Law and religion round-up – 15th December

“Well, aside from that, Mrs Lincoln, what did you think of the play?”

Same-sex marriage in Northern Ireland

The News Letter reports a call for the Government to introduce a “conscience clause” for local authority registrars in Northern Ireland ahead of the introduction of same-sex marriage in January. It is anticipated the first same-sex marriages will take place in February; but while there is to be a consultation on relation to same-sex marriage within religious organisations, there is no current plan to consult on civil weddings carried out by local authority registrars.

Social housing and religion

We have previously reported the case of Z, a woman with four children who was refused a tenancy with the Agudas Israel Housing Association because it had been founded to provide social housing for Orthodox Jews in north London and she was not Jewish. In R (Z & Ors) v Hackney London Borough Council & Anor [2019] EWHC 139 (Admin), a Divisional Court dismissed her claim and her subsequent appeal – R (Z & Anor) v London Borough of Hackney & Anor [2019] EWCA Civ 1099 – was also dismissed.

Local Government Lawyer reports that the Supreme Court has agreed to hear an appeal. According to counsel for the Appellants, the primary issues will be the defence of positive action and the charity exemption under ss.158 and 193 of the Equality Act 2010.

GMC fitness to practise

As we reported in June 2012, the Investigation Committee of the General Medical Council heard an allegation against Dr Richard Scott that at a consultation in August 2010 he had “pushed” his religion upon a vulnerable patient. The Committee concluded that Dr Scott’s actions “… were in direct conflict with the GMC’s supplementary guidance: Personal Beliefs and Medical Practice”, which states in paragraph 19 that “You must not impose your beliefs on patients, or cause distress by the inappropriate or insensitive expression of religious, political or other beliefs or views” and in paragraph 33 that “You must not express to your patients your personal beliefs including political, religious or moral beliefs, in ways that exploit their vulnerability or that are likely to cause them distress”. Dr Scott was formally warned as to his future conduct.

In June 2019, the GMC told Dr Scott that it would begin a fitness to practise investigation after a complaint from the National Secular Society that he was “continuing to pray and promote Christianity during consultations in an attempt to convert patients”, citing an anonymous complainant. Having done so, however, the GMC concluded that there was no case to answer, stating in a letter to Dr Scott that there was no first-hand account or complaint from any patient about his practice. The NSS had sent an anonymous hearsay account about how he had expressed his religious beliefs to a “highly vulnerable” patient, but and there was “no convincing evidence that Dr Scott imposes his personal religious beliefs upon potentially vulnerable patients.”

Further:

“There is no evidence that [he] discusses faith in situations where the patient has stated that they do not wish to discuss these matters or that he has continued to discuss faith after a patient has indicated that they do not welcome such a discussion.”

Hotel wins appeal against refusal of charitable status

The “principal purpose” of New Lanark Hotels Ltd (NLH) is to produce income which it then donates by Gift Aid to New Lanark Trust, the body responsible for managing the New Lanark UNESCO World Heritage Site. OSCR had refused to register NLH as a Scottish charity because, in OSCR’s opinion, it did not provide ‘public benefit’ in terms of s.8 Charities and Trustee Investment (Scotland) Act 2005 and therefore failed to meet the “charity test” in s.7 [4]. Its appeal to the General Regulatory Chamber of the First-tier Tribunal for Scotland failed.

On appeal to the Upper Tribunal for Scotland, however, Lord Tyre found for NLH: see New Lanark Hotels Limited v Office of the Scottish Charity Regulator [2019] UT 63. He concluded that the First-tier Tribunal had failed to address the point at issue between the parties. OSCR’s argument had been founded on the commercial nature of some of the activities pursued by NLH – but the fact that an entity undertook trading or commercial activity did not prevent that trading or activity being in furtherance of its charitable purpose in terms of assessing public benefit. The FTT had accepted NHL’s argument that commercial trading or other activity could be in furtherance of an entity’s charitable purpose in assessing public benefit [27] but it had not addressed NHL’s argument that its commercial activities were in furtherance of its charitable purpose [28]. He quashed the FTT’s decision [30] and invited the parties to make any further written submissions within 42 days, following which he would address the substantive issue that was raised in the appeal to the FTT.

All of which is not worth a separate post and nothing, immediately, to do with religion: but religious charities often have wholly-owned commercial subsidiaries and there has been considerable discussion in and around the charity sector in the past few years about exactly what types of trading are acceptable within charities, about the role of trading subsidiaries – and whether they are even needed.

Faculty Jurisdiction Rules

Last week the December Newsletter of Parish Resources alerted us to The Faculty Jurisdiction (Amendment) Rules 2019 which make a number of important changes to the earlier Rules, including: the substitution of a new Part 4 dealing with consultation and advice; revision and expansion of Lists A and B; extension of the Archdeacon’s jurisdiction for temporary minor re-ordering; and various other amendments to improve the operation of the Rules.

The Rules were laid before Parliament on 6 August 2019, but to not come into force until 1 April 2020. Nevertheless, there is plenty to absorb from these new provisions, and last week we posted Faculty Jurisdiction – further amendments, April 2020 which reviewed the new Part 4 and Lists A & B. Next year, Charles George QC, Dean of the Arches, will deliver the lecture “Do we still need the Faculty System?” to the Ecclesiastical Law Society on 19 February 2020, and The Worshipful Prof Mark Hill QC, Chairman of the Ecclesiastical Law Society, will speak to the Society.on “The Faculty Jurisdiction (Amendment) Rules 2019: All Change?“ on 8 April 2020. 

Church court judgments in the news

This week, the judgments in Re All Hallows Ordsall and Re Syderstone St Mary have been picked by the dailies, see links below, and Re St Oswald Filey [2019] ECC Yor 8 has generated lengthy comment in the Twittersphere. It was suggested that the latter demonstrated that “peak Anglicanism [had been] reached” in the importance placed on conversations over a cup of tea, which was referred to on 11 occasions. In brief, the case concerned a body, unlawfully buried in closed C of E churchyard following a Methodist funeral whilst the incumbent was away on a course. For those not wishing to read the 15-page judgment or wait for our December round-up, the conclusion was summarized in para. 63 as follows:

“[63]. … I hope that it will now be clear to everyone hereafter that there is no possibility of the burial of a body in a coffin in a closed churchyard without a faculty. That might be a faculty which had reserved a grave space prior to the Closure Order. Or it might be a faculty to allow a burial within the same grave in which a family member is buried, but that earlier burial must be deep enough to permit a second coffin to be placed above it and for there to be a metre of earth between the upper coffin and the ground surface. Ashes of course can be buried in an area set aside for the burial of cremated remains, and it would usually be possible to obtain a faculty to inter ashes in the grave of a family member”.

These cases will be amongst the nineteen judgments (at the time of writing) in December which will be reviewed at the end of the month.

Church buildings in the UK

An interesting set of statistics published in April (which we missed at the time and only just spotted via Twitter): Estimated number of church buildings in the UK by denomination:

  • Anglican  16,600
  • Methodist  4,700
  • Presbyterian  4,100
  • Roman Catholic  3,700
  • Independent  3,700
  • Baptist  3,100
  • Smaller denominations  1,400
  • Pentecostal  1,500
  • New churches  1,300
  • Orthodox  200

The research was carried out for the National Churches Trust by The Brierley Consultancy (“Strengthening Christian Leadership”), and provides other useful information. However, the assertion in the Press Release “Holy Spirit – The UK has more churches than pubs” is debatable and is reliant upon the use of ONS data rather than that of the industry trade association.

EU action on anti-Semitism

On !0 December, the new President of the European Commission, Ursula von der Leyen, made a speech at a conference in the wake of the Halle synagogue shooting on 9 October, being Yom Kippur that was jointly hosted by the European Parliament Working Group on Anti-Semitism, the European Jewish Congress and B’nai B’rith International. She told the conference that she had commissioned Vice-President Margaritis Schinas to lead the fight against anti-Semitism and announced that he would be “supported by a new dedicated team, with very experienced people, who will work with our coordinator for combating anti-Semitism and for fostering Jewish life. And fostering Jewish life is something which I have always taken very seriously.” Further:

“As Minister of Defence, I decided to reintroduce after 100 years Rabbis as chaplains in the Bundeswehr – the German armed forces – together with Christian priests. This is as important for Jewish soldiers as it is for the rest of the armed forces. It is a way to learn about the different cultures that together build a common European culture. And it is a way to understand one another. To understand that, in our diversity of backgrounds, we are all part of the same community. There would be no European culture without Jewish culture. And there would be no Europe without Jewish people.”

The decision to reintroduce rabbis to the German military chaplaincy was confirmed by the current Minister of Defence, Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer, on Wednesday.

Quick links

And finally…

RightsInfo has revamped its website and changed its name to EachOther. It’s still saving on em spaces, though.

2 thoughts on “Law and religion round-up – 15th December

    • Indeed. It seems to happen quite often that a permission to appeal is announced then doesn’t get on to the UKSC website until a month or two later.

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