Law and religion round-up – 5th December

The Alpha and Omicron…

COVID-19: the Omicron variant

The beginning of the week saw the imposition of restrictions in England when, from 4 am on 30 November, those not exempt were required by law to wear face-coverings in shops and on public transport and in settings such as banks, post offices and hairdressers. No such requirement was imposed for attendance at places of worship; however, the Bishop of London nonetheless urged churches and churchgoers to take extra precautions during Advent and Christmas. The Diocese of Blackburn’s Coronavirus Task Group, for example, recommended that churches should review their risk assessments and seriously consider reintroducing face-coverings during indoor, in-person public worship. The Group noted that this was not a legal requirement and could not be enforced, but strongly encouraged caution until further notice.

Transmission of COVID (I)

On Thursday, the British Medical Journal (BMJ) posted a new BMJ Infographic “to help people decide what to do in everyday situations to protect themselves, and others, from covid-19”, such as “Is it risky to sing in a choir or eat in a small restaurant? How much difference does it make if I open windows or clean surfaces?” The interactive tool was built on top of an underlying mathematical framework conceived by the Defence Science and Technology Laboratory (Dstl) for combining the factors that affect transmission. These were used as the basis for eliciting the data, which was then used to help construct the visualisation tool. Dslt itself posted Dstl supports new COVID-19 decision-making tool, which links to the underlying paper (25pp) with the grandiose title, Expert elicitation on the relative importance of possible SARS-CoV-2 transmission routes and the effectiveness of mitigations, BMJ (2 December 2021). The tool “is designed to help individuals or risk managers considering a single encounter in which a susceptible person might come into contact with an infected person”.

Readers will probably be aware of a completely different visualization, purporting to demonstrate the effectiveness of masks, which was widely circulated on social media. This particular graphic was critically reviewed by a number of bodies, including Full Fact, which commented that “[whilst] evidence shows masks do reduce transmission … the figures in the widely shared image are unsubstantiated”.

Transmission of COVID (II)

On December 2021, SAGE posted Aerosol and Droplet Generation from Singing, Wind Instruments (SWI) and Performance Activities. This is a Paper prepared by Public Health England (PHE) and the Environmental and Modelling group (EMG), dated 13 August 2020 (which is when it was considered by SAGE), and first published 4 September 2020. The Press Release cautions:

“It should be viewed in context: the paper was the best assessment of the evidence at the time of writing. The picture is developing rapidly and, as new evidence or data emerges, SAGE updates its advice accordingly. Therefore, some of the information in this paper may have been superseded and the author’s opinion or conclusion may since have developed.”

The paper does not indicate whether PHE and EMG provided SAGE with further information on this topic, an issue which has been fundamental to advice on choral singing during the periods of lockdown.

Arbitration Act 1996

On Tuesday, the Law Commission of England and Wales announced that it will conduct a review of the Arbitration Act 1996:

“Since it was enacted, the Arbitration Act 1996 has helped to make the UK – and London in particular – a leading destination for commercial arbitrations. However, with the Act now 25 years old, reform may be required to make sure that the Act is as effective as possible, particularly as other jurisdictions have enacted more recent reforms to their own respective arbitration legislation.

This project will review the 1996 Act, and, if necessary, make recommendations to Government for reform. The overarching aim will be to maintain the attractiveness of England and Wales as a ‘destination’ for dispute resolution and the pre-eminence of English Law as a choice of law.”

The Act extends to England and Wales and – with a few small reservations – to Northern Ireland.

In one of our earliest posts, Sharia law, the Arbitration Act 1996 and the Arbitration and Mediation Services (Equality) Bill, we drew attention to the concerns of Baroness Cox about what she described as “the development of a parallel quasi-legal system based on inherently discriminatory principles” – by which she meant sharia tribunals – which might involve “proceedings operating under the terms of the Arbitration Act or it may involve less formal community forums for resolving disputes”.

Her Bill, which was reintroduced several times, got nowhere. It will be interesting to see whether the Law Commission review looks at the use of the Act by religious communities.

Getting married/civilly-partnered out of doors

On Thursday, in answer to a Written Question from Luke Pollard (Sutton and Devonport (Lab)) asking the Secretary of State for Justice when he plans to publish the consultation on outdoors civil marriages (ie in England and Wales), Tom Pursglove, the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Immigration Compliance and Courts, replied as follows:

“The Government will publish a consultation very shortly to consider the practical impacts of this policy in detail, with a view to making a further amending Statutory Instrument which is not time limited.”

More generally, yesterday we posted a long read by Rajnaara Akhtar, Rebecca Probert and Sharon Blake on reforming weddings law in England and Wales: How we marry is changing, and the law needs to keep up. Weddings and marriage law is a major theme of this blog, and this new guest post has been added to the summary of our post, UK marriage legislation, which provides links to all our posts in this area.

Quick links

And finally…I

For the avoidance of doubt, the season of Advent began a week ago, on Sunday 28 November, not on 1 December. Even some Quakers managed to notice that…

And finally…II

We understand that in 2020, Schrödinger’s Christmas Party didn’t happen, but it definitely followed all the rules.


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