Law and religion round-up – 27th February

Lifting COVID-19 restrictions

On Monday, Boris Johnson announced the ending of the remaining COVID-19 restrictions in England and the Government published COVID-19 response: living with COVID-19. On Tuesday, the Scottish Government published COVID 19 Scotland’s Strategic Framework Update February 2022 and Nicola Sturgeon set out an indicative timescale for lifting the remaining legal protections in Scotland.

The Northern Ireland Executive (which is having its own internal difficulties) was much more cautious. The Health Minister stated that, though the Department of Health will carefully consider the UK Government’s plan for England and its implications, no decisions had been taken on any changes to Test and Trace in Northern Ireland.

We understand from Gethin Rhys that the Welsh Government intends to make an announcement about its future policy on COVID-19 on 4 March. It has, however, been announced that from tomorrow, 28 February, it will no longer be obligatory in Wales to wear face-coverings except in shops, health and care settings and on public transport. It will continue, however, to be a legal requirement to prepare, record and implement a risk assessment for all activities, and if that risk assessment concludes that wearing a face-covering is necessary, those attending can still be required to do so.

We posted on the latest announcements here.

Church guidance on COVID-19 restrictions

On 21 February, the Bishop of London responded to the announcement made today by the Prime Minister setting out the Government’s plans including lifting remaining Covid-19 restrictions. She stated inter alia:

“Although the legal restrictions are being lifted, there may be good reason for us to take some measures as individuals and as local churches. I am conscious that some people with medical conditions will be more fearful now that compulsory isolation for those who are likely to be infectious is ending and we should not lose our focus on the most vulnerable”. (21 February 2022).

On Thursday, the Church of England updated its COVID-19 Guidance, which says:

“This guidance page will remain as a point of reference for the time being, and we are in the process of updating documentation including our advice on church buildings, risk assessment and cleaning church buildings to reflect the current situation.”

There has been no change in the Church’s guidance documents issued on 25 January 2022, COVID-19 Opening and managing church buildings, v,2.4. Similarly, advice from the Roman Catholic Church and other organizations such as the RSCM and CCCBR is unchanged from January 2022. Next month’s update  – COVID-19 legislation and guidance update, March will included these current sets of guidance which will be replaced as new documents are issued.

The Faculty Jurisdiction (Amendment) Rules 2022

The Faculty Jurisdiction (Amendment) Rules 2022, SI 2022/155 were laid before Parliament on 23 February 2022 and come into force on 1 July 2022. Rule 2 provides that persons proposing to undertake certain works must, as part of the procedure, provide an explanation of how they have had due regard to guidance issued by the Church Buildings Council on reducing carbon emissions. Rule 3 makes minor amendments to the procedure for consultation before faculty proceedings can begin, including by imposing a requirement that, where the online faculty system is used for the consultation, responses to the consultation should also use the online system. Rule 4 introduces the Schedule, which makes amendments to Lists A and B in Schedule 1 to the 2015 Rules. In particular, the amendments in Part 2 of the Schedule are concerned with promoting environmental protection (for example, fitting boilers which do not use fossil fuels and installing charging points for electric vehicles). The Rules include minor drafting improvements and corrections to the 2015 Rules and some transitional provisions.

The academics and practitioners among our readership may be interested to learn that the National Archives, which will be launching the new national database of judgments for senior courts in England and Wales in April 2022, is conducting two surveys of how different groups of users currently find and access court judgments and tribunal decisions. They will inform how the National Archives designs and develops the new online service and can be downloaded at the following links:

Frank (who uses BAILII almost every day) has already completed the survey: it takes about ten minutes. We would encourage all readers with a serious interest in case-law to do the same. [Thanks to Paul McGrath for reminding us to publicise the surveys.]

Northern Ireland and religious exemptions in employment

S 37 of the Fair Employment (Northern Ireland) Act 1976 exempted from its provisions “employment as a teacher in a school”. That exemption was maintained in Regulation 70 of the Fair Employment and Treatment (Northern Ireland) Order 1998 “where the essential nature of the job requires it to be done by a person holding, or not holding, a particular religious belief”.

The Northern Ireland Assembly is currently considering a private Member’s bill that would remove the exemption, and last week Bishop Donal McKeown, representing the Catholic Schools’ Trustee Service, and CCMS Chief Executive Gerry Campbell told MLAs that they supported the removal of the exemption, on the basis that “All that legislation at that stage [in 1998] always worked on the assumption everybody was Catholic or Protestant. That’s a bizarre assumption for any political decisions in 2022″.

Charities Bill

The Charities Bill, which amends the Charities Act 2011, received Royal Assent on 24 February. We understand that the Government plans to phase in the changes over the next 12 to 18 months.

Marriage and Civil Partnership (Minimum Age) Bill

The Marriage and Civil Partnership (Minimum Age) Bill was given its Third Reading on Friday and sent to the Lords. The effect of the Bill, in a nutshell, would be to raise the minimum age for marriage in England and Wales to eighteen and make it an offence to cause a child marriage to take place. It will apply to both registered and unregistered marriages. Russell Sandberg has more on the Bill here.

Russia and Jehovah’s Witnesses

In a brief judgment on Tuesday, the ECtHR ruled in Cheprunovy and Others v Russia [2022] ECHR 166 that a series of searches of the homes of a group of Jehovah’s Witnesses and their prayer hall between 2010 and 2012 which had been authorised by the Russian courts on the basis that, because they were Jehovah’s Witnesses, they might be involved in extremist activities and the distribution of extremist literature had violated their Article 9 rights. Though the Court was prepared to accept that the searches had been lawful “in domestic terms” [10], the terms of the search warrants were “excessively broad” [11]. Therefore, the interference with the applicants’ rights had not been “necessary in a democratic society” and was disproportionate to the legitimate aim pursued [12].

A winning faculty application?

Each year since 2007, the Exeter Diocesan Advisory Committee has reviewed the previous 12 months’ applications to identify those regarded as excellent in terms of the content of the proposals and/or the engagement with the Faculty process. This year the DAC considered that the reordering of St Budeaux, Devonport, was suitable for an Award, Re St Budeaux Devonport [2022] ECC Exe 1.

In order to consider this application, the Chancellor took each element in turn, identifying both the asserted merits and the matters of concern that have been raised, and in his conclusions noted the assistance that he gained from the focused and pragmatic submissions that had been made by the three objectors. Whilst not agreeing with them, he respected their views and valued their contributions. He further “repeated [his] gratitude to one and all for the civilised manner in which this process has been conducted [52].

Nevertheless, he observed:

“It is clear to this outside observer that the promotion of these proposals has caused, to some degree, a fracture in relationships amongst the small group who attend this church, which is deservedly much loved by them all. It is to be hoped that the issuing of this judgment, with the final determination of the outstanding issues, can be a moment at which a line can be drawn, so that the current dispute is at an end, and so that bridges can be built, lessons learned and communication improved.”

Quick links

And finally…

Dame Catherine Wybourne OSB, aka @Digitalnun, died last week: may she rest in peace and rise in glory. A whole swathe of Twitterati, including us, feels that we have lost a friend, even though we never met her face to face. You can watch her making the keynote speech Religion and the Internet at the RSA’s Faith 2.0 conference, here, which remains as relevant as it did in February 2011.


One thought on “Law and religion round-up – 27th February

  1. One we missed.

    In Zharinova v Russia [2022] ECHR 167, Ms Zharinova, a Jehovah’s Witness, was arrested March 17, 2011, while she was “preaching door-to-door” in her hometown of Ivanteyevka, according to court documents. The police interviewed her at the police station, seized her personal belongings and religious literature and held her at the station for four and a half hours. The domestic courts dismissed her complaint in 2011. The ECtHR held that there had been violations of Article 5(1) (Right to liberty and security) and Article 9.

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