Law and religion round-up – 28th November

A week in which some suspected Peppa Pig was a dead cat…

…but all were reminded of the value of efficient pagination.

Omicron variant of COVID-19

Two statements were issued by the Prime Minister on 27 November, here and here. The latter sets out new measures as the Omicron variant has been identified in the UK and confirms new, temporary measures to respond to the emergence of UK cases of the variant. Targeted measures will be introduced “from next week” as a precaution to slow down the spread of the variant while we gather more information. These are:

  • All international arrivals must take a Day 2 PCR test and self-isolate until they receive a negative result.
  • All contacts of suspected Omicron cases must self-isolate, regardless of their vaccination status. They will be contacted by NHS Test and Trace.
  • Face coverings will be made compulsory in shops and on public transport from next week. All hospitality settings will be exempt.

The BBC provided a useful summary of the current provisions relating to the requirements to wear face coverings within the UK:

Travel restrictions have already been implemented to slow the spread of the variant and protect the UK’s borders. These continue to be modified as new countries are added to the “Red List”. The new Measures are precautionary and will be reviewed in three weeks when more detailed information will be available. However, they have been criticised as “Plan B Lite” by scientists who believe they do not go far enough to tackle the “extremely transmissible” variant.

Update: On Tuesday 30 November 2021, the House of Commons debated two SIs: The Health Protection (Coronavirus, Wearing of Face Coverings) (England) Regulations 2021, SI 2021/1340 and The Health Protection (Coronavirus, Restrictions) (Self-Isolation) (England) (Amendment) (No. 4) Regulations 2021, SI 2021/1338. Both were approved

Omicron variant and the churches

The exemption announced for “all hospitality settings” will retain the status quo on the exclusion from the mandatory wearing of masks for acts of worship, weddings and funerals in England; this is also the position elsewhere in the UK. However, the context in which churches’ guidance is framed has clearly changed, although decisions on what happens in church settings and at events held in church buildings currently remain with the incumbent (by whatever name called). The recent Church of England FAQ on the ventilation of buildings becomes particularly relevant.

Update: On Tuesday 30 November, the Church issues COVID-19 Opening and managing church buildings, v2.2 to reflect the current situation, as indicated by the earlier statement by the Bishop of London. With regard to vaccine passports, however, it seems unlikely that the Church will take unilateral action. Nevertheless, those attending Advent or Christmas services in Durham Cathedral, for whom this is a requirement, will have an added degree of reassurance.

Freedom of religion or belief

On Thursday, the House of Commons debated a motion on freedom of religion or belief and the 40th anniversary of the UN Declaration on the elimination of religious intolerance.

Fiona Bruce (Con, Congleton), vice-chair of the APPG on freedom of religion or belief and special envoy for freedom of religion or belief, explained that the Government had set up a prisoners of conscience programme that enabled those across the world who were imprisoned simply for what they believed in to be virtually adopted by an individual MP, who committed to ongoing advocacy on their behalf. She invited all MPs to hold meetings and raise awareness among the wider public of the infringements of freedom of religious belief across the world. She highlighted progress such as the fact that FORB had been included in the G7 communiqué for the first time, and referred to the upcoming FORB conference which the UK would host in 2022.

Replying to the debate, the Minister for the Middle East and North Africa, James Cleverly, said that the UK was strongly committed to defending the freedom of religion or belief for all and to promoting respect between different religious and non-religious communities. In addition to hosting the international ministerial conference on FORB on 5 and 6 July 2022 in London, the Government was pursuing three broad avenues to advance freedom of religion or belief and to tackle the associated human rights concerns: working through multilateral bodies; working directly with States to encourage them to uphold their human rights obligations; and continuing to take forward the Bishop of Truro’s recommendations to strengthen support for those persecuted for their faith or belief.

On the Bishop of Truro’s review, the Government was making good progress on all 22 recommendations in the final report, including the recommendation that called for an independent review. He closed the debate by saying that the UK had a duty and a drive to promote and defend equality, inclusion and respect, both at home and abroad.

Civil Partnership (Scotland)

The draft Civil Partnership (Scotland) Act 2020 and Marriage and Civil Partnership (Scotland) Act 2014 (Consequential Modifications) Order 2022 makes provision, principally in consequence of the Civil Partnership (Scotland) Act 2020 which introduced opposite-sex civil partnership, to reflect the introduction of opposite sex civil partnership in Scotland and therefore that civil partnership is no longer simply a same-sex institution.

The draft Order amends s.110 Equality Act 2010, about the liability of employees and agents in relation to discrimination. The amendments provide that there is no contravention of section 110 where a religious or belief celebrant refuses to solemnise a marriage for the reason that the marriage is between persons of the opposite sex who are in a civil partnership with each other. The Explanatory Memorandum is here.

Consultation on churchyards

On Wednesday 29th September 2021, Defra issued the Consultation on Amendments to the Environmental Permitting (England and Wales) Regulations 2016 as applied to Groundwater Activities and related Surface Water Discharge Activities responses to which closes Wednesday 22nd December 2021 (time not specified). Our post, Burials, groundwater activities and related surface water discharge activities, indicates that Annexes B and C of the consultation are of relevance to burials churchyards, and closed loop ground source heat pump activities, one of the potential techniques to assist churches to achieve a reduction on their greenhouse gas emissions.

Christopher Whitmey, who alerted us to the Consultation, has been in contact with Defra regarding the suggested minimum size of new burial plots and the possibility that such measures would further reduce cemetery capacity. Defra’s response was that it “will be investigating alternative conditions which do not substantially reduce cemetery capacity whilst ensuring that levels of environmental protection are not compromised”. The Consultation is still open, and those with similar concerns would be advised to make further representations to Defra.

Quick links

And finally…

The Guardian view on clergy on TV: not just ‘rogues or idiots’: but without mention of Father Ted – which would presumably be an ecumenical matter…

2 thoughts on “Law and religion round-up – 28th November

  1. An interesting decision handed down today might be worth commenting on in the future:

    A Church of England priest could not claim to be exempt from VAT for the provision of retreats. The supply of such services by “a state-regulated private welfare institution or agency” could be exempt. However, ‘state registered’ is defined as regulation by a ‘public general Act’. The Appellant is a priest regulated by a Measure not a public general Act.

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