Law and religion round-up – 24th May

Another week of lockdown, which has even managed to distract most of us from…

… Brexit

On Tuesday, HMG released the texts of its series of proposals for a Draft UK-EU Comprehensive Free Trade Agreement (CFTA), together with annexes, and a series of draft sectoral agreements on fisheries, law enforcement and judicial cooperation in criminal matters, aviation, energy and civil nuclear cooperation. Or in Priti Patel-speak:

At the same time, Defra launched a website calling on people to Pick for Britain (or what we constitutional law geeks prefer to call “The United Kingdom”) and George Eustice, the Environment Secretary, used the daily Downing Street press conference to urge furloughed workers “to visit that website, and to look at the opportunities that are there” – while the Prince of Wales said that Britons should rediscover the “great moment” of the wartime Land Army to bring in the harvest. The website crashed.

Or as Wordsworth might have put it, Orwell, thou shouldst be living at this hourI

Scotland: easing the lockdown

On 21 May, the First Minister, Nicola Sturgeon, published what she described as “details of Scotland’s route map through and out of the COVID-19 crisis”. The intention of the Scottish Government is to move to Phase 1 of the easing of restrictions following the 28 May end-of-cycle review of the COVID-19 Regulations, but only “if the evidence supports that”. The first phase will include allowing people to meet outside with people from one other household, and schools are expected to reopen on 11 August.

The C of E and COVID-19

On Monday, the Second Church Estates Commission, Andrew Selous, gave the following answer to two Written Questions from Andrew Rosindell and Luke Evans:

“The Church of England is committed to the reopening of buildings in a phased way, in accordance with the rules, restrictions and timetable established by Government. On 5th May the House of Bishops issued guidance, which can be seen here.

We are working with Government and with representatives of the heritage planning sector to assess the need for building adaptations related to public safety in our cathedral and church buildings, and in particular temporary additions or changes that might need to be made to enable social distancing and proper hygiene. We are committed to enabling our churches and cathedrals to make such changes as might be needed to allow them to reopen safely.

In the coming week our post, Churches during relaxation of lockdown, will review this and other recent developments in the planning for a safe, phased reopening of places of worship.

Islam and COVID-19

The Evening Standard reports that the chairman of the executive committee of the Jamiyat Tabligh-ul-Islam Mosque in Bradford, Tabassum Hussain, has brought an action for judicial review of the lockdown restrictions on Friday prayers during the COVID-19 pandemic, arguing that they breach his right to practise his religion. Swift J gave permission for Mr Hussain’s challenge to go ahead to a full hearing but declined to grant an urgent injunction that would have lifted restrictions and allowed prayers to take place at the mosque last Friday, ahead of the end of Ramadan.

According to the report, Swift J said that the case was “no longer simply a prohibition on communal Friday prayers during the period of Ramadan” but a “more general challenge” on the effect of the rules on “the ability to conduct Friday prayers”. While he could “appreciate and sympathise” with Mr Hussain’s frustration at the restrictions on his religious convictions, he refused the injunction sought and “did not consider any evidence relied upon or submissions made are likely to satisfy a court that the Secretary of State has failed to strike a balance that is fair”. Also according to the report, he said that decisions taken to combat the spread of coronavirus were “complex political decisions which the court should not lightly second-guess”.

 No date has yet been set for the full hearing. [With thanks to Russell Sandberg.]

General Synod elections postponed

The General Synod of the Church of England (Postponement of Elections) Order 2020 which came into force on 21 May, postponed until 31 July 2021 the date on which the Convocations of Canterbury and York stand dissolved for the purposes of the Church of England Convocations Act 1966.

Places of Worship (Enfranchisement) Act 1920

On Friday, Mrs Justice Falk handed down judgment in Hope Community Church (Wymondham) v Phelan & Ors [2020] EWHC 1240 (Ch), in which the issue was whether or not the church had the right to enfranchise its leasehold premises pursuant to s.1 of the Places of Worship (Enfranchisement) Act 1920, as amended. Falk J described the Act as “a little encountered piece of legislation”.

You can say that again – we confess that it was the first time we’d ever heard of it – but we hope to post a note later this week

Civil partnership in Scotland

The Civil Partnership (Scotland) Bill, which will extend to opposite-sex couples the right to enter into a civil partnership, has passed its first stage in the Scottish Parliament.

Paganism and the Census

The Times reports that the Scottish Government is to include Paganism as a separate category in the list for the religious affiliation question in the 2021 Census.

Quick links

And finally…

Although the return to choral services remains some way off, experts are opining on the transfer of coronavirus through singing. Most recently, The Observer carried the story Did singing together spread coronavirus to four choirs?. Experiments conducted by Professor Christian Kähler of the Military University, Munich, suggested that singing is quite safe as “air was only propelled about half a metre in front of a singer, and that is not far enough to cause the infection levels of these outbreaks.” However, a professional singer commented: “[a]nyone who has been trained will be propelling it far further. You only need to stand on stage with someone with halitosis to know the truth of that!”

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