Law and religion round-up – 13th December

And on the last day of UK-EU trade negotiations…

…the end of another week of COVID-19 guidance

The Government’s COVID-19: guidance for the safe use of places of worship from 2 December has filtered down to the latest tranche of Church of England guidance – 3 new and 14 updated documents – to which there is now further Government guidance for services and carol singing over the festive period. Among the most welcome will be that from the Welsh Government, Singing over the festive period, including carol-singing and traditions such as plygain traditional Welsh carols and calennig and Mari Lwyd at the New Year. Nevertheless, the Church in Wales Guidance on Music and Organ Playing is unchanged from 9 November; 2-metre social distancing is advised as a safety precaution “especially for certain instruments like pedal-powered harmoniums”, and the use of registrants and page-turners is banned unless a member of the organist’s household.

COVID-19 vaccines and the church

The start of COVID-19 vaccination in the UK has brought into sharp focus the ethical issues associated with the production of the vaccine and the extent to which genetic material from aborted embryos was used in the process. The  Roman Catholic Bishops’ Conference of England and Wales issued a statement on 3 December which concluded “Catholics may in good conscience receive any of these vaccines for the good of others and themselves. In good conscience, one may refuse a particular vaccine but continue to have a duty to protect others from infection.”

In its Guidance of 8 December, COVID-19 Vaccines update December 2020, the Church of England concurred with the conclusions of the Pontifical Academy for Life’s that “the morality of voluntary abortion and the morality of using aborted foetal material are not conjoined so that ‘we believe that all clinically recommended vaccinations can be used with a clear conscience and that the use of such vaccines does not signify some sort of cooperation with voluntary abortion’.”

With regard to the practicalities, however, it seems unlikely that one will be able to pick and choose which vaccine to have, although there will be the option to refuse the one that is made available. Last week the NHS wrote to fifty hospital hubs with a view to begin vaccinating from Tuesday 8 December. It expected that as a minimum each hospital hub will use one box of vaccine (975 doses) during the first week; this is not a rate limiting factor, because additional vaccine will be available to be ordered to enable the vaccination of at-risk recipients. Tens of thousands of people in the UK  were reported to have received the Pfizer-BioNTech jab last week in hospitals.

The BMA expected that the first wave of GP-led vaccinations will commence on the week beginning 14 December, with more GP groups coming online throughout December and beyond. The BBC has reported that some will start vaccinating on the afternoon of Monday 14 December, with the majority getting under way on Tuesday. The 100 or so practices getting the vaccine on Monday will be followed by another 100 to 200 over the course of the week. The rest of the network of 1,200 designated practices – each local area has been asked to nominate one practice to deliver the vaccine – are expected to follow in the coming weeks.

Churches as vaccination centres

The Church of England has published Churches as vaccination centres, v1which to set out some of the logistical issues that churches might consider when deciding if their buildings could be appropriate centres. The Guidance concludes:

“If your church is felt suitable and you have been asked to progress setting up a centre by the NHS then the first port of call should be your Diocesan Advisory Committee or Archdeacon, who can help to advise you. Cathedrals should contact the Secretariat of the CFCE, and they will work with your Fabric Advisory Committee to get you the right advice and get appropriate permissions in place.”

Although the Guidance states “[m]ost of the vaccination hubs being set up are expecting to process upwards of 1000 people a day”, it has been reported that St Christopher’s church, Haslemere, Surrey, is to become a vaccination centre from 15th December, and for four months will receive up to 300 people per day.

COVID-19 and self-isolation

On Friday, the four Chief Medical Officers announced that the self-isolation period would be reduced across the UK from 14 days to 10 days as from 00:01 am on Monday 14 December – it already applies in Wales. People who return from countries that are not on the travel corridor list should also self-isolate for 10 days instead of 14 days, and people who test positive should continue to self-isolate for 10 days from the onset of symptoms or 10 days from the point of taking a positive test if asymptomatic.

Dolan: permission to appeal refused

As regular readers will know, on 1 December, the Court of Appeal handed down judgment in R (Dolan & Ors) v Secretary of State for Health And Social Care & Anor [2020] EWCA Civ 1605, rejecting the appellants’ challenge to the Health Protection (Coronavirus, Restrictions) (England) Regulations (SI 2020/350) which introduced the first lockdown in England. On Wednesday, the Supreme Court (Lord Reed PSC, Lord Hodge DPSC and Lord Lloyd-Jones JSC) refused permission to appeal because the application “does not raise an arguable question of law”. Next stop, presumably, Strasbourg.

Human Rights Act review

On Monday, the Ministry of Justice unveiled the Government’s review of the Human Rights Act 1998, to be chaired by Sir Peter Gross, a former Lord Justice of Appeal. It will consider:

  • the relationship between the domestic courts and the European Court of Human Rights, including how the duty to “take into account” of ECtHR case law has been applied in practice, whether dialogue between the domestic courts and the ECtHR works effectively, and whether or not there is room for improvement;
  • the impact of the Human Rights Act on the relationship between the Judiciary, the Executive and Parliament, and whether domestic courts are being unduly drawn into areas of policy; and
  • the implications of the way in which the Act applies outside the territory of the UK and whether there is a case for change.

The press release emphasises that the UK remains committed to the Convention: “The review is limited to looking at the structural framework of the Human Rights Act, rather than the rights themselves.”

In an article in the Daily Telegraph, the Lord Chancellor and Secretary of State for Justice, Robert Buckland, notes that as Lord Chancellor he is a successor to Sir David Maxwell Fyfe, who was instrumental in drafting the Convention in 1950, and he reiterates the Government’s commitment to human rights:

“The Government does not have any preconceived ideas about the review’s findings, but we are looking for options and there are some specific areas where we would like to see a focus – including whether the Act can result in judges being drawn, unduly, into matters of policy as well as law and whether they have struck the right balance between re-writing Acts of Parliament and making a declaration of incompatibility.”

Same-sex marriage in Northern Ireland

On Monday, it became possible for same-sex civil partners in Northern Ireland to convert their relationship into marriage. There are over 1,300 same-sex civil partnerships in Northern Ireland, and Finance Minister Conor Murphy announced that, for a year, the conversion fee would be waived.

Compulsory religious worship in Scottish schools

A report by Together (the Scottish Alliance for Children’s Rights), an umbrella group which includes NSPCC Scotland and Save the Children, calls inter alia for an end to compulsory religious worship in Scottish schools. The authors argue that the failure to give young people the right to opt out of school worship potentially breaches their rights under the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child: specifically, Article 12(2) (opportunity to be heard in any judicial and administrative proceedings) and Article 14 (freedom of thought, conscience and religion)The report also notes that the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child recommended four years ago that young people be given the right to opt out. Curiously, there is no mention of Article 9 ECHR.

Hijabs in Austrian primary schools

The BBC reports that Austria’s Constitutional Court [Verfassungsgerichtshof] has overturned a law prohibiting primary school children from wearing specific religious head-coverings. The legislation, which came into force last year, did not specify that hijabs were banned but instead proscribed the wearing of “religious clothing that is associated with a covering of the head” for children up to the age of 10 – and the Government had stated that the ban did not apply to head-coverings worn by Sikh or Jewish boys.

The Court decided that the ban was, in fact, aimed at hijabs. The judgment is not yet available on the VGH’s website, but the BBC reports the President of the Court, Christoph Grabenwarter, as saying that “The selective ban… applies exclusively to Muslim schoolgirls and thereby separates them in a discriminatory manner from other pupils”.

Church in Wales corrects Catechism

The Church in Wales has published a consultation on a Bill to authorize the experimental use of proposed revisions of the Book of Common Prayer in relation to a service of Blessing following a civil partnership or marriage between two people of the same sex. Within the proposed revisions to the Book of Common Prayer for use in the Church in Wales is the reference to the two people involved in a civil partnership or marriage as “N and N”.

As ecclesiastical law wonks will know, this is not used because the couple is of the same sex, but is an abbreviation for the Latin nomen, meaning “name”. In the BCP Cathechism, “What is your Christian name? Answer N. or M.”, the “N. or M.” stands for “nomen vel nomina“, meaning “name or names”; it is an accident of typography that “nomina” came to be represented by “M”.

Christmas ringing in England

The Central Council of Church Bell Ringers has agreed with the COVID recovery team of the House of Bishops (bearing in mind that the C of E is responsible for the vast majority of ringable bells in England) that an exception should be made to the current ringing guidance across all Tiers in England for bands that wish to ring for Christmas services in the period where the household restrictions are also being lifted. The agreement will allow bells to be rung on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day and is based on the assumption that “the announcement on 16 December does not introduce some catastrophic restriction on the opening of churches (which seems unlikely)”. The CCCBR’s full guidance is here.

Minsters and Cathedrals

At the beginning of the week, Southwell Minster announced that it was currently reviewing its name “[i]n response to its status and a shift nationally as to what cathedrals are called” (???) and had launched a MailChimp survey “in potentially selecting a new name for Southwell Minster…the word Minster is not a particularly familiar word with many people across the UK and overseas”. According to the Newark Advertiser, the survey featured a shortlist of four names chosen by the Dean and Chapter to be ranked in order of preference: Southwell Minster Cathedral, Nottingham;  Southwell Minster, the Cathedral Church of Nottingham; Southwell Cathedral, Nottingham; and Southwell Minster Cathedral, serving the Diocese of Southwell and Nottingham.

Some of the issues raised by the branding exercise are discussed in our post Minsters and Cathedrals. However, the Mailchimp survey has been suspended temporarily “in order to make some changes”. The BBC reports the Dean as saying that the  church leaders may decide not to change anything and will look at it again in the new year. “We should have started with our near community and stakeholders before putting it on the Wild West of social media.” We will follow developments with interest.

Quick links

And finally…

4 thoughts on “Law and religion round-up – 13th December

  1. With reference to your comment “given the current freezer requirements/ minimum batch size of the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine, it is unlikely that this will be used at GP surgeries/pharmacies” – see this morning’s article from BBC News: “Covid vaccine: GPs in England to begin offering Pfizer jab” []

    “GP practices will receive batches containing 975 doses. These will have been thawed out – they are kept in ultra-cold storage in hospital – which means practices only have three-and-a-half days to use them up.”

    “The 100 or so practices getting the vaccine on Monday will be followed by another 100 to 200 over the course of the week. The rest of the network of 1,200 designated practices – each local area has been asked to nominate one practice to deliver the vaccine – are expected to follow in the coming weeks.”

    • Thanks Luke, I have updated the round-up. Subsequently, I learned that my local GP practice will be starting its vaccination programme on 21 December. dp

  2. Pingback: New COVID-19 legislation and guidance to 19 December | Law & Religion UK

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