Law and religion round-up – 12th January

And in addition to the “conscious uncoupling” in the Royal Family … 

Northern Ireland

The big news of the week was that devolved government is to be restored in Northern Ireland. The deal itself covers various policy issues. In addition, the House of Commons Library has posted Northern Ireland Assembly: “New Decade, New Approach” which examines proposals to reform the Assembly and Executive.

Population estimates by religion

The Office for National Statistics has published a Research report on population estimates by ethnic group and religion which combines information from the 2011 Census and subsequent Annual Population Survey data covering 2014 to 2016, though it emphasises that these are illustrative estimates and not official statistics. The research estimates the percentages of the population professing the major faiths as follows:

  • Buddhist: 0.5%
  • Christian: 56.6%
  • Hindu: 1.7%
  • Jewish: 0.5%
  • Muslim: 5.6%
  • Sikh: 0.7%
  • Other: 1.5%
  • None or not stated: 32.8%

Dr Richard Scott – again

Last Sunday’s Observer reports that the General Medical Council is reviewing its decision not to investigate Dr Richard Scott, a GP in Kent, who has been accused of evangelising patients about his Christian faith. Last month, the GMC decided to take no further action against him, concluding that there was “no first-hand account of complaint from any patient about Dr Scott’s practice”; however, it has now told the National Secular Society that it is reviewing that decision under Rule 12 of its fitness to practice procedures, which allow it to reconsider cases if new information comes to light.

The decision follows comments that Dr Scott made to the media. On 9 December, he told BBC Radio Kent that he would continue to initiate conversations with patients about faith, and confirmed that he had not changed his approach since receiving a warning from the GMC in 2012.

Disturbing buried remains

The BBC reported that plans to move up to seventeen graves in order to build a library and function room next to St Michael and All Angels Dalston, near Carlisle, had “raised concerns”. According to the report, the proposal by the PCC was opposed by the parish council and “A final decision will be made by Carlisle City Council’s planning panel on 10 January.” On Friday, the City Council approved the plan.

So that’s the planning decision settled – but the proposed works will still need a faculty – which it might or might not get. And since “a trial trench has already identified human remains, coffins and burial shrouds”, one would hope that faculty authorisation was obtained prior to the excavation.

And before we all get carried away about veganism…

The Law Society Gazette reports Barry Ross, director at Crossland Employment Solicitors, as reminding everyone that the preliminary ruling in Casamitjana does not change the law: “It is important to remember that this is the judgment of the first instance employment tribunal. It does not have to be followed and does not implement any change in the law. It does give employers guidance in relation to the likely treatment of ethical veganism before the employment tribunal and as such, the types of steps they should be considering for their employees and the workplace.”

But it’s not definitive by any means.

Sharia weddings

On 7 January, Lord Keen of Elie answered a written Question from Baroness Cox, asking HMG “what plans they have, if any, to amend the Marriage Act 1949 to make it a legal requirement for couples to civilly register their marriage before, or at the same time as, their religious ceremony”, as follows:

“The law has long made provision for couples, including Muslim couples, to marry in their place of worship in a way that gives them legal rights and protections. The Government shares the concern that some people may nonetheless marry in a way that does not, and without appreciating the consequences.

The independent Sharia review has recommended an offence apply to religious celebrants marrying in a ceremony that is outside the ambit of the Marriage Acts. Any legislative proposal, including such an offence, must be thoroughly assessed for its fairness to all religious groups and for how far it could achieve the change of practice intended. That is why it is with the greatest care that the Government is continuing the exploration of both limited reform and non-legislative options that it began in detail in the spring.

Separately from this exploration, the Law Commission has begun its weddings project. It will make recommendations for how the wider law on getting married in England and Wales can be systematically reformed in a way that is simple, fair and consistent.”

Hate crime in Northern Ireland

Northern Ireland’s Independent Hate Crime Legislation Review, which is led by Judge Desmond Marrinan, has published a consultation. It was established in response to a recommendation by the Chief Inspector of Criminal Justice in Northern Ireland that the Department of Justice should review hate crime legislation to establish whether any change was required and whether the introduction of statutory offences, similar to those in England and Wales, would be appropriate. Its remit is:

“To consider whether existing hate crime legislation represents the most effective approach for the justice system to deal with criminal conduct motivated by hatred, malice, ill-will or prejudice, including hate crime and abuse which takes place online.”

The consultation closes on 31 March.

Jewish military chaplains in Germany

The Federal Republic of Germany and the Central Council of Jews in Germany have concluded a formal agreement on the provision of Jewish military chaplaincy for the first time in about a hundred years. The seat of the Military Rabbinate authority will be in Berlin and it is expected that the first military rabbis will be appointed in coordination with the Orthodox Rabbi Conference Germany and the General Rabbi Conference in the course of 2020.

The Ministry of Defence also plans improved pastoral services for serving personnel of other faiths, but the search for suitable interlocutors is not yet complete because of the very different organisational forms of other non-Christian religions. The Ministry estimates that the armed forces include around 300 Jews and around 3,000 Muslims. [With thanks to Dr Georg Neureither.]

Ecclesiastical court judgments 2019

On Tuesday 7 January, we posted an index to the ecclesiastical court judgments which we have reviewed during 2019, and also links to reviews in previous years. The breakdown into the broad general types of judgment is shown below for the last three years:

2017 2018 2019
Reordering, extensions & other building works 52 62 53
Church Treasures/Sale of Paintings &c/Loans 1 1 1
Audio Visual Equipment 3 1 1
Telecommunications 4 1 2
Exhumation 15 17 30
Churchyards and burial 27 27 23
Organs 2 3 3
Fonts 0 2 0
Bells 1 0 1
TOTAL 105 112 114

Communications in the Anglican Communion

This is an important year for the Anglican Communion with the 15th Lambeth Conference due to take place in Canterbury from 15 to 22 July 2020. The leaders of 36 of the Anglican Communion’s 40 member churches will gather in the Middle East next week for what has been described as “a very strategic meeting.” The chief pastors of the Communion – the senior archbishops, moderators and presiding bishops of the Anglican provinces – will meet from Monday 13 January to Wednesday 15 January in formal session. In view of the importance of the forthcoming Lambeth Conference, changes were announced this week via the Anglican Communion News Service (ACNS) in the way the Anglican Communion communicates.

Second Church Estates Commissioner

On 10 January, it was announced that The Queen had approved the appointment of Mr Andrew Selous MP as Second Church Estates Commissioner. The Notes to Editors state: “Andrew Selous has been a Member for South West Bedfordshire since 2001. He is a confirmed member of the Church of England”, the latter being an essential requirement for the post. His voting record is summarized in They Work For You, and although he sometimes differs from other party colleagues; “He generally voted for a wholly elected House of Lords, while most Conservative MPs generally voted against”, here. Further information plus the customary welcoming comments from the Archbishop of Canterbury and the First Church Estate Commissioner have been posted by the Church of England. The Press Release states: “Andrew Selous attends St Mary the Virgin, Studham”, adding “he and his family are also active worshipping members of the Community of The Vineyard, St Albans“.

“No ring of bells shall our ears sound … ?”

This week Leave.EU launched its initiative “calling on churches across Britain to mark the first morning of our independence with the sound of bells ringing. Just as we did upon news of the Allies’ victory in 1945…!” It is perhaps no surprise, then, that there has been renewed interest in our post Church bells and the law in which we examined the complexities and uncertainties related to the ringing of church bells. In response to a number of queries, the Central Council of Church Bell Ringers (CCCBR) issued a statement saying “as a principle, [it] does not endorse bell ringing for political reasons”. Individual towers have discretion to ring for such occasions but is on a case-by-case basis and “typically needs permission from the incumbent”. Indeed. Canon F 8 Of church bells states: “No bell in any church or chapel shall be rung contrary to the direction of the minister”, but equally, the ringing of church bells requires a band of ringers willing to ring.

Quick links

And finally…I

According to press reports, a study of more than 2,000 people by the University of Oklahoma. has concluded that “People who worship more than once a week own 1.4 cats on average, compared to the non-religious who have an average of two”. Did we need to know that?

And finally…II

From Have I Got News For You@haveigotnews: “Veganism judged to be a legally-protected philosophical belief after defendant successfully argues ‘I think, therefore I yam’”.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *