Law and religion round-up – 22nd March

Yet another “Aside from that, Mrs Lincoln…” kind of week…

… although the Carmelite Nuns GB announced that they “have 800 years experience of social distancing”.

Breaking News

New advice has been sent to Church of England churches in London stating that in the light of the continued spread of COVID-19 in London, it is necessary to close its buildings entirely. “The action is being replicated for London Boroughs in the Dioceses of London, Southwark, Chelmsford and Rochester and with support from the Archbishop of Canterbury”. [Updated 22 March 2020 at 17:45]

Coronavirus latest

On Monday, the Health Secretary suggested in the Commons “with the deepest regret and the heaviest of hearts” that religious gatherings should be suspended. Later that day, the Church of England announced that “Public worship will have to stop for a season. Our usual pattern of Sunday services and other mid-week gatherings must be put on hold”. In a joint letter, the Archbishops of Canterbury and York called for Church of England churches to suspend public worship and become a “different sort of church” in the coming months to face the challenge of coronavirus. They followed that up with a further letter in clarification.

The announcement elicited the inevitable query as to how it squared with the legal requirement to hold a church service, weekly, in parishes or benefices – to which David pointed out that the press release had dealt with the issue by citing the canon law doctrine of necessity and that Canon B 14A (Of services in churches and other places of worship) authorises bishops to dispense from the requirement to hold the public services required by the Canons.

On Tuesday, the Church of Scotland announced that it had decided to cancel this year’s General Assembly, which had been due to open on 16 May 2020, while the Methodist Church announced “with sadness” that worship services should be suspended “for the time being in line with Government guidance”.

On Thursday, the Government introduced the Coronavirus Bill: the Explanatory Notes are here and include a statement that “the legislation will be time-limited for two years and it is neither necessary nor appropriate for all of these measures come into force immediately” – from which readers can draw their own conclusions. However, the regulations imposing imminent closures on bars, gyms, restaurants, cafes &c – The Health Protection (Coronavirus, Business Closure) (England) Regulations 2020 “expire at the end of the period of six months beginning with the day on which they come into force [2.00 p.m. on 21st March 2020]”.

With regard to the impact of the pandemic on the election of churchwardens and PCCs, our post on 21 March reviewed the Bishop’s Instrument – Annual Meeting, Elections etc in 2020 which had been produced by the Diocese of Oxford. The legislative text and advice is specific to the Diocese of Oxford, although we understand that the text of the Instrument was distributed by Church House to all Registrars in template form.

Live-streaming of church services

We updated our 2013 post on copyright to cover the issue of live-streaming of church services, which was in its infancy seven years ago. However, the Royal School of Church Music has a much more authoritative guide, here, which we added to our post, with permission. This was followed by Live Streaming Information for Churches from the Church of England. However, at the moment all of this seems academic in the face of the advice that services should be conducted by the priest alone.

Coronavirus and data protection

“We know you might need to share information quickly or adapt the way you work. Data protection will not stop you doing that. It’s about being proportionate – if something feels excessive from the public’s point of view, then it probably is … We understand that resources, whether they are finances or people, might be diverted away from usual compliance or information governance work. We won’t penalise organisations that we know need to prioritise other areas or adapt their usual approach during this extraordinary period. We can’t extend statutory timescales, but we will tell people through our own communications channels that they may experience understandable delays when making information rights requests during the pandemic.”

For further information or help, call the ICO on 0303 123 1113.


Last week, we noted that a draft text of the proposed agreement on the new partnership between the United Kingdom and the EU had appeared on the web, presumably the result of a leak. The official Draft text of the Agreement on the New Partnership with the United Kingdom has now been published on the Commission’s website. It still contains the text of Article LPFS.2.6: Courts and tribunals of the United Kingdom that we quoted last week and which, we imagine, will cause HMG (or at least the Conservatives’ European Research Group) to blow a gasket. But who knows?

Humanist weddings again

On Tuesday, in reply to a Written Question [27537] by Rebecca Long-Bailey (Lab, Salford and Eccles) asking the Secretary of State for Justice, with reference to the judgment in Smyth, Re Judicial Review [2017] NIQB 55, why the remit of the Law Commission’s review of weddings law includes the legal recognition of humanist marriages, the Parliamentary Secretary at the MoJ, Alex Chalk, said that as part of the Law Commission’s fundamental review of wedding law in England and Wales,

“the Government invited the Law Commission to make recommendations about how marriage by humanist and other non-religious belief organisations could be incorporated into a revised or new scheme for all marriages that is simple, fair and consistent.”

Which seems to indicate some movement in the Government’s position since the reply on 21 February to Bambos Charalambous (Lab, Enfield, Southgate) [18961], who was told simply that the Government had consulted in 2014 on marriages by non-religious belief organisations and its summary assessment of costs and benefits had been published in its response to that consultation.

(We confess to having been slightly confused by Ms Long-Bailey’s reference to Smyth, Re Judicial Review [2017] NIQB 55 when the matter had been ruled on subsequently by the Northern Ireland Court of Appeal – which came to the same conclusion as the lower court but on quite different grounds: see Smyth, Re Application for Judicial Review [2018] NICA 25.)

Religious slaughter of animals

On Tuesday, in reply to a Written Question [27039] from Christian Wakeford (Con, Bury South) asking what steps the Government is taking to ensure that religious exemptions for the slaughter of meat and poultry are (a) maintained and (b) protected, the Parliamentary Under Secretary of State at DEFRA,  Victoria Prentis (Banbury) replied:

“The Government accepts the right of Muslims and Jews to eat meat killed in accordance with their religious beliefs. Since 1933 there have been provisions in UK law that permit the slaughter of animals without prior stunning in order to meet Jewish and Islamic religious requirements. The Government has adopted stricter national regulations over the years which ensure extensive protections for animals slaughtered without stunning in accordance with religious rites. These are set down in the Welfare of Animals at Time of Killing (England) Regulations 2015. These regulations continue to ensure that religious exemptions are maintained and protected.”

Church of England (Miscellaneous Provisions) Measure 2020

The Church of England (Miscellaneous Provisions) Measure 2020 has received Royal Assent.

Quick links

And finally…I

For those of you who are self-isolating – or for those of you who are just head-in-hands despairing of the current situation – Catherine Fox has started a new blog of Tales from Lindford, which she hopes to update weekly. It begins like this:

“Much has happened, dear reader, since the end of 2016, when we turned the final page on the fictional diocese of Lindchester, vowing never to begin a fresh volume. Our task back then was to chronicle in weekly instalments the state of the Church of England in times of rapid change, as mediated through the triumphs and disasters of my cast of characters. However, like a polite afternoon tea unwittingly booked into the same venue as a stag weekend, our parochial storylines were all but overwhelmed by a larger and louder narrative.”


And finally…II

Mrs Trellis from North Wales has pointed out that, as part of the TfL coronavirus measures, the Mornington Crescent station is now closed.

5 thoughts on “Law and religion round-up – 22nd March

  1. Not mentioned in your report is that the Catholic Church also stopped all public Masses from Friday 20th 9pm They’ve also ended the obligation for Catholics to attend Mass on Sundays.

    There are a number of Churches who are Live Streaming Masses on the Internet is a good resource listing Churches of all denominations which are Live Streaming services even though there is nobody present other than the Priest. I watched Mass this morning from my Church the ‘Dome of Home’ on the Wirral. Traditional Latin Mass, 21st Century technology

  2. In terms of legal practice the Civil and Family Courts have moved rapidly to making all hearings Video or Telephone as far as is possible. In the past it was the video hearings which were the exception now Its the live hearings which will be the exception, I suspect this change may remain even when this plague is over I also expect that a lot more judicial decisions, small claim hearings etc will be based simply on written rather than oral submissions

    On the criminal side it’s noticeable that many people develop Coronavirus symptoms on the day they are due up in Court !

  3. I cannot agree with the final sentence of your item on “Live-streaming of church services” that “However, at the moment all of this seems academic in the face of the advice that services should be conducted by the priest alone.”

    Whilst the priest cannot conduct a traditional act of Public Worship, there is nothing to stop them conducting a live-streamed service.

    I have just participated in a service conducted by the Vicar from her study in the Vicarage using Zoom, with 76 participating computers/tablets/phones and I would estimate well over a 100 people in total as several of the devices had a couple or a family using them.

    Whilst it is not a traditional service in Church, it is an acceptable alternative in the present situation, although setting up the technology can be challenging.

    Whilst our Vicar felt it best to do it from the Vicarage, there would be nothing to stop a live-streamed service being conducted by a priest from their stall or the Holy Table in Church (provided the building has an internet connection) if they consider this most appropriate for their Church and congregation.

  4. Pingback: COVID-19 Coronavirus: legislation and guidance | Law & Religion UK

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

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