Law and religion round-up – 15th November

So it’s goodbye from him…

…but to what extent were the “exit” photographs carefully choreographed?

COVID-19: Welsh Government guidance

The Welsh Government has now corrected most of the errors in its Guidance on reopening places of worship. It is also publishing further guidance at regular intervals, and those items relevant to places of worship and their work are linked from Cytûn’s webpage. The Government’s guidance on community activities has not yet been updated, but the Wales Council for Voluntary Action has updated its own guidance which, suggests Cytûn, will be especially useful in reopening church halls, vestries and suchlike. Likewise, the Welsh Government guidance on hospitality (including cafés hosted by places of worship) has not yet been updated, but UK Hospitality Wales has published a useful briefing. There is also a series of updates to Cytûn’s COVID 19 – Briefing Paper. [With thanks to Gethin Rhys.]

Foreign-language inscriptions on headstones

In Re St Mary’s, Woodkirk [2020] ECC Lee 3, which related to an application for an inscription on a proposed headstone part of which would be in Chinese characters, Hill Ch issued general guidance for the Diocese of Leeds on the issue of non-English inscriptions on headstones. He concluded as follows, at [13]:

“1. There is no general prohibition on the inclusion in inscriptions on headstones of words or phrases in a language other than English;

2. There is no general requirement for an English translation to be additionally inscribed on headstones (whether in a smaller font or otherwise) whenever non-English words or phrases are permitted;

3. To the contrary, in a linguistically diverse nation, liberty should be afforded to the bereaved to memorialise their loved ones in a language which reflects a range of features including their heritage, culture, nationality, race and ethnicity;

4. However, clergy should be astute to refuse the inclusion of words or phrases which have the potential to offend Christian doctrine or teaching.”

Chancellor Hill’s carefully-worded judgment and general guidance to the Diocese of Leeds was handed down in the light of Re St Giles, Exhall [2020] ECC Cov 1, which “[sought] to declare propositions of general application, [which] are ones which [he] would prefer not to adopt for the reasons briefly given above”.

The Court of Arches has recently granted permission to appeal in Re an Application for a Faculty for a Memorial in the Churchyard of St Giles, Exhall, Diocese of Coventry [2020] EACC 1, in which the petitioners applied to erect a headstone with an inscription in Irish and Eyre Ch directed that it should also include an English translation.  Chancellor Hill indicated that since the judgment of the Court of Arches will also be binding in the Northern Province in consequence of the new statutory deeming provision in s.14A Ecclesiastical Jurisdiction and Care of Churches Measure 2018, he will revisit this guidance when it has been delivered.

Ignorantia iuris excusat

In Belloul v Revenue & Customs (INCOME TAX – High Income Benefit Charge) [2020] UKFTT 312 (TC), the First-tier Tribunal (FTT) held that a taxpayer’s ignorance of the law was a “reasonable excuse” for failing to notify HMRC of his liability to pay High Income Child Benefit Charge (HICBC). Mr Belloul received child benefit for FY2013/14, FY2014/15 and FY2015/16, during which he was an employee earning over £50,000 and paying his taxes via PAYE. HMRC had issued a number of press releases In 2012, prior to the introduction of the HICBC, advising high-income parents who received child benefit to register for self-assessment – but Mr Belloul evidently saw none of them. The FTT held that, on the facts, Mr Belloul did have a reasonable excuse for failing to notify chargeability to HMRC.

For a full note, see Alexis Armitage: Belloul – Ignorance of the law was a ‘reasonable excuse’. Nothing whatsoever to do with “religion”, but not at all what one might have expected – and we can’t help wondering how this will go at the inevitable appeal.

Restoration of the “Rudhall Five” and a cracked tenor

In contrast to Belloul, the circumstances surrounding Re St Michael Michaelchurch Escley [2020] ECC Her 1 were not conducted in ignorance of the requirements of the faculty jurisdiction. The case concerned the allocation of costs relating to the installation of a sixth bell, on which the Deputy Chancellor noted:

“[37]. It is impossible to accept the claim made at various stages by both the Vicar and the Churchwarden that acting in the absence of a Faculty was in some sense condonable as a mistake. The point at which the illegality occurred was not the planning of the augmentation, or the ordering of the bell, but its installation. By the time of that event, there was no room for mistake. The position had been made clear by me, by the DAC secretary, by the Registry and by the bellfounder.”

A faculty for the restoration of the church’s five bells cast in 1732 by Abraham Rudhall II  – including repairing the cracked tenor – and rehanging the small sanctus bell had been granted in 2014. Subsequently, a person referred to in the judgment as “the Churchwarden” had arranged for an additional treble bell to be installed without the authority of a faculty, having advised the bellfounder that the sixth bell had been authorised. After the installation became known to the Registry, an application was made for a faculty to amend the 2014 faculty to provide for the extra bell.

Apart from the work having been done without faculty, the Deputy Chancellor found that a minute of the PCC produced by the Churchwarden and agreeing to the installation was ‘unreliable”. The Chancellor ordered the costs to be paid as to two-thirds by the Churchwarden and one-third by the Vicar and directed that neither should take any contribution from the PCC or from any church funds – although if individuals wished to contribute to their expenses, they were of course at liberty to do so.

Weddings law

A reminder that the timescale for the Law Commission’s consultation, Getting Married, has been extended and will now run until 4 January.

Quick links

And finally…

All the Pfizer to heal you with: a vaccine special: Gabriel Kanter-Webber asks what could possibly go wrong. Enjoy.

9 thoughts on “Law and religion round-up – 15th November

  1. Well, my thanks to the Chancellor of the Diocese of Leeds for a measured and sane take on the issues for the benefit of that Diocese, and for his view on the Exhall judgement. It particularly rankles that one particular nationality and ethnic group was singled out in the Exhall case. I remain very much interested in what the eventual outcome of the appeal.

      • And a question in the Commons this morning:

        Conor McGinn (St Helens North) to ask the hon. Member for South West Bedfordshire, representing the Church Commissioners, what recent assessment the Commissioners have made of the effectiveness of the process of appeal against consistory court decisions to the Provincial court of the Archbishop.

        • Useful question, but unlikely to receive more than a reiteration of what is already known. However, from the lobbying /public affairs point of view, a useful means of placing the issue in the public domain.

          • The short answer to the question as asked must surely be that assessing the effectiveness of the appeal process is not a matter for the Church Commissioners!

          • Agreed. But my comment clearly highlighted the effectiveness of raising issues at Church Commissioners’ questions, not the vires of the Commissioners in relation to the effectiveness of the appeal process.

          • Agreed – and it will be interesting to see Andrew Selous’s reply when HoC Hansard becomes available later today. (The same point, about the usefulness of questions to raise issues, also applies to General Synod.)

  2. The answer by Mr Selous to both the original question and a supplementary by Conor McGinn is now available on Hansard:

    “The decision of a consistory court can, with permission, be appealed to the relevant provincial court, provided that the appeal does not relate to a question of doctrine, ritual or ceremonial. As in the temporal courts, an appeal must have a real prospect of success, or there should be some other compelling reason why the appeal should be heard.

    Conor McGinn:
    I want to pay tribute to the family of Margaret Keane, whose grief at the loss of their mother has been compounded by still not having a headstone on her grave to visit this Christmas, two and a half years on from her death. The family have said that Margaret is “In our hearts forever”—“In ár gcroíthe go deo”—and that sentiment is shared now by the Irish community in Britain. May I ask the commissioner—I thank him and the Church for their engagement with me and the work they do in Saint Helens in the diocese of Liverpool—if a review can take place into the current appeals system in ecclesiastical courts, whereby even successful appellants are liable potentially for huge court costs to an unlimited amount? This is an access to justice issue and one of fairness that should be looked at.

    Andrew Selous:
    I am sure that the whole House would want to extend their sympathies to the Keane family, and I am hopeful that change is on the way. The Church of England (Miscellaneous Provisions) Measure 2020, which was recently passed by this House, provides for exemptions from and reductions in court fees in the ecclesiastical courts to be made in secondary legislation. The Fees Advisory Commission will be asked to consider these provisions and, following that, an Order in General Synod will be made next year and will be laid before Parliament.”

    It’s perhaps rather presumptuous of Andrew Selous to say that “an Order in General Synod will be made next year”: we’ll need to see what the Fees Advisory Commission propose. The issue of who should ultimately pay the court fees when an appeal is successful is rather more nuanced.

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