Law and religion round-up – 17th October

COVID-19: a critical analysis

The House of Commons Health and Social Care and Science and Technology Committees have published a highly critical report on the UK Government’s handling of the pandemic. The opening paragraph of the Executive Summary reads as follows:

“During the first three months of the covid pandemic, the UK followed the wrong policy in its use of non-pharmaceutical interventions. When the UK moved from the ‘contain’ to ‘delay’ stage, there was a policy of seeking to only moderate the speed of infection through the population—flattening the curve—rather than seeking to arrest its spread. The policy was pursued until 23 March because of the official scientific advice the Government received, not in spite of it. Questions remain about whether the containment phase was pursued aggressively enough—we believe it could have been pursued for longer. During this period Government policy did not deviate from the scientific advice it received in any material respect. The fact that the UK approach reflected a consensus between official scientific advisers and the Government indicates a degree of groupthink that was present at the time which meant we were not as open to approaches being taken elsewhere—such as earlier lockdowns, border controls and effective test and trace—as we should have been.”

There is a helpful summary on the BBC website, here.

Abortion in Northern Ireland

In last Sunday’s round-up, as part of the continuing saga that is judicial proceedings about abortion law in Northern Ireland, we mentioned that the Society for the Protection of Unborn Children had brought an application for judicial review of the Abortion (Northern Ireland) Regulations 2021 in the High Court in Belfast.

On Thursday in another set of proceedings, The Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission (abortion services) [2021] NIQB 91, Colton J ruled that that, in the period between April 2020 and March 2021, the Northern Ireland Secretary had “failed to comply with his duties under section 9 of the Northern Ireland (Executive Formation etc) Act 2019 in that he failed to ensure expeditiously that the State provide women with access to high-quality abortion and post-abortion care in all public health facilities in Northern Ireland” [115]. However, he declined to make an order of Mandamus compelling the Northern Ireland Secretary to make the services available and he dismissed a claim for judicial review against Northern Ireland’s Health Minister and the NI Executive.

Contested heritage again…

… but of a rather different kind. The Scheherazade Foundation, a non-profit organisation that works “to bridge cultures, empower women and unlock the potential of stories” is seeking the return to Ethiopia from the British Museum of eleven “Tabots” – stone altar tablets inscribed with the Ten Commandments – nine of which were looted by British imperial forces during their Abyssinian campaign in 1868. The Ethiopian Orthodox Church regards Tabots as of fundamental religious and liturgical importance.

Leigh Day, which is acting for the Foundation, has obtained an Opinion from Samantha Knights QC of Matrix Chambers which argues that the Tabots could be returned to Ethiopia under the terms of s.5 British Museum Act 1963 – the BM’a trustees can deem them no longer relevant to the museum’s purpose and as such, unfit to be retained, which would open the way for them to be restored to their original owners, the Ethiopian Orthodox Church.

The ECtHR, the Holy See and jurisdiction

In JC and Others v Belgium [2021] ECHR 804 [In French], twenty-four Belgian, French and Dutch nationals sought compensation from the Holy See, several leaders of the Roman Catholic Church in Belgium and certain Roman Catholic associations for damage which, they alleged, they had suffered as a result of the structurally-deficient manner in which the Church had handled the problem of sexual abuse within it. The Belgian courts, however, had declared that they had no jurisdiction over the Holy See, and the applicants argued that there had therefore been a violation of their right of access to a court as guaranteed by Article 6(1) ECHR [1].

By a majority of 6 to 1  (Pavli J dissenting), the Court held that the Belgian courts’ rejection of jurisdiction to hear the appllicants’ action for civil liability against the Holy See had not departed from the generally recognised principles of international law in matters of State immunity and that the restriction on the right of access to a court could not, therefore, be considered disproportionate to the legitimate aims pursued [75]. The English press release can be downloaded here.

.Australian Journal of Law and Religion

The Australian Journal of Law and Religion is requesting submissions for its inaugural issue:

  • Articles should be 6,000 to 8,000 words in length and can involve any area of law. For example, articles may involve the sub-disciplines of public law (constitutional claims of freedom of religion or church-state neutrality), employment law (religious discrimination claims), private law (the corporate structures, taxation and charity law obligations, and property interests of religious entities), and international law (human rights guarantees).
  • Book review submissions should be no more than 1,000 words in length and must be on a book published in the past eighteen months.
  • Special topic forum submissions should be 800-1000 words in length. The topic for the inaugural special forum is “The Future of Law and Religion in Australia.”

Submissions for the inaugural issue must be submitted to by 1 March 2022: Australian Journal of Law and Religion Inaugural Issue Flyer. [With thanks to Neil Foster.]

Quick links

And finally…I

From Monday’s Torygraph: “Sands was in conversation with Elizabeth Adekunle, the Archbishop of Hackney and Thought for the Day contributor, who said she had noticed the oddity.

The Archdiocese of Hackney is one we hadn’t heard of, and the Archdeaconry of Hackney (Stepney Area) is currently vacant. On 19 May 2021, the Diocese of London announced that the Ven Liz Adekunle was to step down from her role as Archdeacon of Hackney later in the year.

And finally…II

Judicial logic of which W S Gilbert would have approved. In Yorston & Ors, Re (Matrimonial Causes Act 1973: Improper Petitions) [2021] EWFC 80, in relation to the 28 identical divorce petitions, Moor J stated [9]:

“As all these particulars are absolutely identical [they] cannot, therefore, all be true in each of the twenty-eight cases … it would incredible if all twenty-eight respondents ignored the twenty-eight petitioners and declined to communicate with them on about two days per week. It follows that I have no alternative but to dismiss all twenty-eight of these divorce petitions.”

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