Law and religion round-up – 6th September

In which, for a change, the theme of the week seemed to be weddings rather than COVID-19 or Brexit…

Wedding law in England & Wales

On Thursday, the Law Commission of England and Wales launched its consultation on the reform of wedding law. Readers with long memories may recall that the Commission conducted a preliminary study on wedding law, involving research into domestic and comparative law, in 2014 and published Getting Married: A Scoping Paper in December 2015 – but the Government of the day had other priorities.

The consultation paper, Getting Married: A Consultation Paper on Weddings Law, begins from the proposition that “Weddings law in England and Wales is in desperate need of reform”: most of the current law dates from the 18th and 19th centuries, “when virtually everyone lived, married and died within a single community, and when most people shared the same faith and beliefs” and harks back to a way of life that bears little resemblance to life in England and Wales today. The consultation ends on 3 December: we noted the consultation document here.

The consultation was welcomed by the National Secular Society. There is also an interesting – and sympathetic – take on the consultation by the Dean of Chelmsford, here.

Registry Offices, Register Offices and Registration Offices

Section 2.10 of the consultation paper, supra, provides the following information on the correct nomenclature for civil weddings:

“Every local authority must provide a register office in which weddings may take place. A wedding in a register office is a ‘statutory ceremony’, the cost of which is set by regulation. The apparent simplicity and accessibility of this is complicated by the fact that in some municipal buildings the boundaries of the register office have been redrawn to exclude the more attractive marriage rooms, which have been reclassified as approved premises. It is further complicated by the fact that a register office is distinct from a registration office. Those registration offices that offer weddings are in fact approved premises and so not limited to offering statutory ceremonies, although many will do so. As a result, relatively few weddings are now formally classified as taking place in a register office.”

Just don’t refer to it as a registry office.

Same-sex marriage in Northern Ireland

The Marriage and Civil Partnership (Northern Ireland) Regulations 2020 came into force on 1 September. Regulation 2 removes the prohibition on the religious marriage of same-sex couples. The “governing authority” of a religious body may decide to conduct same-sex weddings, but the Regulations provide protections for religious bodies and persons acting on their behalf against being compelled to undertake various actions in connection with the solemnisation of same-sex marriages.

Upcoming event: Conversation on Religious Marriages: Challenges & Solutions

ROM: Register Our Marriage – which was founded by family law solicitor Aina Khan OBE  – is a group of predominantly Muslim lawyers who are trying to get the Muslim community to understand the importance of having a registered marriage rather than simply an unregistered nikah ceremony.  ROM is also seeking reform of wedding law to make it easier to fit in with cultural norms: eg by allowing religious marriage in places other than places of worship and getting rid of the current specific declarations as part of the wedding ceremony.

ROM is holding a Zoom Conversation on Religious Marriages: Challenges & Solutions. on Monday 14 September from 5.00 to 6.30 pm. You can register to take part here. [With thanks to Neil Addison.]

Children’s rights in Scotland

As part of its Programme for Government 2020/21, the Scottish Government has announced that it intends to legislate before the end of the current Parliament to incorporate the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child (Article 14 of which requires states parties to “respect the right of the child to freedom of thought, conscience and religion”) directly into Scots law – at any rate, to the maximum extent of the Scottish Parliament’s powers. The United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (Incorporation) (Scotland) Bill will place public authorities, including the Scottish Ministers, under a duty not to act incompatibly with the requirements of the Convention as set out in the Act – and the Act’s provisions will be directly justiciable in the Scottish courts.

Can the EU sack an Advocate-General?

On 2 September 2020, the Member States of the EU appointed an Advocate-General put forward by Greece, Athanasios Rantos, who – in principle – would have taken office tomorrow, 7 September. Except that there is already a sitting incumbent, AG Eleanor Sharpston, who remains in office until October 2021 and who is not going to go without a fight. Judges Vajda and Forrester left the ECJ and the General Court when the UK left the EU – but Advocates-General are not judges and they are not there to “represent” their own jurisdictions in any way: their function is to assist the Court. AG Sharpston took the matter to the General Court; and on Friday the Court issued an interim interdict as follows:

“The operation, and all consequential effects, of the Decision of the Representatives of the Governments of the Member States of 2 September 2020 appointing three judges and one Advocate-General to the Court of Justice, in so far as it purports to appoint Mr Athanasios Rantos to the position of Advocate-General at the Court of Justice of the European Union, are suspended until the order terminating the present proceedings for interim relief is made” [With thanks to David Anderson QC].

Of course, none of this has anything whatsoever to do with “religion”. But it does have an enormous amount to do with due process, judicial independence and the rule of law – on which freedom of thought, conscience and religion, as well as the other human rights, crucially depend. But don’t take our word for it, see:

House of Lords

On 2 September, the Lord Speaker, Lord Fowler, notified the House of the retirement of Rowan Williams with effect from 31 August. He served there as Archbishop of Canterbury from February 2003 and then as Crossbench Peer, Lord Williams of Oystermouth, from January 2013.

Next week, the Bishop Manchester, the Rt Revd Dr David Walker, will be introduced by the Bishops of Birmingham and Worcester.

Individual cups for Holy Communion

An earlier post reported that the legal opinion on The legality of the use of individual cups for communion wine in the Church of England had been prepared by six barristers on the instructions of Mary Durlacher in response to her question [#68] to the Chair of the House of Bishops at the virtual meeting of the General Synod in July.

At the meeting of the House of Bishops on Friday 4 September 2020, “The current position of the Church of England with respect to the distribution of Holy Communion and the use of the Common Cup during COVID was then discussed with further reflection, discussion and work on this matter planned for future meetings”. Although Mrs  Durlacher’s question to General Synod was prompted as a pro tempore solution while current constraints remain, the report of the House of Bishops Meeting gave no indication of any indication of an early attempt to resolve the issue. However, there are others within the Church for whom the introduction of individual cups appears to be a longer-term concern.

Aerosol and droplet generation

The publication of paper considered by SAGE on aerosol and droplet generation from singing reviewed the international evidence base and two research trials (PERFORM and SOBADRA) which had been commissioned to investigate droplet and aerosol production in performance events. The findings of these studies have already been taken into consideration in the formulation of the (DCMS) guidance Working safely during coronavirus (COVID-19): Performing Arts, which informed the MHCLG guidance COVID-19: guidance for the safe use of places of worship and special religious services and gatherings during the pandemic and the Church of England’s COVID-19 Advice on the Conduct of Public Worship, version 2.2.

The findings of the SOBADRA study on oral bacteria provided further reassurance on the information already known from the PERFORM work; however, the caveats in the overall findings highlighted some of the uncertainties and the complexity of the work necessary to resolved them.

Canada and the Netherlands to intervene in Myanmar genocide prosecution

In a Joint Statement on Wednesday, the Foreign Ministers of Canada and the Netherlands announced that their Governments plan to intervene in the genocide case brought by Gambia against Myanmar at the International Court of Justice. Gambia claims that Myanmar’s treatment of its Rohingya Muslims has violated the Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide. In an initial decision – The Gambia v. Myanmar [2020] ICJ General List No. 178, 23 January – the ICJ imposed provisional measures on Myanmar. [With thanks to Howard Friedman.]

Quick links

And finally…

Well yes: by definition, he must be. If he hadn’t done it, he wouldn’t be guilty…

2 thoughts on “Law and religion round-up – 6th September

    • The Scottish legislative proposals go much further than what has happened in Wales The Scots propose to make the rights under UNCRC directly legally enforceable whilst Wales merely requires Welsh Ministers to ‘have regard’ to the Convention.

      Either way both Administrations are merely engaging in virtue signalling though I suspect Scotland will be faced by a number of unmeritorious legal cases trying to push the Convention far beyond what was ever intended or anticipated

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