Law and religion round-up – 22nd December

And here we go again…

… but being a non-political blog, we are thankfully remote from post mortems of the General Election, leadership battles within the parties, and much of the fake news debate.

The Queen’s Speech

The content of the Queen’s Speech was largely as predicted, beginning with a renewed commitment to leave the European Union on 31 January 2020. As usual, the Government issued comprehensive background briefings for each of the Bills proposed for the session and a “what it means for you” brief.

On family law, the accompanying briefing notes confirm that the Divorce, Dissolution and Separation Bill and the Domestic Abuse Bill will be reintroduced.

On the constitution, the Government reiterated its desire to see devolved government restored to Northern Ireland and announced that it will look to devolve responsibility for corporation tax to Stormont once the Assembly and Executive are restored, and will also consider devolving responsibility for short-haul Air Passenger Duty. And, to no-one’s surprise, the Speech included a proposal to repeal the Fixed-term Parliaments Act 2011.

Curiously, given the media speculation, the Speech confirmed the Government’s support for freedom of speech, human rights and the rule of law – and said that it would seek to establish a sanctions regime against states that committed human rights abuses – but included nothing specific either about repealing or amending the Human Rights Act 2010 or about giving the lower courts power to overturn decisions of the European Court of Justice. However, “A Constitution, Democracy and Rights Commission will be established” which, says the accompanying briefing, will “consider the relationship between Government, Parliament and the courts and to explore whether the checks and balances in our constitution are working for everyone”.

And “Other measures will be laid before you” – so watch this space.

Same-sex marriage NI

On 19 December, Julian Smith MP, Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, tweeted “A very good end to the day – signing the new same sex marriage regulations for Northern Ireland. Same sex couples in NI will now be able to marry by Valentine’s Day 2020”. At the time of writing, a copy of the Regulations was not on

NI: prosecution for buying abortion pills did not breach human rights

In an as-yet unreported judgment, the High Court in Belfast has ruled that the prosecution of a woman who bought abortion pills for her teenage daughter did not breach her human rights. The woman was charged with two counts of unlawfully procuring and supplying the abortion drugs, mifepristone and misoprostol, with intent to procure a miscarriage, contrary to the Offences Against the Person Act 1861. The prosecution was formally dropped in October, following the decriminalisation of abortion in Northern Ireland; the subsequent application for judicial review of the decision to prosecute was the first time that the Public Prosecution Service has been challenged on a decision relating to Northern Ireland’s restrictive abortion laws.

Highgate Cemetery development

In our round-up on 7 July 2019, we noted that The Friends of Highgate Cemetery Trust was considering “… taking back long-abandoned graves [in order that] the future of the Cemetery can be assured”. These considerations have progressed, and the Highgate Cemetery Bill 2019-20 was deposited on 27 November 2019; the Examination took place on 18 December and the Bill was found to be compliant with Private Business Standing Orders. This Private Bill is “to confer powers upon the Friends of Highgate Cemetery Trust to operate, maintain and improve Highgate Cemetery and to extinguish rights of burial and disturb human remains in Highgate Cemetery for the purpose of increasing the space for interments and the improvement of Highgate Cemetery; and for connected purposes”.

Objection to the Bill may be made by depositing a Petition against it in the Office of the Clerk of the Parliaments if the Bill is introduced in the House of Lords, or in the Private Bill Office of the House of Commons if the Bill is introduced in that House. The latest date for the deposit of such a Petition in the First House will be 30 January 2020 if the Bill originates in the House of Commons, or 6 February 2020 if it originates in the House of Lords. The latest date for deposit of such a Petition in the Second House will be the tenth day after the first reading of the Bill in that House or, if the House is not sitting on that day, on the next day on which that House sits. Further information regarding petitioning may be found on the Parliament’s webpage here.

So it’s good-bye from her…

Lady Hale will retire as President of the UK Supreme Court when she turns 75 next month. In a ceremony on Wednesday to mark her impending departure, she said this:

“We [Supreme Court justices] do not know one another’s political opinions – although occasionally we may have a good guess – and long may that remain so. Judges have not been appointed for party political reasons in this country since at least the Second World War. We do not want to turn into the Supreme Court of the United States – whether in powers or in process of appointment.”

Or, dare one say it, to start doing politics rather than law.

… and it’s good-bye from him

The Guardian reports that the Government has stood down Lord Carlile QC as the independent reviewer of the Prevent programme. Rights Watch (UK) had sought judicial review of Lord Carlile’s appointment because of his previous expressions of support for Prevent. In a letter to its legal team, the Treasury Solicitor’s Department said that it been decided not to defend the proceedings and that, though the Government “has full confidence that Lord Carlile has carried out the review to date with rigour and an open mind and the decision not to defend the proceedings in no way calls into question his integrity or fair-mindedness”, his appointment had been ended and the Government was considering the options for a future review.

Consistory court judgments, December

The Sisyphean task of reviewing the consistory court judgments for December is drawing to a close, and all that remains is whether the twenty-three judgments should be posted in two, three, or more posts. We continue to be grateful to Ray Hemingray at the Ecclesiastical Law Association for collating and summarizing the many judgments throughout the year.

Pope scraps pontifical secrecy rule over sexual abuse

The BBC reports that Pope Francis has made changes to the way the Roman Catholic Church deals with cases of sexual abuses of minors, by abolishing the rule of “pontifical secrecy”. The Pope has said that information in abuse cases should still be treated with “security, integrity and confidentiality”, but he has instructed Vatican officials to comply with civil laws while maintaining confidentiality and to assist the civil judicial authorities in investigating such cases. He has also changed the Vatican’s definition of child pornography, raising the definition of a “child” from 14 or under to 18 or under.

However, commenting on the publication of the Rescript of the Holy Father Francis On the confidentiality of legal proceedings, HE Msgr Juan Ignacio Arrieta, Secretary of the Pontifical Council for Legislative Texts, and Professor Giuseppe Dalla Torre, former president of the Vatican City State Tribunal, said, inter alia:

“The Instruction does not in any way counter the absolute duty to observe the sacramental seal, which is an obligation imposed on the priest by virtue of the position he occupies in the administration of the Sacrament of Confession, and from which not even the penitent himself could free him. Nor does the Instruction touch upon the duty of strict reservation acquired possibly outside of confession, within the whole forum called ‘extra-sacramental’. Finally, the Instruction does not concern other possible moral duties of confidentiality on account of circumstances entrusted to the priest in the sense described in n. 2 of the cited Note of the Apostolic Penitentiary”.

Quebec and laïcité: la lutte continue

In Hak c Procureure générale du Québec 2019 QCCA 2145 (CanLII), the appellants had appealed an interlocutory judgment of 18 July 18, 2019, by Yergeau J in the Superior Court, District of Montreal, dismissing their application for a provisional stay of ss. 6 & 8 of the Act respecting the laicity of the State, which bans many public service employees from wearing religious symbols such as hijabs and crucifixes. The appellants also sought leave to adduce new evidence on appeal. The application for leave to adduce new evidence was granted; however, the appeal against the judgment of the Superior Court judgment was dismissed on a split decision: dissenting from the opinion of Bélanger and Mainville JJA, Duval Hesler CJQ would have allowed the appeal in part and would have suspended the application of s.6 of the Act to the persons referred to in para 10 of Schedule II during the proceedings.

According to The Jurist, there are three more outstanding challenges to the validity and constitutionality of the law scheduled for 2020.

Bishops in the Lords

Lord Taverne came 59th in the ballot for House of Lords private Members’ bills on Friday and he will introduce the House of Lords (Removal of Bishops) Bill on Tuesday 28 January. The Bill, which has been drafted with the assistance of the National Secular Society, would end the automatic right of Church of England archbishops and bishops to sit in the House of Lords. However, the current draft provides does not preclude their entrance to the House of Lords for the purpose only of leading prayers, in accordance with arrangements made by the Upper House. [With thanks to Stephen Evans for the information.]

Can you sue a priest for using a crucifix?

As we noted in August, in Fermin v Priest of St Mary – Marfa, Texas, Diocese of El Paso No. 19-50261 (5th Cir 2019), the US Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit held that the plaintiff could not sue the Diocese of El Paso and an unnamed priest for using a crucifix during his baptism in 1925, since “The First Amendment constrains state action, not private conduct […] Churches and priests are not state actors.” On Monday, the US Supreme Court denied review of that decision. [With thanks to Howard Friedman.]

(On first seeing the title of the original judgment, Frank did seriously wonder if “Marfa” was a misprint for “Martha”, then realised that whatever they speak in Texas, it ain’t Cockney.)

The ubiquitous Christmas Quiz

Christmas quizzes that may be of interest to readers include: 12 general Christmas Questions (with links to answers) from Scattering Ashes; 10 Boxing Day questions set by David Pickup for the Ecclesial Law Society; as well as our own Boxing Day Quiz, which, at a bumper 33 questions, is ready for publication on 26 December.

Whilst not a quiz per se, the Association of English Cathedrals has published an interesting post Cathedrals – Frequently Asked Questions including “What is that cathedral on the Cathedral City Cheese wrapper?” Intriguingly, the answer is “It’s imaginary and simplified. It looks like the towers are inspired by Wells Cathedral but the arch with the great window directly below looks like it would only work if it was constructed in concrete”. So now we know.

Quick links

And finally…

Wetherspoons hit by ‘temporary’ pigs in blankets shortage shock, horror; and more seriously for some Christmas menus, the recall of pesto sauce by Waitrose, Aldi and Sacla’.



(with or without pigs in blankets or pesto sauce)


One thought on “Law and religion round-up – 22nd December

  1. Pingback: Law and religion round-up – 29th December | Law & Religion UK

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