Law and religion round-up – 2nd May

Abortion law in Northern Ireland

Regulations giving the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland powers to direct the commissioning of abortion services have been approved by Westminster. The Abortion (Northern Ireland) Regulations 2021, which came into force on 31 March, were approved by the Commons on Tuesday and by the Lords on Wednesday. Viscount Younger of Leckie, moving the Regulations in the Lords, told the House that, though it was an unprecedented step, such was the nature of the statutory duties on the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland that the Government had to act:

“While the Regulations themselves are short, they are necessary to ensure that abortion services are available as a healthcare service in Northern Ireland, which will provide safe and local access for women and girls.

“We have made the most appropriate step in terms of the scope of any direction being limited to only what is needed to ensure that the CEDAW recommendations are implemented. This power, if exercised by the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, can be used only for those purposes and will go no further.”

Baroness O’Loan opposed the motion, not least on the grounds that the draft Regulations had come into force before Parliament had had a chance to approve them. The Lords debate is here.

Easing the lockdown in Ireland

On Thursday, the Taoiseach, Micheál Martin, announced that the current ban on public worship in Ireland would be lifted on 10 May. Public worship has been banned since 26 December – a move accepted by faith leaders in Ireland. However, the Government provoked controversy earlier in April when it was made a criminal offence to plan public worship or to leave home in order to participate in a service – a move which the Roman Catholic Archbishop of Armagh described as “provocative” and “draconian.” The Taoiseach announced that, from 10 May, up to 50 people will be permitted to attend public worship, funerals and wedding ceremonies; however, wedding receptions will be restricted to six people, or to 15 if the reception takes place outdoors. In Northern Ireland, public worship has been permitted since 26 March.

Cathedrals Measure 2021

The Cathedrals Measure 2021 has received Royal Assent. In brief, the Measure provides for co-regulation of Church of England cathedrals by the Charity Commission of England and Wales and the Church Commissioners and brings them under the aegis of the Charities Act 2011. It also provides for a clearer governance structure by separating governance and management activities and greater clarity about the roles and responsibilities of those involved. It also addresses financial controls, risk and audit and clarifies issues of property ownership. The Measure applies to cathedrals in England but does not apply to Christ Church Cathedral in Oxford, except insofar as Schedule 4 amends a provision that applies to it.

Consistory Court judgments in April

As noted earlier, there has been a large number of consistory court judgments circulated this month; this week, Part I of the round-up reviewed those relating to reordering, extensions and other building works and Part II, Exhumation. Part III on Churchyards and burials, CDM Decisions and Safeguarding,, Privy Council Business, and CFCE Determinations, as well as links to other posts will be published early in the coming week.

Part I included a number of judgments in which space heating was a component of the scheme considered by the courts, and in view of the relevance of this aspect to the Church’s commitment to a “Net Zero by 2030” target for its greenhouse gas emissions, these will be collated and published in a post “Net zero”, church heating, and the consistory courts [working title] later in the year.

Why do I use my paper, ink and pen?

The new regime for the registration of marriage in England and Wales begins on 4 May 2021, although the Regulations provide for the early commencement of some provisions to enable issue of marriage documents and marriage schedules by the clergy and superintendent registrars in preparation for marriages taking place on or after the start date. The Faculty Office has described the changes to the registration procedure as the “long-trailed”, and readers may recall our August 2019 post – Enforcing the registration of marriages – lessons from Scotland – which reported that the General Register Office (GRO) was under pressure from Ministers to bring the proposed changes into effect “as soon as possible”. Such was the interest, this is still in the top ten of our most-read posts.

The Explanatory Memorandum to the Regulations states:

“7.3. Modernising the system of marriage registration from a hard-copy marriage register to an electronic system of registering marriages will enable changes to be made to the marriage entry more easily and at a lower cost. It will also allow more flexibility which reflects the changing family circumstances in society today, for example the inclusion of same sex parents in the marriage entry”.

Ironically, however, the advice on what won’t change, given in the GRO Clergy Newsletter Issue 10, February 2021, was that “You will still use registration ink to complete the marriage schedule”.

Further changes to marriages and civil partnerships

The Explanatory Memorandum to the Regulations on marriage registration states:

“This instrument is not being made under the European Union (Withdrawal) Act but relates to the withdrawal of the United Kingdom from the European Union as it makes changes as a consequence of, or in connection with, the end of free movement as enacted by the Immigration and Social Security Co-ordination (EU Withdrawal) Act 2020”

However, there will be further changes to the requirements for EEA Nationals to marry in the UK from 1st July 2021. The Faculty Office states: “Any wedding taking place in the CofE/CiW on or after the 1st July 2021 where either or both of the parties are non-UK/Irish nationals and who do not have Settled Status or Pre-Settled Status under the EUSS [EU Settlement Scheme] will only be able to take place on the authority of an SRC (or a Special Licence)”. This will be covered in a future post.

125th anniversary of Humanists UK

Friday marked the 125th anniversary of the establishment of a national body for humanists. On 12 November 1895, delegates from the North, South, West, and East London Ethical Societies gathered at Devonshire House Hotel to discuss the notion of a federation. After four further meetings, the Societies approved a “Scheme of a Constitution for an Ethical Federation” and the first meeting of the Council of the Union of Ethical Societies was held on 30 April 1896. There is more about the story of humanism in the UK here.

Ecclesiastical Law Journal 2021(2)

Upcoming event: International Colloquium on Law and Religion

The International Colloquium on Law and Religion will take place during the 7th Law And Religion Research Meeting (4-6 May 2021), organised by the Brazilian Center of Studies in Law and Religion. The Colloquium will be held virtually through Zoom, on 6 May 2021, from 2 pm to 6 pm (BRT / UTC-3) – 6 pm to 10 pm BST.

Registration is open for participants from all over the world. Those who are interested in participating must fill in the following form: The link for accessing the virtual room will be sent by e-mail before the event.

For time zones and time conversion, click here.

Quick links

And finally…I

And finally…II

Whilst May Morning events in Oxford, Padstow and elsewhere were cancelled for the second year running on account of COVID-19 precautions, these annual traditions were continued by the Hook Eagle Morris Men – but with an important difference. Like many troupes of Morris dancers, those in Hook have changed their face paint from black to blue following concerns over racism. The issue of coronavirus did not arise: a spokesperson commented “there were only three people in the audience on Saturday morning, including a photographer and café owner, but it was felt this was ‘pretty good’ given the performance took place shortly after 05:00 BST.”

One thought on “Law and religion round-up – 2nd May

  1. I may not be the first to point out re the Tesco picture, note the Morrisons price label – bottom right – so Photoshop?

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