Monday was “Freedom Day” in England – or maybe not…
Reactions to easing in England…
… have been mixed. Although the snappily titled The Health Protection (Coronavirus, Restrictions) (Steps etc.) (England) (Revocation and Amendment) Regulations 2021, SI 2021/848 were made in advance of the move to “Step 4” in England at 11.55 pm on 18 July, much of the associated guidance did not appear until the legislation was in force. Importantly for places of worship, the MHCLG document COVID-19: guidance for the safe use of places of worship, (16 June 2021) was only withdrawn on 19 July and replaced with COVID-19: guidance for the safe use of places of worship.
The Church of England issued a new tranche of guidance which is summarized in our 20 July post, Church of England Guidance – Step 4, which is essential reading for incumbents/churchwardens and area deans, the document Opening and managing church buildings in step 4 of the Roadmap out of Lockdown, V.1 is central since it gathers in this single document the relevant parts of earlier Church guidance: where further measures may be considered by local churches there is a link to appropriate additional guidance; if issues covered in previous guidance are not included here it is because they are no longer a specific consideration in Step 4.
- Step 4 advice sets out what is possible and not what has to be done. Changes do not need to be introduced all at once.
- There will need to be good consultation with PCCs and church officers about changes to your present patterns.
- We advise extreme caution at present in respect of reintroducing the common cup at services of Holy Communion.
- Be prepared for ongoing pastoral complexity and fix your eyes on those who are vulnerable in any way.
- Local changes must be supported by updated risk assessments.
In the secular legal world, the library of the Institute of Advanced Legal Studies (almost certainly the best public-access law library in London) announced that it would be keeping existing COVID-19 rules in place beyond Monday 19 July until further notice, in order to keep members and study spaces as safe as possible during the pandemic.
… and in Wales
On 21 July, the Church in Wales issued updated guidance on the “Level 1” following changes in COVID-19 regulations by the Welsh government, which became effective on 17 July. It also notes that a detailed document has been published regarding the “Level 0” restrictions which it is hoped to introduce fully on August 7. Extracts from the “Level 1” guidance are reproduced in our post here.
Meanwhile, the UK as a whole was well into a third spike in infections, with daily new cases at around 40,000.
On Wednesday, the Government introduced the Judicial Review and Courts Bill, together with a number of supporting documents. Part 1 of the Bill, which deals with judicial review, and which extends to England & Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland, consists of only two clauses: on quashing orders and on the exclusion of review of Upper Tribunal’s permission-to-appeal decisions.
Clause 1 would allow a court to delay the point at which a Government decision is overturned. The Government says that this “will improve the public policy-making process by, for example, allowing time for a department to consult on the best way to replace an administrative regime rather than creating a rush to do it immediately”. Clause 1 will also allow a court to rule that an action by the Government was unlawful without invalidating any prior decisions. Clause 2, in effect, overturns the Supreme Court’s decision in R (Cart) v The Upper Tribunal  UKSC 28).
On the whole, not as root-and-branch as some commentators had feared. Joshua Rozenberg comments:
“Quite why the Ministry of Justice has gone back on some of the more outlandish proposals it trailed in the spring is not clear. No doubt the senior judges have had a quiet but firm word with him. I suspect that Lord Wolfson of Tredegar QC, who became a junior minister (unpaid) at the beginning of this year, has been an important influence.”
And if you might be wondering whether any of this has much to do with “religion”, see Reverend Dr William J U Philip and Others for Judicial Review of the closure of places of worship in Scotland  ScotCS CSOH 32.
Non-story of the week?
At the end of a week in which there has been continuing confusion on the Westminster Government’s policy on “vaccine passports”, the Church of England issued a new Q&A “What is the Church of England’s position on ‘vaccine passports’?; some media reports had suggested that these passports might be necessary for places of worship in addition to theatres, cinemas &c.
In our post Vaccine passports and places of worship, we noted that the Church’s new document was not a direct response to this speculation but a reiteration of policy position. In a statement to the House, Nadhim Zahawi, Minister for Covid Vaccine Deployment, said [emphasis added]:
“…And as I updated the House on Monday, at the end of September we plan to make full vaccination a condition of entry to those high-risk settings where large crowds gather and interact. By this point, everyone aged 18 and over will have had the chance to be fully vaccinated and so everyone will have that opportunity to gain the maximum possible protection.
So, as a condition of entry to these venues, people will need to show that they are fully vaccinated and proof of a negative test will no longer be sufficient.”
However, whether many churches would be regarded as “high-risk settings where large crowds gather and interact” is debatable. The current guidance from the Church is:
“It is not a requirement, nor is it appropriate, to ask people if they have been vaccinated. Whilst emerging evidence suggests vaccines are having an impact on transmission, we do not know by how much the vaccine stops coronavirus from spreading. Even if you have been vaccinated, you could still spread coronavirus to others, even if you do not display symptoms.
Vaccines have been shown to reduce the likelihood of severe illness in most people. Like all medicines, no vaccine is completely effective, so those who have received the vaccine should continue to take recommended precautions to avoid infection. “
Columbaria in churches and cathedrals
One component of the recent judgment Re Peel Cathedral  EC Sodor 1 is the creation of a columbarium in the North Vestry, a feature which the Vicar General and Chancellor noted “is relatively novel in Anglicanism” . However, “the creation of a dedicated area within the walls of a church or cathedral for the interment of cremated remains is not wholly unprecedented: Blackburn Cathedral has one and something similar is planned for St Bartholomew the Great in West Smithfield, in London”.
The proposal for St German’s is “to incorporate bookcases in which would be placed individual books containing a tribute to the deceased in the form of a biography and a sealed container with the deceased’s ashes”. Perhaps surprisingly, the proposal attracted no comments; it was noted that they “would obviously increase the possibility of dealing reverently with the cremated remains of those connected with the cathedral”. A faculty was granted for this and the other proposed works.
- Giulio Fedele, EJIL: Talk!: The (Gay) Elephant in the Room: Is there a Positive Obligation to Legally Recognise Same-Sex Unions after Fedotova v Russia.
- Phillip Jones, Ecclesiastical Law: Apostolicae Curae 1896: A Vicar is not a Catholic Priest.
- Ronan McCrea, The Conversation: Hijab ruling presents the thorny problem of legislating for all EU member states: on the CJEU’s recent ruling in WABE eV and MH Müller Handels GmbH.
… birthday card for a pedant: