This week, mainly a very long list of links…
Human rights in UK law
A group of lawyers and representatives of charities involved in human rights issues, headed by Andrew Copson (Chief Executive, Humanists UK), Daniel Gorman (Director, English PEN), Martha Spurrier (Director, Liberty) and Jodie Ginsberg (Chief Executive, Index on Censorship) has had the following letter published in the Daily Telegraph:
“SIR – While every system could be improved, and protecting rights and freedoms for all is a balancing act, our Human Rights Act is a proportionate and well-drafted protection for the fundamental liberties and responsibilities of everyone in Britain.
The Act guarantees the rights to free speech and expression, to life, to liberty, to security, to privacy, to assembly, and to freedom of religion or belief. It prohibits torture and guarantees fair trials and the rule of law.
Judicial review is an indispensable mechanism for individuals to assert those rights and freedoms against the power of the state. Any government that cares about freedom and justice should celebrate and protect these vital institutions and never demean or threaten them.”
Marriage certification in England & Wales
The present position on changes to the new marriage registration scheme as set out in a recent House of Commons Library publication, Mothers’ details on marriage certificates, is, essentially, “nobody knows”. However, whilst there was an element of urgency in the latter half of 2019, it has been pointed out that in practice it would now be more logical to delay this until late 2020; the majority of weddings take place from late May through to September and there would be less potential for confusion if this period were to be avoided.
In which connexion, on 17 February Baroness Williams of Trafford answered a Written Question in the Lords [HL1293] as follows:
“The General Register Office (GRO) is currently working on the secondary legislation, IT systems and administrative processes that are required to implement the marriage schedule system, which includes the issue of certificates following a ceremony. GRO continues to engage interested stakeholders on these matters, including the Church of England and Church in Wales.”
Assisted dying and the Royal College of General Practitioners
The Royal College of General Practitioners will continue to oppose a change in the law on assisted dying. The decision was ratified by the RCGP’s governing Council on Friday, following an online consultation to which 6,674 members from across the UK responded:
- 47 per cent said that the RCGP should oppose a change in the law on assisted dying
- 40 per cent of respondents said that the College should support a change in the law on assisted dying, providing a regulatory framework and appropriate safeguarding processes were in place
- 11 per cent said that the RCGP should have a neutral position and
- 2 per cent of respondents abstained from answering.
The RCGP Council agreed that the survey results did not support a change in the College’s existing position on assisted dying.
Inequalities in NHS pastoral care
The Network for Pastoral, Spiritual, and Religious Care in Health – the umbrella body of representatives from the major religious and non-religious groups working in NHS chaplaincy and pastoral support services – has published a report, Fit for the Twenty-First Century? The State of Inclusion for Acute NHS Chaplaincy Pastoral, Spiritual and Religious Care Services in England, which concludes that there are huge disparities between Christians and non-Christians in the provision of pastoral, spiritual and religious care in NHS acute trusts in England. The Network attributes this to the fact that in England in 2018-19, 94 per cent of chaplaincy hours were provided by Christian chaplains – despite NHS services being required to provide equal care inclusive to all faiths and beliefs.
Highlighting why equality issues have not been properly considered, the report blames a lack of oversight by NHS trusts, poor recruitment practices, a lack of representation in PSR services, and concerns around the way in which inclusion is assessed by the Care Quality Commission:
“every aspect of this report highlights the need for an immediate reality check. While there is undoubtedly excellent practice, and the non-exclusive approach of many staff and volunteers should be commended, NHS chaplaincy services today are, for the most part, provided by and to those with Christian beliefs. The current system seemingly does little to try and address this issue but instead serves to reinforce it through the way in which it communicates to potential users of the service, in its recruitment of staff and volunteers, and in its apparent lack of oversight by NHS management.”
The Privy Council (again)
In addition to authorizing burials in a (named) closed churchyard and the designation of a further eight closed churchyards, on 12 February 2020 the Privy Council also approved a new constitution for the charity, The Clergy Support Trust, (formally the Charity for Relief of the Poor Widows and Children of Clergymen) updating its 1678 Royal Charter, (scroll to page 123). Its charitable objects remain unchanged, which are:
“assistance to beneficiaries, whether directly or indirectly, in such manner as and by such means as the Court of Assistants from time to time in their absolute discretion think fit for the relief or prevention of poverty or hardship or for the relief of illness and the promotion of health, whether physical or mental.”
As advice on the precautions to avoid the spread of coronavirus has begun to be implemented within the Church of England, questions have been raised on the legal status of national and diocesan requirements. The advice falls within the ordinary jurisdiction of the Bishop, and the exact details vary between dioceses. Those in the Peterborough Ad Clerum are amongst the most comprehensive and most prescriptive, but nevertheless contain a mix of mandatory and permissive language.
The Church of England advice was last updated on 20 February and, in relation to intinction, now adds that this represents a risk to those with certain allergies. Unlike Peterborough, this does not yet address receiving the bread directly onto the tongue. The Diocesan advice is:
“People may have been taught that the consecrated bread is too holy to touch, or they may have learnt this habit for other reasons. The risk of the minister’s fingers touching the recipient’s lips or tongue, and passing germs to others, is very real”.
[Since this guidance was issued, there have been a number of updates within the Church of England and elsewhere, and these are now listed in a separate post, which itself is frequently updated.]
Three linked posts in Talk About: Law and Religion on the problem of “chained wives” in Judaism:
- Mark Hill: Divorce and the Chained Wife: The Interplay of Civil Law and Religious Law.
- Haim Shapira: The Aguna Problem – Recent Developments.
- Dmytro Vovk: Chained Wife Problem: Religious and Secular Perspectives.
There has been much media discussion of the recent cases on Ms M Forstater v CGD Europe & Ors  UKET 2200909/2019, which we noted here, and R (Miller) v The College of Policing & The Chief Constable of Humberside  EWHC 225 (Admin), which we noted here. For academic comment, see:
- Alice Irving, UKHRB: Twitter, trans rights and the role of the police — an extended look.
- Paul Johnson, ECHR Sexual Orientation Blog: Why “gender critical” beliefs are not protected in the workplace: the role of the European Convention on Human Rights.
- Karon Monaghan, UK Labour Law: The Forstater Employment Tribunal judgment: a critical appraisal in light of Miller: “Much of the difficulty in understanding the legal impact of gender reassignment – and trans status – arises because of the conflation of the terms sex and gender”: we didn’t think very much of Forstater either.
- Paul Bickley, Theos: The Case of Suella Braverman and the Triratna Order: “There may be any number of reasons why Suella Braverman shouldn’t have been offered the role of Attorney General” – but her membership of the Buddhist Triratna Order isn’t one of them.
- Frank Cranmer and Russell Sandberg, Academia: A critique of the decision in Conisbee that vegetarianism is not ‘a belief’: the Ecc LJ article in which we express serious doubts about much of the reasoning in the judgment.
- Simon Davis, Law Society Gazette: Ending the ‘blame game’: the President of the Law Society on possible tweaks to the Divorce, Dissolution and Separation Bill.
- ECtHR: Country profiles: judgments with case-notes, broken down by respondent state: the UK profile is here and it provides a useful corrective to the notion that Strasbourg is constantly ruling against the UK.
- ECtHR: Information Note on the Court’s case-law: January 2020.
- Rosalind English: Vice-President of the Strasbourg Court Róbert Spanó’s response to Jonathan Sumption’s Reith Lectures: you can read a full transcript of Judge Spanó’s lecture here.
- Farrer & Co and the Independent Schools Council: Child Sexual Abuse in Schools: lessons from history, guidance for the future.
- House of Commons Library briefing paper: An overview of child protection legislation in England.
- House of Commons Library briefing paper: Financial provision when a relationship ends.
- Meg Munn: Annual Report of the National Safeguarding Panel.
- Alan G Nixon, Religions: ‘Non-Religion’ as Part of the ‘Religion’ Category in International Human Rights: on the case under international law for the rights of the non-religious.
- Catherine Pepinster, Telegraph: Sally Axworthy, our woman at the Vatican: ‘It is a very male-dominated place’ (which one might have guessed): fascinating profile of the UK Ambassador to the Holy See.
- Timothy Pitt-Payne, Panopticon: Of Tweeting and Transgender Rights: on R (Miller) v The College of Policing & Anor  EWHC 225 (Admin), which we noted here.
- Shaheen Rahman, UKHRB: Removal of life support after brain stem death held lawful: on two related judgments in which Lieven J held that a Hospital Trust could withdraw treatment from a child on mechanical ventilation to keep him alive and granted an application for anonymity: her decision was upheld by the Court of Appeal.
- Adam Wagner, New Statesman: Suella Braverman’s appointment as attorney general spells danger for human rights: “We must ‘take back control,’ she wrote in an article which reads like a cover letter for the attorney general post, ‘not just from the EU, but from the judiciary’”: no great surprise.
University College, London, has announced that its new President and Provost is to be the Revd Dr Michael Spence AC, currently Vice-Chancellor of the University of Sydney. A specialist in intellectual property law, he also happens to be an Anglican priest. Which for the “Godless Institution in Gower Street” is something of a new departure.
And finally… II
Whilst the name of the computer scientist Larry Tesler may not be well known, it was through his innovations of the “cut”, “copy” and “paste” commands that the personal computer became simple to learn and use, and without which the writing of this blog would have been infinitely more complex. RIP.