Law and religion round-up – 26th April

A week in which we were reminded that ingesting bleach is not a good idea…

Correction to errors in the Coronavirus Regulations

At 11:00 am on 22 April, the Health Protection (Coronavirus, Restrictions) (England) (Amendment) Regulations 2020 SI 447 came into force and as the header explains: “This Statutory Instrument corrects errors in the regulations which impose restrictions on business opening and people’s movement, the Health Protection (Coronavirus, Restrictions) (England) Regulations 2020 (S.I. 2020/350). In addition to correcting an error in the Department named in Regulations 6(2)(i)(iii), it “makes a number of changes to the Restrictions Regulations to clarify and better enable the public health measures in those Regulations to achieve the intended purpose of reducing public health risks posed by the incidence and spread of severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2)”. [Severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2) is the virus strain that causes coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19)]

The implications of these changes are currently being assessed. Adam Wagner and Kirsty Brimelow QC have produced a PowerPoint presentation, COVID-19 Emergency Police Powers: What are they and how should they be exercised.

For those puzzling the necessity of different Regulations in each of the four countries of the UK, the Explanatory Memorandum gives an answer, if not a convincing explanation:

“In the view of the Department, for the purposes of Standing Order No. 83P of the Standing Orders of the House of Commons relating to Public Business, the subject matter of this entire instrument would be within the devolved legislative competence of: [the Scottish Parliament, National Assembly for Wales, and Northern Ireland Assembly “if equivalent provision in relation to **** were included in an Act of [the relevant body].

The Department has reached this view because it considers that the primary purpose of this instrument relates to the protection of public health, which is within the devolved legislative competence of the three Devolved Administrations.”

However, a pandemic does not respect devolved competences and in this case, the public health issues of the UK might have been better served with a single set of regulatory controls, guidance &c. The changes applicable to England have been added to CPS advice but, at the time of writing, not to the guidance of the MHCLG or the National Police Chiefs’ Council/College of Policing. A parallel tranche of legislation and advice has also been introduced by the Welsh Government. We couldn’t make it up.

Blasphemy in Scotland

The Hate Crime and Public Order (Scotland) Bill was introduced into the Scottish Parliament. If enacted, section 16 will abolish the common law offence of blasphemy – which was last prosecuted in Scotland in 1842.

New President of the ECtHR

The Council of Europe has announced that the new President of the ECtHR in succession to Linos-Alexandre Sicilianos is to be Róbert Spanó, the judge in respect of Iceland and currently senior Vice-President of the Court. For his views on the role of the Court, see:


Ramadan began on 23/24 April until 23/24 May. It is the holiest month of the year for Muslims, as it is when the Qur’an was revealed to the Prophet Muhammad. The Muslim Council of Britain notes that this year, Ramadan will be a very different experience for Muslims all over the world due to the COVID-19 restrictions. In addition to a factsheet on fasting, it provides further COVID-19 guidance including #RamadanAtHome and detailed Ramadan 2020 guidance.

And may we wish our Muslim readers a blessed and peaceful Ramadan?

Charity law: virtual meetings of trustees

In a helpful article in LexologyCovid-19 and charities: key questions and answers, Jonathan Conder, Nicholas Harries and Emma Cox of Macfarlanes LLP address a range of difficult issues, one of which is virtual meetings – on which they say this:

“Holding physical meetings such as AGMs, board meetings and trustees’ meetings is likely to be difficult under the current circumstances. Unless the charity’s governing documents expressly prohibit virtual meetings, it is generally accepted that meetings held via video link are valid, so long as the participants can all see and hear each other.

Normally, unless the governing document specifically permits the use of a telephone-only meeting, a meeting conducted via telephone may not be validly held since the participants cannot see each other. However, the [Charity] Commission has indicated that it will take a more relaxed approach to telephone meetings under the circumstances, so long as any decisions made at the meeting are recorded. Nevertheless, meetings should be conducted via video wherever possible.

Where a meeting is to be held remotely, the usual requirements regarding giving notice of the meeting and circulating minutes should be complied with.

Charities might also consider alternatives to holding meetings, for instance by approving decisions through unanimous written resolutions where the governing documents allow this. There is also case law to suggest that a simple majority of trustees of an unincorporated charity may bind the minority, but the safest course of action would be to seek unanimous approval.

The Lord giveth and the Lord taketh away, Job 1:21 KJV

On 20 April, the Archbishops’ Council Cathedral and Church Buildings Division issued a third version of Securing and caring for your church buildings during the Covid-19 pandemic: advice for incumbents, churchwardens and PCC members. As we have noted before, this tranche of guidance from the Church of England is particularly informative in its content, layout, and updating, all of which assist the tracking of changes in these fast-changing circumstances. One of the new additions was the provision on organ maintenance:

“For a cathedral or church with a larger or mechanically complex organ, prolonged lack of use will result in long-term problems with its performance. If an organist is available in the neighbourhood to keep all the action parts moving it is appropriate for them to do so…”

Most cathedrals or churches with such an organ will employ a Director of Music and an Assistant Organist who would be best placed to undertake such routine maintenance. However, they are also likely to be employees, and if nominated under the furlough provisions would be prevented from participating.

Although not referred to in the advice, the same restrictions on directors of music, organists, or “by whatever name called” (Canon B21(1), apply to streamed musical initiatives, from singing/rehearsals to “voice gyms”’ and virtual pub session, in which they could participate but not lead.

A similar “Catch-22” situation arises in diocesan arrangements for providing clergy cover for crematorium and graveside services during the lockdown period. In the past, a significant number of such services will have been performed by retired clergy, typically over the age of 70; however, anyone aged 70 or over is advised to be particularly stringent in following social distancing measures.

Jewish Chronicle

As we previously reported, the Jewish Chronicle was placed in liquidation earlier this month by its long-term owners, the Kessler Foundation. The Guardian reports that the JC has been sold to a consortium fronted by Sir Robbie Gibb, a former BBC executive who worked as Theresa May’s director of communications during the Brexit negotiation process. The JC will not now be merging with Jewish News and the intention is to transfer ownership to a trust in order to protect its future.

Virtual wedding registration

The BBC reports that the Governor of New York State, Andrew Cuomo, has signed an Executive Order enabling New Yorkers to obtain a marriage licence remotely and allowing clerks to perform ceremonies via video conference: the decision comes after the State Government extended lockdown measures until 15 May. We can’t imagine that happening here.

Quick links

And finally...I

The BBC reports that Mumsnet, the UK’s biggest parent platform, has launched a subscription service following a steep decline in advertising revenue. The £4.99 monthly fee is not compulsory and does not yet offer any bonus features.

All of which confirms us in our view that we were right to decide not to take advertising on the blog – in lean times like the present, we have nothing to lose. Andin any case the cost of running it is only pocket-money.

And finally...II

The admirable Pew Research Center reports from Trumpton that “Across party lines and religious groups, roughly nine-in-ten or more say it is either somewhat or very important to have a president who lives a moral, ethical life.”

So that’s a lot of disappointed Americans, then.

4 thoughts on “Law and religion round-up – 26th April

  1. Dear Frank and David You say that the cost of running this blog is ‘only pocket money’
    I have to disagree

    The real cost of producing this Blog is your time, researching, reading, writing and editing. You don’t charge for your time but if you did it would come to far more than pocket money. So thanks to the two of you for all you do

  2. Thank you for linking to the Welsh as well as the English COVID-19 regulations. I note your cry for consistency – which is basically an argument against devolution (when is “local decision-making” a “postcode lottery”?). However, devolution has allowed Welsh Government to step in earlier than England did to prohibit travel to second homes to lock down there, placing rural health services under unnecessary strain (and possibly spreading the virus), and adopting more sensible regulations regarding who can and cannot attend funerals – several of which have subsequently been adopted in England. Welsh Government has established structures for discussing such matters with faith communities, and has maintained an extensive dialogue over such matters, while we have very little entree to UK Government decision making procedures – itself an interesting Law & Religion study.

    Confusion does arise, and is caused largely by the UK Government also being the English Government, and the media’s (and sometimes the Government’s) inability to distinguish between these two roles. So this may be an argument for establishing an English Parliament (or perhaps an English Government of devolved departments within the UK Government) – but that is a matter for those who live in England to decide, not for us in Wales!

  3. Fair point. We certainly aren’t arguing for an end to devolution: that would be barmy. But, as you rightly say, there’s a confusion between the UK Government as the Government of England and its wider UK role – which, I sometimes think, is a differentiation that UK ministers sometimes have difficulty in making.

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