Another week of lockdown, which has even managed to distract most of us from…
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:
We’re ending free movement to open Britain up to the world.
It will ensure people can come to our country based on what they have to offer, not where they come from. pic.twitter.com/cQbXvdIsYU
— Priti Patel (@pritipatel) May 18, 2020
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
“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  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.
- Martijn van den Brink, Verfassungsblog: Is Egenberger next?: “A constitutional complaint is pending [in the German Federal Constitutional Court] against Egenberger, in which the CJEU decided—contrary to well-established BVerfG case law—that the autonomy of religious organisation.”
- Church of England in Parliament, Church Commissioner Questions, 19 May: Coronavirus, Access to Worship, Family Life, Education, Clergy Discipline Process and Hospital Chaplains.
- Justin Collings, Talk About: Law and Religion: Religious Liberty and the Corona Crisis before the German Constitutional Court.
- Norman Doe, Church Times: Church in Wales: Separated, but not cut off from old privileges.
- Michelle Flynn, Talk About: Law and Religion: Public Governance and Private Relationships: State Regulation and Religious Marriage in the UK: on Attorney General v Akhter & Ors  EWCA Civ 122.
- Hans Michael Heinig, Verfassungsblog: Why Egenberger Could Be Next: “The constitutional complaint in the Egenberger case at least offers the Federal Constitutional Court the opportunity to address critical questions to the ECJ – either in the form of a new request for a preliminary ruling or in the form of a decision.”
- Catherine Pepinster, The Telegraph: Whisper it, but the C of E might not mind that much if the COVID crisis leads to church closure: on the financial cliff-edge facing parish churches (and, she might well have added, churches and chapels generally).
- Barrios Prieto, COMECE: Freedom of religion at stake in the context of fighting against Covid-19.
- Adam B Seligman & David W Montgomery, Reset Dialogues: The Tragedy of Human Rights: Liberalism and the Loss of Belonging: to which Silvio Ferrari has added A World Without Human Rights?.
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!”