Law and religion round-up – 21st June

And as the nights begin to draw in…

England: places of worship opening for private prayer

Last week, places of worship in England began the process of opening for private prayer. Our web page Coronavirus updates – index has been updated with advice from the Church of England and other faith groups and the latest legislation and guidance.

Wales: places of worship opening for private prayer

On 19 June, the Welsh Government announced that places of worship that wish to reopen for local individuals and households to pray separately may do so from tomorrow, 22 June. Social distancing must be maintained and there must be no gatherings. It will be a matter for the appropriate authority at the denominational or local level to decide how (and whether) to do so. Reopening is dependent upon those responsible for the building undertaking a risk-assessment and making appropriate hygiene and cleaning arrangements, and until at least 6 July only local travel will be permitted in order to visit a place of worship for this purpose: the  Welsh Government guidance suggests around 5 miles, but somewhat further in remoter areas.

The move is part of the easing of lockdown into the Red phase in the Welsh Government’s programme, Unlocking our economy and society: continuing the conversation. If the incidence of COVID-19 continues to subside in Wales, it is expected that further steps will be taken in forthcoming weeks. During the Red phase, places of worship will also still be able to hold funerals for a limited congregation (although most Christian denominations have chosen so far not to do so), to hold weddings with a limited congregation (but until the General Register Office permits general registration, only the Church in Wales is able to register marriages and it is doing so only in exceptional circumstances), and a worship leader may use the place of worship to record or broadcast a service.

Cemeteries and gardens around places of worship may be kept open and foodbanks and blood donor sessions may be held, provided that physical distancing can be maintained. Church and faith community authorities may also use the Red phase to prepare for further easing in the Amber phase, which is likely to begin gradually on July 6, and some corporate activities may be permitted in places of worship later in July. Links to the guidance provided by the Welsh Government and (where appropriate) the UK Government and other official bodies are available on the Cytûn website. [With thanks to Gethin Rhys.]

The island of Ireland: places of worship to reopen on 29 June

On 18 June, First Minister Arlene Foster and deputy First Minister Michelle O’Neill announced that, provided the virus remains under control, places of worship in Northern Ireland will be able to reopen for religious services on 29 June. The Chief Medical Officer will meet the faith leaders group on 25 June to consider how funerals, weddings, christenings and other celebrations may be conducted.

A parallel announcement about the resumption of religious services on 29 June has been made by the Irish Government as Ireland enters Phase 3 of the Government’s Roadmap for relaxing restrictions.

Irish on headstones

On 4 June, we posted on Re St Giles, Exhall [2020] ECC Cov 1, in which Eyre Ch ruled that the memorial on the grave of Margaret Keane could only bear the inscription “In ár gcroíthe go deo” if it also carried an English translation: “in our hearts forever”. The family subsequently announced that they were seeking permission to appeal.

On Friday, the family’s solicitors, Irwin Mitchell LLP, announced that permission to appeal had been refused by the Chancellor and that an application was being made to the Dean of the Arches. [With thanks to Richard Huss.]

Of graves, headstones and “offensive” inscriptions

Last Sunday, we mentioned the restoration of the lettering on the headstone to the grave of James Stephen—a leading abolitionist lawyer who drafted the Slave Trade Act 1807— by Paul Powlesland, who found the grave covered in moss and the inscription illegible. On Monday, the BBC reported that two headstones at St Margaret’s, Rottingdean – of G H Elliott and Alice Banford, music-hall entertainers who wore blackface makeup – had been covered temporarily.

The Archdeacon was quoted as saying that the inscriptions on the memorials were “deeply offensive” and the parish website carries a statement from the Parochial Church Council that it had decided to apply for a faculty “to remove both headstones into safe storage as soon as possible” and that it wished to speak ‘urgently’ with the relatives “in order to work with them on the re-engraving of the memorial or the construction of a new headstone”. We noted the judgment here: Hill Ch granted a temporary faculty to cover the removal of the headstones to an undisclosed location, pending the lodging a petition for a confirmatory faculty together with detailed proposals concerning the future of the two headstones.

Action is also required following damage to the Grade II* listed grave in St Mary’s Churchyard in Henbury, Bristol. The BBC reports that the headstone of the African man who was enslaved in the 18th Century has been smashed in two. A message left in chalk on the flagstones near the grave indicated that this was in retaliation for the recent toppling of the statue of Edward Colston in the city. The crowdfunding initiative of Richard Osgood towards raising £1,000 to help fund the restoration quickly exceeded the target. The restoration work will be subject to the faculty jurisdiction and issues similar to those in Rottingdean, inter alia, are likely to be considered by the court. In addition to the restoration and future security of the headstone, the repair and reinstatement of the headstone may prove problematic to both supporters and detractors of the monument.

Also last week it was reported that the bust of Sir John Cass has been removed from inside the church of St Botolph, Aldgate. The removal “was given the go-ahead by the Archdeacon of London after a vote at an emergency meeting of St Botolph’s PCC” an interim faculty has been granted.

Marriage, visas and COVID-19

On Wednesday, the Home Office replied to a Written Question (56103) from Dr Rosena Allin-Khan (Lab, Tooting) about extending the fiancé(e) visa for people unable to give notice to marry or to have a wedding ceremony during the COVID-19 outbreak as follows:

“The Home Office has put in place a range of measures to support those affected by the Covid-19 outbreak. We continue to monitor the situation closely and take these exceptional circumstances into account.

A fiancé, fiancée or proposed civil partner whose wedding or civil partnership is delayed due to Covid-19 can request an extension until 31 July by updating their records with the Coronavirus Immigration Team. The family Immigration Rules allow for an extension of leave if there is good reason for a wedding or civil partnership not taking place during the initial six-month period of leave to enter. Restrictions on giving notice to marry or delay to a wedding or civil partnership due to Covid-19 will be considered a good reason under this policy. They may otherwise be eligible to remain on the basis of exceptional circumstances

These are unprecedented times and we may make further temporary adjustments to requirements where necessary and appropriate.”

Divorce, Dissolution and Separation Bill

The Divorce, Dissolution and Separation Bill [Lords] has completed its passage through both House and is awaiting Royal Assent. Its provisions apply to England and Wales only. The Justice Secretary told the Commons that the Government was working towards an indicative timetable for implementing its provisions in autumn 2021.

Sharia, inheritance and the Muslim minority in Greece: Molla Sali

In December 2018, we noted the case of Molla Sali v Greece (No. 20452/14) [2018] 1048, in which the Grand Chamber ECtHR held, unanimously, that the difference in treatment suffered by Ms Molla Sali as the beneficiary of a will by a Greek testator of the Muslim faith drawn up under the Civil Code  – which applied the inheritance rules of sharia to Muslims – as compared with a beneficiary of a will drawn up under the Civil Code by a non-Muslim Greek testator, had not been objectively and reasonably justified. Ms Sali had been deprived of three-quarters of her inheritance and argued that she had suffered a difference in treatment on grounds of religion because, had her husband not been of the Muslim faith, she would have inherited the whole estate.

On 18 June, the Grand Chamber returned to the matter to consider the issue of just satisfaction: see Molla Sali v Greece (No. 20452/14) [2020] ECHR 452. The Greek Government was invited to guarantee Ms Sali’s ownership of the property bequeathed to her in Greece, or else to compensate her for its value in proportion to the percentage of which she had been deprived. Ms Sali was required to repay any award of compensation if the outcome of proceedings currently pending in Greece was consistent with the principal judgment.

As to the parallel proceedings that Ms Sali had brought before the Turkish courts about her late husband’s property in Turkey – in which it had been held that the judgment of the Greek Court of Cassation was final and binding under Turkish private international law – the Grand Chamber held that it did not have jurisdiction, in the context of the present case, to determine her claim.

Quick links

And finally…

Which, one might have thought, was straight from the Department of the Bleedin’ Obvious – but evidently not so.

4 thoughts on “Law and religion round-up – 21st June

  1. Re “And finally…”: Shouldn’t we be concerned that only 79% of respondents to the survey thought ‘that a high proportion of the money it raises goes to those it is trying to help’ is ‘one of the three most important factors when it comes to the way a charity operates’!

  2. Thank you for this interesting article. Please can you elucidate your comment on the gravestone of Scipio Africanus “the existing inscription may prove problematic to both supporters and detractors of the monument”.

    The monument to his servant was erected in 1720 by the Earl of Suffolk and surely he is the only person who is entitled to an opinion on this. It is surely not respectful to the dead who are commemorated or to those who have erected monuments to them and their descendants to dispute the facts and opinions there expressed. It was a vile act of iconoclasm to destroy this gravestone and it should without question be restored to its original state. If this is not agreed the church authorities are condoning and encouraging such vile acts of desecration. I have read the inscription which can be seen both on the Historical England listing and on the BBC photograph. It can be argued that it portrays a sentimental view of slavery, but it refers only to the particular person who is buried there who was a free man and a servant and not a slave. The main point is surely that history cannot be edited, and historical records cannot be changed. Burning books and destroying statues or monuments does not alter the facts of history.

    • Thank you Michael for your comments. I have now amended the text “the existing inscription” to read “the repair and reinstatement of the headstone”. The reasoning behind the comment was the in addition to those who damaged the headstone and those wishing to repair it through the crowdfunding exercise, there are others such as classicist Mary Beard who whilst “shocked at desecration of enslaved man’s tomb in Bristol [was also] conscious this was monument put up by owner in HIS terms”

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

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