Law and religion round-up – 12th July

A week in which the lockdown began to ease at different speeds in each jurisdiction…

Easing the lockdown in Scotland

On Thursday, First Minister Nicola Sturgeon announced that, as Scotland moved to Phase 3 of its COVID-19 strategy, places of worship would be able to reopen from Wednesday:

“After careful consideration, we have decided that, from 15 July, places of worship can reopen for communal prayer, congregational services and contemplation. However, numbers will be strictly limited, 2m physical distancing will be required, and there will be a requirement to collect the contact details and time of attendance of those who enter a place of worship. Unfortunately, given what we know of transmission risks, singing and chanting will be restricted.

Detailed guidance is being finalised in consultation with our faith communities, but I hope that today’s announcement will be welcomed by all those for whom faith and worship is important and a source of comfort.

In addition, and linked to that change, we will ease restrictions on attendance at services and ceremonies for funerals, weddings and civil partnerships. However, numbers will be even more limited than for worship generally and physical distancing will be required. I stress that that change applies only to services. Associated gatherings, such as wakes or receptions, must continue to follow the limits on household gatherings and hospitality.

The Church of Scotland responded to the announcement here. The Kirk’s current guidance for the reopening of church buildings is here: 121 George Street tweeted that it is to be updated at some point this week.

Easing the lockdown in Northern Ireland

Also on Thursday, the Northern Ireland Executive confirmed its earlier commitments in relation to marriages, baptisms and civil partnerships, and that places of worship would be able to resume indoor weddings and baptisms from Friday, 10 July.

Easing the lockdown in Wales

On 10 July, in a written statement: Review of the Health Protection (Coronavirus Restrictions) (Wales) Regulations 2020, First MinisterMark Drakeford said that, subject to guidance, from 13 July faith leaders could begin to gradually resume services at their places of worship when they are ready to do so safely. The Chief Medical Officer for Wales has advised that the evidence for two-metre social distancing is clear in respect of the immediate health impacts: maintaining a 2m distance provides more protection than 1m – approximately two to five times the protective value in the absence of any other measures to protect a person. Guidance will be published this week on the additional measures necessary in cases where 2m distancing cannot be maintained.

The Church in Wales stated that churches that were able to meet strict safety regulation could re-open for services from Sunday, 19 July, including baptisms and Holy Communion. Church halls can also re-open from 20 July. The safety measures would include maintaining a two-metre distance between people and ensuring sufficient hygiene and cleaning protocols. Churches would also have to complete a COVID-19 risk assessment before re-opening. As a result, not all churches will be able to re-open for either public worship or private prayer at this time. For some, it will depend on the availability of volunteers to monitor social distancing and ensure that churches are kept clean.

COVID-19 and the financial sustainability of places of worship

On Thursday, in a short debate in the House of Lords, Lord Black of Brentwood (Con) raised the issue of the impact of the restrictions to address the COVID-19 pandemic on the financial sustainability of places of worship, to which the Minister of State at the Home Office and MHCLG, Lord Greenhalgh, replied that places of worship had been allowed to reopen from 4 July with social distancing in place and that faith organisations could apply for “a range of government-backed financial packages to support charities and businesses at this time”.

In response to a suggestion from the Bishop of St Albans that online donations should qualify for Gift Aid as part of the Gift Aid Small Donations Scheme, Lord Greenhalgh said that the Government would look at the issue. He gave an understandably non-committal reply to the suggestion by Lord Shutt of Greetland (LD) that Gift Aid should be doubled for the tax year 2020-21. He confirmed in reply to Lord Kilclooney (CB) that the decision as to whether or not the Listed Places of Worship Grant Scheme would be extended beyond 31 March 2021 was a matter for the spending review. He told Baroness Sherlock (Lab)  that he and the Minister for Civil Society, Baroness Barran, had looked at a small business grant fund for charities and had already had a bilateral on this “to see how we can move forward”.

COVID-19 and the Church of England

The annual residential meeting of Synod in York, scheduled for this weekend, was cancelled earlier this year in response to the restrictions on public gatherings because of the COVID-19 pandemic. Under the current rules, Synod can only pass legislation and transact key business by meeting in person. Since it was not possible to arrange a formal remote sitting in July, here, an informal remote meeting of Synod members is being held on 11 July to discuss a range of issues.

Among the papers discussed were: GS Misc 1249 – Covid-19 Response; GS Misc 1251 – Covid-19 General Synod Update; and a Questions Paper, which of the 131 Questions and Answers, Q38 to Q67 were addressed to the House of Bishops, and six others to other parts of the Church. As ever, Thinking Anglicans has provided a preview and comment to the proceedings, which are beyond the scope of L&RUK.

Singing and music in church buildings

A comprehensive review of the issues associated with COVID-19 is given in GS Misc 1251  which includes the following on singing and bellringing: [emphasis added]:

[52]. While there have been instances of localised outbreaks of COVID-19 associated with choir practices and church services during which congregational singing took place, the available scientific evidence on risks associated with singing and playing brass and woodwind musical instruments is not particularly robust.

[53]. Public Health England is currently undertaking a literature review of the topic as well as conducting specific research with singers and musicians.

[54].Until PHE issues its report (expected by the end of July), government guidance advises that singing and playing brass and woodwind musical instruments in church buildings should be avoided (other than for organ practice).

[55].PHE is also in the process of advising the Central Council of Church Bell Ringers to enable the safe ringing of church tower bells to recommence.

A future post will review the current advice by Church and government on music and musicians in the developing situation.

[Update: CofE Press Release: Church Commissioners announce £1m support for cathedral choirs – “The Church Commissioners has announced it will support England’s cathedral choirs with up to £1 million available to ease the impact of COVID-19” (sic)]

Humanist weddings in England & Wales, 

The hearing in the High Court challenge to the absence of legal recognition for humanist marriages in England and Wales concluded on Wednesday. Eady J reserved judgment but said that, in view of the importance of the matter to the claimants, she intended to give the matter priority. Watch this space.

Clergy Discipline Measure

On Wednesday, the House of Bishops of the Church of England discussed the interim findings of the working group reviewing the current Clergy Discipline Measure. In a subsequent press release, the Rt Revd Tim Thornton, Bishop at Lambeth, said that the bishops were “actively seeking to improve processes, minimise delays and identify other improvements needed to make the system more effective”.

Lambeth Conference

The Archbishop of Canterbury announced that the 2020 Lambeth Conference of bishops of the Anglican Communion was to be further postponed until the summer of 2022.

Quick Links

And finally…

A competitor to the Shops Bill or the Second Reading, Scrap Metal Dealers Bill? An earlier post recalled the speech of Lord Mancroft to the House of Lords on the Second Reading of the Scrap Metal Dealers Bill in 1964, in which he said:

“It is also apparent, when one studies the law, that it is in need of reform and is in many respects a legal jumble. Those of your Lordship who are connoisseurs of legal jumbles will still give the prize to Clause 17 of the ill-fated Shops Bill of 1958, which took thirty-four lines of the draftsmen’s fearless prose to establish the principle that only a Mohammedan or a practising Jew could operate as a barber in Scotland on a Sunday. The law we are amending to-day is in that class”.

To this Hall of Shame, we would have no hesitation in adding Regulation 5 of the Health Protection (Coronavirus, Restrictions) (No. 2) (England) Regulations 2020. In addition to publication only hours before coming into force, the Regulations were described by Neil Addison “as one of the worst bit of drafting … in many years of legal practice. It’s like interpreting Sanskrit”, and were preceded by MHCLG Guidance. After much deliberation on the meaning of Regulation 5, on 6 July we posted The Health Protection (Coronavirus, Restrictions) (No. 2) (England) Regulations 2020 – then after various commentators had pointed out various flaws in our analysis, we revised it on 7 July. (And there’s no great shame in that: the Supreme Court occasionally points out the flaws in the judgments of the various courts of appeal. It’s simply that the law can sometimes be very difficult stuff.)

3 thoughts on “Law and religion round-up – 12th July

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