Law and religion round-up – 29th August

COVID-19 in Scotland

On Tuesday, the Scottish Government announced that a public inquiry into its handling of the COVID-19 pandemic would be set up by the end of the year, to be led by a judge and established under the Inquiries Act 2005. it will:

  • investigate events causing public concern and establish the facts in relation to such issues;
  • determine the explanations for decisions taken and causes of anything which may not have gone as expected;
  • consider if and how different outcomes could have been achieved;
  • establish any lessons to be learned from what has happened; and
  • make any recommendations that the inquiry considers appropriate.

The announcement states that Scottish Ministers expect “a person-centred, human rights-based approach to ensure that every person and organisation taking part can meaningfully participate, be treated fairly and be empowered to take part in the inquiry” – a commitment that was welcomed by the Scottish Human Rights Commission.

The public is invited to share ideas and comments on the suggested approach, via e-mail to COVID-19publicinquirysetupteam@gov.scot by 30 September.

Where next for data protection?

On Thursday, the Government announced that it proposes to reform the UK’s data protection regime to make it more “innovation-friendly” and is to launch a consultation on possible changes to “unlock more trade and innovation by reducing unnecessary barriers and burdens on international data transfers, thereby opening up global markets to UK businesses”. Culture Secretary Oliver Dowden said that he was “determined to seize the opportunity by developing a world-leading data policy that will deliver a Brexit dividend for individuals and businesses across the UK” and that it meant “reforming our own data laws so that they’re based on common sense, not box-ticking”.

All of which doesn’t, ostensibly, seem to have a whole lot to do with “religion” – but think of all the data that the average place of worship holds on its members. And in the wider context, in June the European Commission introduced a four-year sunset clause into its data adequacy agreement with the UK and stated that it could withdraw the agreement at any time if the UK fails adequately to protect EU citizens’ data – so is there a possibility that a change in the UK law might make data-sharing with institutions based in the EU more difficult?

Transgender treatment and Gillick competence

In A Health and Social Care Trust v B [2021] NIFam 17, handed down in May and only recently published, B was assigned male at birth but now identifies and lives as a girl. She is 16 years old and will turn 17 in October. The case was brought to the Family Division of the High Court by a health and social care trust which sought a declaration that B may be treated with hormone-blocking treatment with the consent of B herself and her mother and stepfather.

Keegan J concluded that a declaration was unnecessary:

“In a case such as this where the clinicians are all agreed, there is no doubt among them, the young person is over 16 and has consented in satisfaction of Gillick principles and to Bell standards, her primary carer has consented to this treatment and where there is no contrary argument as to her best interests I do not consider that the court really has a role. To suggest otherwise is to open up court proceedings for already vulnerable young people and to cause delay” [45]. {With thanks to Irish Legal News.]

EHRC proposed strategy for 2022 to 2025

The Equality and Human Rights Commission has opened a consultation on its proposed strategy for 2022 to 2025. The proposed strategic plan is here and the online survey is here. The consultation ends on 30 September.

Quick links

And finally…I

The Law Society Gazette reports:

“Aggressive cross-examination is not as effective over video link, while a lack of in-person preparation can damage the performance of legal teams, a study has found.

Research by international consultancy Berkley Research Group (BRG) says that virtual hearings have been ‘largely positive’ and have often exceeded the expectations of those involved. However, expert witnesses have reported that traditional cross-examination techniques are ‘significantly less effective’ in a remote setting than in a traditional courtroom.”

But if “traditional cross-examination techniques” is a euphemism for harrying witnesses, is that necessarily a bad thing? Discuss…

And finally…II

 In Plumbar v Landry (MD LA, Aug. 26, 2021), a Louisiana federal district court rejected a Free Exercise challenge to Louisiana’s ban on cockfighting. Mr Plumbar was pastor of Holy Fight Ministries (Holy Fight???) – a church that believes it to be an essential part of its faith – and had been charged with several offences in relation to cockfighting.  The court held that the ban was a neutral, generally applicable statute whose purpose was to prevent animal cruelty.

Only in the US of A… [With thanks to Howard Friedman.]

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