Law and religion round-up – 24th July

The week in which we “hit the ground” with an early post on the Law Commission Report on weddings

Reforming weddings law (I)

On Wednesday, the Law Commission published its final proposals for reforming weddings law in England & Wales. To no one’s surprise, the Commission has recommended root-and-branch reform: in particular, a move away from the requirement to be married in a registered building in favour of weddings conducted by registered officiants – as in Scotland and Northern Ireland, where registered celebrants conduct weddings.

The next move is up to the Government – but there cannot be many who seriously believe that the current law is satisfactory. (And for some background on how we got here, see Rebecca Probert*, Journal of Legal History: Secular or Sacred? The Ambiguity of ‘Civil’ Marriage in the Marriage Act 1836.)

Reforming weddings law (II)

On 23 July 2022, we published a guest post post by Professor Russell Sandberg, Déjà I Do: Some Initial Thoughts on the Law Commission’s ‘Celebrating Marriage’ Report, which looked at the Law Commission’s final proposals on reforming weddings law in England and Wales, supra. With regard to the likelihood of reform, Professor Sandberg comments:

“The next step is for the Government to consider the Law Commission’s recommendations. Given that the Commission was not asked to develop a draft Bill, any legislation enacting these reforms will take some time – even if the Ministry of Justice is convinced to proceed further with the matter. And that is a big ‘if,”

and he concludes:

“Despite my quibbles about the detail of some of the proposals, the Report as a whole is to be welcomed. But it seems that it will fall to the groups directly affected to really make the case for reform.”

Links to other posts by Professor Sandberg, Professor Probert and others on the development of the Law Commission project, from 2014, are indexed here.

UK Covid-19 Inquiry

The UK Covid-19 Inquiry, chaired by Baroness Hallett, has published its Opening StatementModule 1 of the Inquiry opened on 21 July. It will consider

“the extent to which the risk of a Coronavirus pandemic was properly identified and planned for and whether the UK was ready for that eventuality. The module will look at the UK’s preparedness for whole-system civil emergencies, including resourcing, the system of risk management and pandemic readiness. It will scrutinise government decision-making relating to planning and seek to identify lessons from earlier incidents and simulations and international comparisons”.

Module 2 will look at core political and administrative governance and decision-making for the UK, covering the initial UK response to the pandemic and address central Government decision-making, including political and civil service performance and the effectiveness of relationships with the governments in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, local authority and voluntary/community sectors. Press release here.

Commission on Covid Commemoration

The Government has set up the UK Commission on Covid Commemoration “to secure a broad consensus from across the whole of the United Kingdom on how we commemorate the COVID-19 pandemic and mark this distinctive period in our history at a national and community level. The Commission is expected to report to the Prime Minister by the end of March 2023”.

Its Terms of Reference state:

“There is a solemn duty on our whole United Kingdom to come together and mark this momentous and life-changing occurrence. This UK Commission on Covid Commemoration will be a national endeavour, above party politics and distinct from any public inquiry. It will recommend ways in which the nation can remember the loved ones who perished, honour the heroism of those who have saved lives and the courage of frontline workers who have kept our country going, celebrate the genius of those who created the vaccines, and commemorate the small acts of kindness and the daily sacrifice of millions who stayed at home.

The Commission will work across our United Kingdom and together with the Devolved Administrations to build a national consensus around measures which could be put in place to tell the whole story of this period in our history.

It will report to the Prime Minister by no later than March 2023.”

“It will be for Her Majesty’s Government to consider and take forward the implementation of [the] recommendations [as identified in the ToR]”.

Faith groups do not feature among current representatives on the Commission.

The proposed Holocaust Memorial again

In April, we reported that the High Court had quashed planning permission for the UK Holocaust Memorial and Learning Centre to be built in Victoria Tower Gardens next to the Houses of Parliament. In London Historic Parks And Gardens Trust v Minister of State for Housing & Anor [2022] EWHC 829 (Admin), Thornton J held that the grant of planning permission had been ultra vires the London County Council (Improvements) Act 1900 and refused permission to appeal.

As we predicted, the Government sought leave from the Court of Appeal, and on Wednesday permission to appeal was refused. Andrews LJ observed that Thornton J’s construction of the 1900 Act in the Administrative Court was plainly correct and that the 1900 Act could not be “wished away”.

So the only avenue now open to the Government appears to be to attempt to repeal s 8 of the 1900 Act. In an answer to an Urgent Question on Thursday, the Minister of State at the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities, Paul Scully, told the Commons, “The Government remain committed to the creation of a new national memorial commemorating the victims of the Holocaust”.

Reservation of a grave space

With the progressive decrease in the space available for burial in municipal and church cemeteries, the issue of the conditions under which a burial plot may be reserved is now a frequent consideration of the consistory courts. Judgments on three such cases have become available in July 2022, each of which demonstrates a different aspect which has been considered by the diocesan chancellor: Re St Mark Ocker Hill Tipton [2022] ECC Lic 4, Re St Mark Ocker Hill Tipton [2022] ECC Lic 5, and Re St Mary Magdalene Bolney [2022] ECC Chi 4. These judgments will be reviewed in our July round-up of cases, and possibly in a stand-alone post on the problems raised with the reservation of burial plots.

What’s in a name? 

In Re St Michael and All Angels Pelsall [2022] ECC Lic 6, the Petitioner’s family wished to use the maiden name only on the memorial to the deceased, despite the fact that she did not consistently use her maiden name, although she clearly wished to do so and did so on an informal basis. Citing with approval Halsbury’s Laws of England, the Deputy Chancellor explained:

“… when marrying, a woman is not obliged to take her husband’s name, nor to abandon that name at dissolution of a marriage. A deed poll is no more than a means of authentication and to obviate doubt and confusion … It follows that I find that there is no legal or practical objection to the name of the deceased on her memorial being her maiden name, and without reference to her married name, and I will grant a faculty accordingly”.

However, he suggested that both her maiden name and married name should be used in the burial register and the churchyard plan.

Updated COVID guidance from the Church of England

On 18 July 2022, the Church of England issued “COVID-19 Opening and managing church buildings“, which updated its previous guidance (3 May 2022) to include a revised situation report and changes in government guidance on risk assessments. The new guidance is to be welcomed and we have posted a summary of some of the more important points in this 12-page document.

Quick links

And finally…I

Whilst not wishing to spoil a good story, it is not correct to claim that “the last Tory to use ‘hasta la vista’ in parliament was….Chris Pincher. 1 April 2011”. A search on Hansard reveals two other post-2011 uses by Tories (and one by an SNP member). Nice try though.

And finally…II

Our congratulations to Professor Rebecca Probert, one of the distinguished contributors to this blog, on her election as a Fellow of the British Academy.

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