Law and religion round-up – 23rd February

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.”

Coronavirus – update

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:

Gender-critical beliefs

There has been much media discussion of the recent cases on Ms M Forstater v CGD Europe & Ors [2019] UKET 2200909/2019, which we noted here, and R (Miller) v The College of Policing & The Chief Constable of Humberside [2020] EWHC 225 (Admin), which we noted here. For academic comment, see:

Quick links

And finally…I

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.

4 thoughts on “Law and religion round-up – 23rd February

  1. As a KCL alumnus I watch the appointment at Godless Gower Street with interest… clerical college heads are not faring well at present, as witness Martyn Percy at Christ Church Oxford (and my wife’s college principal at Cuddesdon) and Jeremy Morris at Trinity Hall Cambridge (my second alma mater)

  2. Pingback: Coronavirus updates – index | Law & Religion UK

  3. Pingback: COVID-19 Coronavirus: legislation and guidance (II) | Law & Religion UK

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