grounds of race and awarded them nearly £120,000 in damages: general damages of £29,454.42 each and special damages totalling £60,013.43 for the cost of adopting a child overseas.

Unfortunately, the full judgment does not appear to be available; however, The Guardian reports HHJ Clarke as follows:

“I consider that there is clear evidence that Mr and Mrs Mander, who I have found expressed willingness to consider a child of any ethnicity, received less favourable treatment than would a comparable couple of a different ethnicity. All of this discloses, in my judgment, what the unknown social worker stated in the very first phone call with Mr Mander, namely that Adopt Berkshire operated a policy of placing adoptive children with parents who come from the ‘same background’ – namely race.

I am satisfied that race was the criterion by which the unknown social worker decided not to book an initial visit with Mr and Mrs Mander, because the defendants have not satisfied me that there was any other criterion applied by that unknown social worker.

All the evidence points to Adopt Berkshire’s refusal to progress Mr and Mrs Mander being made on the assumption that it would not be in a putative child’s best interest to be matched with prospective adopters who did not share their race. This assumption was a stereotype which gave race disproportionate importance as a factor regarding the welfare of children.”

She concluded, however, that Windsor and Maidenhead’s actions had not been in breach of Article 12 ECHR (right to marry and to found a family).

Oxford DAC

The latest Oxford diocese e-news includes an item from the Diocesan Secretary, Mark Humphriss, which gives an insight to the work of the Diocesan Advisory Committee (DAC). Funded by the Parish Share, the DAC office provides a holistic service to parishes, from a project’s inception to its execution. Advising on the statutory permissions process, all of the Oxford DAC team are experienced buildings professionals, spanning geology, civil engineering, repair and conservation techniques, project management, history and art.

The Oxford team, which comprises five officers (3.5 full-time equivalents), is the busiest DAC in the country – the diocese covers three counties (292 benefices, 621 parishes), it is the fifth-largest in land area (2,220 square miles) and it has by far the largest number of churches (815). The DAC currently deals with 1000+ cases per year, around double what it was a few years ago; “a great sign of many parishes progressing creative projects, as well as others having to deal with repairs”. It was accepted that there are currently “unacceptable delays”, but on 4 December, the Bishop’s Council agreed to the recruitment of an additional full-time officer; however, “it will take a few months to clear the backlog”.

Church Buildings Matters

The National Churches Trust has issued a five-point manifesto for church buildings in advance of the General Election, calling for a new Urgent Repair and Maintenance Grant Scheme, legislation to ensure that parish and town councils have the legal powers to fund church buildings, help for more churches to become community hubs through the installation of toilets and kitchens, stronger measures to stop heritage crime and lead theft, and an extension of the Listed Places of Worship Grant Scheme to March 2025.

Ecclesiastical court judgments

On Tuesday we posted our round-up of consistory court and other decisions for November. Whilst there were only three judgments from the courts, Re All Saints Kirk Hallam [2019] ECC Der 7 was interesting in that the court considered the discovery of an Anglo-Saxon sword in land that had been acquired by the church to augment the capacity of the churchyard. The sword, to use the Chancellor’s “much more romantic and interesting” description, was not “treasure trove” [3] (nor could it be: “treasure trove” as a legal concept was abolished by the Treasure Act 1996). Ownership was not vested in the parish priest but it comprised a “moveable” of the church. Ownership was vested in the churchwardens – but it was not “a church treasure” [10].

In addition, we reported on the findings of a Clergy Disciplinary tribunal, a schedule agreed by the High Court in relation to collective worship at Burford Primary School, and recent CFCE determinations. However, for those who felt “short-changed” by the paucity of judgments, at the time of writing we already had ten in December waiting review, including Re All Saints Freshwater [2019] ECC Por 4 in which there were five applications to exhume human remains, graves having been undermined by the collapse of a badger sett following heavy rains. The end of the year will also see our summary of all the judgments reviewed in 2019.

Some people just don’t get it…

From a legal website that had better not be identified:

“Within the UK there are two judicial systems: the law of England and Wales and the law of Scotland; which differ slightly.”

Or more accurately, three – unless Nothern Ireland left the UK when we weren’t looking. And as to English and Scots law differing “slightly”, the author must have missed the recent Supreme Court ruling in Cherry v Advocate General for Scotland.

Quick Links

And finally…I

It was announced last Sunday that the Apostrophe Protection Society is closing down. Its founder, John Richards, explained that there were two reasons for his decision: that at 96 he was cutting back on his commitments and because “fewer organisations and individuals are now caring about the correct use of the apostrophe”. So thats it, then, folk’s…

And finally…II

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