Law and religion round-up – 17th January

“Can two walk together, except they be agreed?”

Amos 3:3, KJV

Independent Human Rights Act Review: call for evidence

On Wednesday, the Government’s Independent Human Rights Act Review has now launched a public Call for Evidence: it closes on 3 March. In his introduction, the Chair of the Review, Sir Peter Gross, writes:

“The Review’s Terms of Reference focus on the operation of the HRA. They are not concerned with either the substantive rights contained within the Convention or with the question whether the UK should remain a signatory to it; the Review proceeds on the basis that the UK will remain a signatory to the Convention.”

Safe use of places of worship

On 11 January, an updated version of COVID-19: guidance for the safe use of places of worship was issued by the Ministry of Housing, Communities & Local Government (MHCLG); this stressed that in England,

“Under the national lockdown, places of worship remain open for communal worship. This is now one of the very few legal exemptions that allow larger numbers of people to gather. It is therefore crucial that places of worship and those attending comply with both law and the COVID-19 Secure guidance”.

This was incorporated in the guidance issued by the Church of England, infra¸ which the decision to remain open has been left to local level; more than half of the parish churches and many cathedrals are now closed for public worship, and additionally, some are also closed for private prayer.

The situation is different in Scotland, where there are statutory requirements for mandatory closure. A group of 500 church leaders – 200 from Scotland and 300 from elsewhere in the UK – have signed a letter to the First Minister calling for her to lift the ban on communal worship. In addition, a group of 30 church leaders from a range of denominations in Scotland has sent a letter to the Scottish Government calling on it to reverse lockdown rules which mean that churches have to be closed for corporate worship; the letter notes that if their request is rejected, they will seek to pursue a judicial review. The Scottish Government has been given until 5pm on Thursday 21 January to respond.

The Church of Scotland and the Scottish Episcopal Church have distanced themselves from this call for legal action.

On 17 January, the BBC reported

“ Catholic Church in England and Wales says it will keep its churches under review to make sure ‘the highest standards of safety are maintained’. It is also organizing online masses in many parishes. Britain’s most senior Catholic, Cardinal Vincent Nichols, had criticized previous orders for churches to close.

Meanwhile, the Mosques and Imams National Advisory Board has told the BBC although most mosques in England and Wales did open for Friday prayers, the majority in London did not – and it says it has asked its members in areas where the infection rate is rising to work closely with Public Health England and local authorities.”

Church of England: updated guidance on COVID-19 

On Tuesday afternoon, the Church of England published a series of updated advice documents, as follows:

In addition, the Church has updated the risk assessment templates for outdoor worship and for the opening of church buildings to the public, and has updated the FAQ Is singing permitted?

The updates were introduced following a review of the earlier guidance in the light of the introduction of a third period of lockdown in England.  In some cases few, if any changes were made, although the guidance on public worship made significant changes in relation to the singing and music. These and other changes have been incorporated in New COVID-19 legislation and guidance to 16 January 2021 and COVID-19 Coronavirus: legislation and guidance

Marriage and civil partnership statistics

The Office for National Statistics has published the annual UK and constituent country figures for births, deaths, marriages, divorces, civil partnerships and civil partnership dissolutions. Probably the most interesting statistics for readers of this blog are these:

  • There were 271,668 marriages of opposite-sex couples in the UK in 2017, the latest year for which data are available – a decrease of 2.7% from 279,311 in 2016.
  • There were 100,241 divorces of opposite-sex couples in the UK in 2018, the latest year for which data are available – a decrease of 9.3% from 110,524 in 2017.
  • There were 1,180 civil partnerships formed in the UK in 2019, an increase of 4.5% from 1,129 in 2018.

Spiritus Domini 

On 11 January 2021, the Vatican released the full English text of Pope Francis’s apostolic letter Spiritus Domini  modifying canon law regarding access of women to the ministries of Lector and Acolyte. As a consequence, Canon 230 §1 of the Code of Canon Law shall in future have the following wording:

Lay persons of suitable age and with the gifts determined by decree of the Episcopal Conference may be permanently assigned, by means of the established liturgical rite, to the ministries of lectors and acolytes; however, the conferment of such a role does not entitle them to support or remuneration from the Church”.

He also ordered the amendment of the other provisions having the force of law which refer to this canon. The practical implications of this change in canon law are explained in The Pillar, the recently-created blog of J D Flynn and Ed Condon. However, since most diocesan bishops did not receive advanced notice of the Pope’s policy change, it will likely be a few weeks, at least, before dioceses have concrete plans for how, and if, they might make use of the Pope’s rule change.

Church of England Clergy Discipline Commission

The Church of England announced that HHJ David Turner QC is to be the new Deputy Chair of the Chair of the Clergy Discipline Commission in succession to Sir Mark Hedley, who retired in December 2020.

National Tribunal Service for clerical discipline

The Catholic Herald reported that the Roman Catholic bishops of England and Wales have appointed Dr Edward Morgan to oversee the establishment of a National Tribunal Service as part of wide-ranging development of safeguarding structures and processes in the Church. The National Tribunal Service is to be established following a 2019-2020 review chaired by Ian Elliott, which the bishops commissioned into safeguarding practices and processes within the Catholic Church. The purpose of the National Tribunal Service will be to provide the Catholic Church in England and Wales “with the means and the opportunity to cultivate an internal professional regulatory body for the clergy,”

Dean Martyn Percy

Further to our report in November of a complaint made against Professor Martyn Percy, Dean of Christ Church and of Oxford Cathedral, and the update on 12 January, Christ Church issued a further statement in response to media interest. This states:

“Christ Church’s Governing Body and Cathedral Chapter have decided to take forward internal disciplinary proceedings, following a complaint that was reported in October 2020. These proceedings are part of Christ Church’s HR procedures for dealing with employment issues, as set out in its statutes…It is now crucial that this internal disciplinary matter is left to be resolved, formally and properly, through the correct procedures, which will include the appointment of an external, independent chair.”

Same-sex marriage (or not) in Bermuda

One to watch. Attorney General for Bermuda v Ferguson & Ors (Bermuda) is to be heard by the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council on 3 & 4 February. Readers may recall that the issue is whether or not Bermudian legislation providing that only marriages between a man and a woman are recognised as such in law is unconstitutional.

The Supreme Court of Bermuda ruled in favour of the Respondents, holding that s. 53 of the Domestic Partnerships Act 2018, which ended same-sex marriage in Bermuda, contravened sections 8 and 12 of the Constitution. The Court of Appeal for Bermuda allowed the Attorney’s appeal only in part, holding that s. 53 of the 2018 Act contravened s.8 (but not s.12) of the Constitution, but the Court also held that s.53 was void on the grounds that it was enacted for a religious purpose. The Attorney is appealing that judgment to the Judicial Committee, while the Respondents are cross-appealing for a declaration that the 2018 Act contravenes s.12 of the Constitution. [With thanks to Elijah Z Granet, who noted the earlier proceedings here.]

A Sacred Covenant?

Dr Jennifer Aston (Northumbria University) and Dr Frances Hamilton (University of Reading) have issued a call for papers and posters for a virtual conference, A Sacred Covenant? Historic, Legal and Cultural Perspectives on the Development of Marital Law, mounted jointly by Northumbria University and The Journal of Legal History, to be held on Thursday 20 May. Lady Hale is the keynote speaker, and other confirmed speakers incllude Professor Rebecca Probert, Professor Diane Urquhart, Penelope Russell, Dr Frances Burton, Dr Andy Hayward and Dr Leigh Wetherall-Dickson.

The Church in Wales a century on

On 28 January, Public Law Wales is hosting a webinar on The Church in Wales a Century On – the Disestablished Church and the Devolved Constitution, with the Dean of the Arches, Professor Thomas Glyn Watkin and Matthew Chinery: register here.

Quick links

And finally…I

From our spam box:

How about the Vestiarian Controversy?

And finally…II

In Ireland, one exemption to the 5 km rule for travelling is to visit graves. A Waterford woman has gone each morning to visit her husband’s grave. She has two signs, to amuse the occasional Garda checkpoint. One reads “Going to the grave.” The other, “Back from the grave”. [With thanks to Pádraig Belton@PadraigBelton]

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