And we thought it was going to be a quiet week.
Good Friday and COVID-19
On Friday, two Metropolitan Police Officers interrupted the Liturgy at the Polish Roman Catholic Church of Christ the King in Balham. One of the officers explained to the congregation that gatherings “with this many people” were unlawful under the COVID-19 restrictions and told the congregation to go home or risk either being fined £200 or being arrested if they refused to give their details. According to the report on LBC, he said this:
“You are not allowed to meet inside with this many people under law. At this moment in time, you need to go home. Failure to comply with this direction to leave and go to your home address ultimately could lead you to be fined £200 or, if you fail to give your details, to being arrested. I suggest, ladies and gentlemen, that though it is Good Friday, and I appreciate you would like to worship, that this gathering is unlawful so please may you leave the building now. Thank you.”
On Saturday afternoon, Wandsworth Borough Police issued the following statement:
“At around 1700hrs on Friday, 2 April, officers were called to a report of crowds of people queuing outside a church in Balham High Road. Officers attended and found a large number of people inside the church. Some people were not wearing masks and those present were clearly not socially distanced. We are particularly concerned about the risk of transmission of the Covid-19 virus as a result of large indoor gatherings at which people are not socially distanced and some are not wearing masks. As such, officers made the decision that it was not safe for that particular service to continue. Understanding the sensitivity of the situation, officers engaged with the priest outside the church and were invited inside to address the congregation. No fixed penalty notices were issued. This was one of a series of numerous events taking place at the church over the Easter period. We are engaging with church authorities today and will continue to do so in the coming days.”
And see the YouTube video and the comment from the Polish Catholic Mission at the end of this post. [With thanks to Mark Hill.]
At the meeting of the House of Commons International Trade Committee on Thursday 25 March, the Government confirmed that it intends to launch a consultation later this year into the introduction of labelling for meat products to indicate that the animal was not stunned before slaughter. In answer to Q134, Victoria Prentis, Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Farming, Fisheries and Food, told the Committee:
“We are concerned about some of the welfare issues that are covered by the terminology ‘religious slaughter’, but we respect people’s rights and the rights of religion to slaughter in the way that they choose. However, I think this is the moment to tackle whether this can be covered by labelling, and I would like to confirm that this will be part of our consultation on labelling shortly to be launched.
Alison Chabloz again
Readers may recall the case of Alison Chabloz, convicted in 2018 at Westminster Magistrates’ Court of three offences contrary to s.127(1) of the Communications Act 2003 relating to videos of her singing antisemitic songs of her own composition uploaded to YouTube. On that occasion, she was given a suspended sentence. The proceedings went as far as an unsuccessful appeal by way of case stated – Chabloz v Crown Prosecution Service  EWHC 3094 (Admin) – which we noted here.
Jewish News reports that on Wednesday, Westminster Magistrates convicted her of a further offence under the 2003 Act. She claimed on the social media network Gab that “anything that’s worth controlling will have Jews there controlling it” and accused Jews of turning their children into “psychopathic maniacs”. She also stated that Jews were persecuted in Nazi Germany because they “had been behaving in a certain fashion, as we’re seeing again today”, and that some Jews should be deported. She was sentenced to eighteen weeks’ imprisonment. There is a further report in the Mail Online, here.
Maintained schools and collective worship
In response to the written question from Sir John Hayes (South Holland and The Deepings, Conservative) “To ask the Secretary of State for Education, what steps his Department is taking to ensure that a daily act of worship is taking place in every maintained school”, Nick Gibb, Minister of State for School Standards, said: “Every maintained school, academy and free school is required to ensure that collective worship takes place each day. If the Department is informed that a school may be in breach of this requirement, it will be investigated. Where needed, the Department will remind schools of their duty on this matter and advise on how this can be met”.
Marriage and Civil Partnership Regulations
In advance of the changes to the procedures for the registration of marriage in England and Wales which will take effect from 4 May 2021, the following statutory instruments were published this week:
- The Civil Partnership (Registration and Records) (Amendment) Regulations 2021, SI 2021/410;
- The Registration of Marriages Regulations 2021, SI 2021/411;
- The Marriage and Civil Partnership (Conversion of Civil Partnership and Fees) (Amendment) Regulations 2021, SI 2021/440.
Few will thank us for recommending the 40-page judgment Re St John the Evangelist Donisthorpe  ECC Lei 1 as weekend reading, particularly when almost half deals with a proposal to remove the existing pews and replace them with wooden chairs with padded seats and backs. However, those concerned with reducing the Church of England’s carbon emissions to “net zero by 2030” should consider paragraphs 78 to 80 which concern the installation of a new heating system based on an oil-fired boiler. These issues will be explored in the next week’s post “Net zero” in 2030 – a courageous decision?. Followers of Yes Minister will recall that along with “complicated”, “lengthy”, “expensive”, and “controversial”, use of the word “courageous” is said to guarantee the refusal of a proposal. Possibly not what the new lead bishop on the environment meant to imply when taking up the role, but those with experience in meeting legislative targets for reduction of carbon emissions will agree that all of the other adjectives are correct, particularly with regard to the necessary external verification.
- Chris Allen, The Conversation: Extremism in the UK: new definitions threaten human and civil rights: suggests that the UK Government’s current definition of “extremism” and its emphasis on “fundamental British values” merely encourages the far-Right.
- Sandra Duffy, Irish Legal News: Latest English court ruling on puberty blockers is huge step forward: comment and casenote on AB v CD & Ors  EWHC 741 (Fam), on parental consent to the administration of puberty-blockers.
- Clive D Field: Counting Religion in Britain: Number 66 – March 2021.
- Mark Hill, Studia Z Prawa Wyznaniowego 23: The Qualified Right to Freedom of Religion: an examination of the limitations contained in Article 9 of the European Convention on Human Rights.
- Eduardo Reyes, Law Society Gazette: Buckland’s judicial power project: the Government set up the Independent Review of Administrative Law but the resulting report was not what the Government wanted.
- Adam Wagner, Prospect: Taking liberties: Covid-19 and the anatomy of a constitutional catastrophe: “We should soon get many of our personal freedoms back. But such have been the abuses of parliament, police and the law that we may never recover our standing as free citizens.”
Statement from the Polish Mission in London: "We believe the police brutally exceeded their powers by issuing their warrant, as all government requirements were met.
We believe municipal police officials have been misinformed about the current guidelines for places of worship" https://t.co/e06JHAzYab
— Catholic Sat (@CatholicSat) April 3, 2021
AND A HAPPY EASTER TO ALL OUR READERS
I have very mixed feelings regarding the Polish Church story. I disagree in principle with interrupting a Church Service and the general body language and behaviour of the officers in question did not show any respect towards the Sanctuary as a sacred space. That said, it is noteworthy that this appears to be a completely isolated incident and all other Churches (including my own) held their Easter services without problems with congregations being socially distanced ie 2 metres away from each other except for family groups. All rather irritating, but nothing that prevented the services going ahead.
Looking at the Video of the Polish service it is noticeable that the Choir are sitting next to each other which is a breach of the Covid regulations. I don’t know what the position was with the rest of the congregation but I have a feeling that the Police may (and I do stress ‘may’) have been justified in what they did.
I don’t like saying that and I don’t like what happened but I do feel there are 2 sides to this story.
I agree – which is why we refrained from making any comment either way.