Law and religion round-up – 8th November

Remembrance Sunday in lockdown.

Guidance, legislation, and how not to do it

The publication of guidance prior to legislation has been an unwelcome feature of the Government’s approach to coronavirus issues, which has been compounded by inconsistencies between different sets of advice. Initially, the MHCLG Guidance was at odds with Part 5 of the Cabinet Office guidance, New National Restrictions from 5 November, but after a revision on 6 November 2020 these issues have been resolved (and reflected in our posts) to confirm that places of worship must remain closed for communal worship, although celebrants may enter “to broadcast services to their communities and will be able to incorporate Remembrance services as part of this when they do so.”

That said, MHCLG releasing the updated version of the updated COVID-19: guidance for the safe use of places of worship during the pandemic in order to reflect the new lockdown Regulations late on the Friday afternoon before Remembrance Sunday was not exactly helpful.

Lockdown and places of worship

The revised MHCLG Guidance states that places of worship need not fully close under the restrictions in place, but may open only for the limited range of activities and events it sets out under the applicable law, The Health Protection (Coronavirus, Restrictions) (England) (No. 4) Regulations 2020. This has caused many to question the basis of the Government’s policies, (See Anglican Mainstream Lockdown and the church; It has also proved controversial in Parliament.)

In oral evidence to the Science and Technology Committee on Tuesday 3 November from Sir Patrick Vallance and Professor Chris Whitty, Q1531 and Q1531, it was revealed that there was ‘no proper data’ to support closures of places of worship. The issue was raised by several MPs in the Commons debate on the Regulations on Wednesday 4 November; in response, Health Secretary Matt Hancock said that ‘Ministers are talking to faith leaders to do everything we can to reach an accommodation as soon as possible’.

Reopening of places of worship in Wales

The Welsh Government confirmed on Tuesday that places of worship may reopen for worship on Monday 9 November and that “Community centres will be available for small groups to meet safely indoors in the winter months.” A small group means 15 or fewer people. The Regulations and fuller guidance are not yet published, and Cytûn will circulate fuller details when they are available; however, the Welsh Government later confirmed that the maximum of 15 people for organised activities indoors from 9 November will not apply to places of worship – the numbers will be determined by a risk assessment of each place of worship, as previously. [With thanks to Gethin Rhys.]

The Regulations that will apply in Wales once the firebreak lockdown comes to an end on 9 November have now been published. Gethin Rhys has updated Cytûn’s briefing paper on Coronavirus related Legislation, while Russell Sandberg comments on the Regulations here.

Charity Commission: updated guidance on COVID-19

The Charity Commission has updated the ‘charity meetings’ section of Coronavirus (COVID-19) guidance for the charity sector to take account of the new rules from the Governments in Westminster and Cardiff, as follows:

Charity meetings in England

The Government has introduced new rules from 5 November restricting meeting socially in England. However, you can still hold trustee or members’ meetings where these meetings are necessary for providing voluntary or charitable services.

You can get more detailed information on these rules in the guidance, new National Restrictions from 5 November.

Charity meetings in Wales

Different rules apply in Wales. Until 9 November the rules restrict meeting socially. If you can, you should hold trustee or member meetings online or by telephone (see the section below on how to do this). However, if you cannot do this, you can hold trustee or members’ meetings in person if this is necessary to provide voluntary or charitable services.

You can find more guidance on the rules in Wales until 9 November on the Welsh Government website.

We will update our guidance with details of the rules that apply in Wales from 9 November.”

Remote meetings of General Synod 

The General Synod (Remote Meetings)(Temporary Standing Orders) Measure 2020 No. 3 received Royal Assent on 4 November. Under this provision, the officers of the General Synod acting jointly may make standing orders for persons to attend, speak at, vote in, or otherwise participate in meetings of the General Synod without all of the persons, or without any of the persons, being together in the same place. However, they may exercise the power to make standing orders under this section only once; and they may not amend or revoke standing orders made under this section (but section 4 confers a power to amend or revoke on the General Synod itself).

Church of England and Archbishops’ websites

On 5 November, the Church of England launched an improved menu system on the C of E and Archbishops’ websites, and an explanation of these changes is given in Improving the menu system on the CofE and Archbishops’ websites. Although the menu system is new, the architecture of the website appears to be unchanged, with topics under the same headings and associated URLs. For those who have difficulty in finding a particular item without recourse to Google – at the time of writing, the “Search” facility was not working with Microsoft Edge browsers – most of the “quick links” which we posted when the C of E site was relaunched in 2017 are still relevant and are included in CofE and Archbishops’ websites – Quick Links.

“God” in European constitutional law

A series in Talk About: Law and Religion on European constitutions and “religion”:

Quick links

2 thoughts on “Law and religion round-up – 8th November

  1. General Synod:
    One small correction: the Measure that received Royal Assent on 4 November is the General Synod (Remote Meetings) (Temporary Standing Orders) Measure 2020. The name of the Measure was changed when the revised draft (incorporating changes suggested during the informal consultation prior to the GS meeting on 24 September 2020) was formally introduced: see GS 2176 and GS 2176X.

    Re the lockdown and places of worship, this motion is to be proposed by one of the two archbishops on 23 November (the first day of the remote meeting in two weeks’ time):
    ‘That this Synod, recognising the profound challenge to life and wellbeing
    posed by the Covid-19 pandemic:
    (a) call upon the whole church to hold in prayer all those ill, bereaved,
    unemployed or suffering mentally as a result of the virus, to pray for
    Her Majesty’s Government and all who hold responsibility for
    navigating the intractable dilemmas that Covid-19 poses;
    (b) give thanks for the continuing selfless service of NHS and social care
    staff, scientists, and key workers in every sector, encouraging all to
    follow their example by affirming the common good over sectional
    (c) request the church’s representatives, in conversations with Her
    Majesty’s Government, to press the case for reducing social
    inequalities, especially the disproportionate impact of Covid-19 on
    BAME people and children living in poverty and to reflect concerns
    expressed by Synod in debate on this motion;
    (d) celebrate the role of churches in building mental and spiritual
    resilience to face the crisis and, affirming the role of worship and the
    sacraments as the source of Christian service and discipleship, call
    upon Her Majesty’s Government immediately to review the decision
    to curtail public worship during lockdown.’
    (Agenda GS 2178, pages 1-2)
    Note, especially, the call to HMG in para (d).

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