Law and religion round-up – 13th June

Carbon neutral travel to St Ives? – Benchmark established by St Ia who sailed across the Irish Sea on a leaf (allegedly)…

COVID-19 and Parliamentary scrutiny

On Thursday, the House of Lords Constitution Committee published the third and final report of its inquiry into the constitutional implications of coronavirus, COVID-19 and the use and scrutiny of emergency powers. It begins like this:

“The COVID-19 pandemic poses an urgent threat to life and public health in the UK. It is clear that exceptional measures have been necessary to limit the spread of the virus and keep communities safe. The Government has introduced a large volume of new legislation, much of it transforming everyday life and introducing unprecedented restrictions on ordinary activities. Yet parliamentary oversight of these significant policy decisions has been extremely limited” [emphasis added].

The Committee was clearly very unhappy with the course of events. It recommends that in any future national emergency there should be a presumption in favour of using sunset provisions in fast-tracked regulations and that the Government seek Parliament’s approval of all affirmative instruments before they enter into force wherever possible and, where it is not possible, “the Government should explain this and secure Parliament’s approval as soon as possible after the regulations have entered into force”. It is also critical of the lack of clarity in the way that changes to the law were often set out in guidance, or announced to the media in advance of any Parliamentary scrutiny:”

It further concludes:

“On a number of occasions, the law was misrepresented in these public-facing forums. The consequence has been a lack of clarity around which rules are legally enforceable, posing challenges for the police and local government, leading to wrongful criminal charges, and potentially undermining public compliance.

It is incumbent upon the Government to make the law clear. When enacting new COVID-19 restrictions, the Government should be guided by the principles of certainty, clarity and transparency, and seek to avoid rapid and last-minute changes to the law as far as possible.

We recommend that all future ministerial statements and Government guidance on changes to COVID-19 restrictions clearly distinguish information about the law from public health advice.”

Ouch.

COVID-19 and ordinations

Petertide is one of two traditional periods for the ordination of new priests and deacons in the Church of England, the other being Michaelmas, at the end of September. In 2020, a number of diaconal ordinations were delayed on account of COVID-19. This has had a knock-on effect on the ordination of these deacons as priests in 2020, typically one year later. Canon C3 §8 requires that this period is “at least one year…so that trial may be made of his behaviour in the office of deacon before he be admitted to the order of priesthood”. Last year, many prospective ordinands were being licensed temporarily as Licensed Lay Ministers (LLMs), as this was permissible via Zoom &c, with ordination to follow.

The pandemic had a similar effect in the Methodist Church. Its practice is to ordain presbyters and deacons “into Full Connexion” at the annual Conference, and because the 2020 Conference was held virtually there were no ordinations in that year. The delayed ordinations will take place at the 2021 Conference, to be held live at the National Conference Centre, Birmingham, from 24 June to 1 July.

No-fault divorce in England & Wales

Evidently, not yet. In answer to a Written Question from Jane Stevenson (Con, Wolverhampton North East), Chris Philp, Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Immigration Compliance and Courts, said this:

“The Act provides for the biggest reform of divorce law in fifty years and will reduce conflict between couples legally ending a marriage or civil partnership. At Commons Third Reading of the Bill the Lord Chancellor explained the need to allow time for careful implementation and that, at that early stage, the Government was working towards an indicative timetable of autumn 2021. This was an ambitious timetable …

The Government recognises the need for clarity on when these important reforms will come into force. This will now be on the common commencement date of 6 April 2022. While this delay is unfortunate it is essential that we take the time to get this right” [emphasis added.]

Legal age for marriage

On 12 June, Premier Christian News reported that in a move to 18 to stop forced marriages “Age limit to marry could be raised to 18 but age of consent to remain 16“. Sajid Javid MP, the former Chancellor of the Exchequer, has indicated his intention to introduce a private Member’s bill next week which will make it illegal for anyone to marry below the age of 18. An article in The Guardian states that on 10 June, Justice minister Lord Wolfson, wrote to groups campaigning against forced marriage, saying:

“The Government supports raising the legal age for marriage in England and Wales to protect vulnerable children living here.

“[It is] committed to making sure children and young people are both protected and supported as they grow and develop in order to maximise their potential life chances. This includes having the opportunity to remain in education or training until they reach the age of 18.

“Child marriage and having children too early in life can deprive them of these important life chances.”

The letter, which is reproduced by Premier, said that the MoJ would consult the Home Office on whether a new criminal offence was needed or whether the existing law on forced marriage could be amended. On 10 May 2019, Pauline Latham secured a Westminster Hall debate, Minimum age for marriage and civil partnership; she introduced a private Member’s bill during the last session of Parliament but it did not progress beyond First Reading.

It should not be forgotten that marriage/wedding law is a devolved responsibility in Scotland and Northern Ireland.

“The long day closes”

Reports that the village church clock of All Saints, Kenton, which “had chimed for 121 years”, (though presumably not continuously) has been muffled after a complaint, were followed by the usual expressions of surprise that this could be the consequence of a single complaint. The diocese said an environmental health team had “measured the sound” and it was “louder than legally permitted”. We last considered this in Church bells and the law (February 2018) which examined the complexities and uncertainties associated with the ringing of church bells. The Legal Advisory Commission of the General Synod has issued Ringing of church bells and liability for nuisance, (revised October 2008), and there is a Guidance note from ChurchCare Church bells and the law (issued 2018) based on an abridged version of a note produced by the Bristol Diocese.

However, it is not that simple and it depends upon how the complaint is pursued. If under the tort of nuisance, the Church guidance makes the qualified comment, “coming to the nuisance is not a defence”, although “it is a general principle that in the case of a nuisance interfering with comfort and amenity, the local character of the neighbourhood is relevant in determining liability. A person who chooses to live near a church cannot reasonably expect the same freedom from noise as he would expect in some other place”. If the complaint is made to the Local Authority, it falls within the statutory regime; the provisions in Part III EPA 1990 are problematic in this respect and the Legal Advisory Commission of General Synod notes: “There is no prescribed or objective standard of what is, or is not, a permissible level of noise”. So although the EHO “measures the sound”, this is dependent upon where the measurement is taken, follows the inverse square law.

Quick Links

And finally…I

Simon Heffer in The TelegraphMedieval church paintings were the PowerPoint presentations of their day.

Next wall, please…

And finally…II

One for the “you couldn’t make it up” from Sky News, which reports “Hartlepool’s monkey statue to be given ‘explanatory sign’ to avoid offending visitors” – Following the Black Lives Matter protests and scrutiny over statues, the council wants to explain the legend of the monkey, which according to legend, was hanged as an alleged French spy. We are not sure where this leaves H’angus the Monkey – Hartlepool United’ Football Club’s official club mascot. Perhaps he should preface his appearance at events following the example of Peter Quince in  Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream, “If you think I come hither as a monkey, it were pity of my life. No, I am no such thing. I am a man as other men are.”

(And Hartlepudlians are known as “Monkeyhangers” to the rest of County Durham: FC.)

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