Law and religion round-up – 11th December

Reforming the House of Lords?

By far the biggest political news of the week was the Labour Party’s adoption of a series of proposals by Gordon Brown for constitutional reform. One set of proposals is to replace the House of Lords with an elected second chamber that would complement the House of Commons with a new role of safeguarding the UK constitution, subject to an agreed procedure that sustained the primacy of the Commons.

Obviously, an elected second chamber would have no place for bishops (unless some of them stood for election, which is a vanishingly unlikely prospect). But as Nick Robinson pointed out ten years ago,

“Lords reform has always been defeated by those passionately opposed to change finding a way to vote with those passionately in favour of change but opposed to whatever plan happens to be on the table at the time.

So it was that in 1968 Labour’s Michael Foot – who wanted to scrap the Lords altogether – united with the then Tory Enoch Powell – who wanted it to stay just as it was – and led a coalition which defeated change.”

Those of us who are old enough to remember the Foot-Powell opposition to Lords reform suspect that nothing much may have changed.

Writing in the Church Times,  the Bishop of St Albans, Dr Alan Smith, who is the Convener of the Lords Spiritual, argues that the House of Lords needs “reform, not abolition” – but surely part of the problem is that it carries on getting bigger and bigger, piecemeal reforms notwithstanding.

Church of England Parochial Fees 2023

The Church of England’s Tables of Parochial Fees from 1 January 2023, prepared by the Archbishops’ Council, are now available on the Life events parochial fees and guidance page of the C of E website in the form of an A3 table, and an A4 table. We suspect that many of the ~11,000 page views of our post on the 2022 Fees are not particularly interested in “law and religion”, but for those that are, we are preparing a review which includes links to the annual notification of Fees from 2019, CDM tribunal considerations of infractions, as well as more general posts on Parochial Fees as they impact on PCCs and the associated payors.

Assisted dying/assisted suicide

The Commons Health and Social Care Committee has announced an inquiry to examine different perspectives in the debate on assisted dying/assisted suicide:

“The inquiry will explore the arguments across the debate with a focus on the healthcare aspects of assisted dying/assisted suicide. It intends to consider the role of medical professionals, access to palliative care, what protections would be needed to safeguard against coercion and the criteria for eligibility to access assisted dying/assisted suicide services. MPs will also look at what can be learnt from international experiences.”

Evidence sessions are expected to begin in the new year. Members of the public are invited to submit their views in an online survey.

Written submissions from organisations and campaigning groups are also invited by 20 January on any or all of the following points.

  • To what extent do people in England and Wales have access to good palliative care?
  • How can palliative care be improved, and would such improvements negate some of the arguments for assisted dying/assisted suicide?
  • What can be learnt from the evidence in countries where assisted dying/assisted suicide is legal?
  • What are the professional and ethical considerations involved in allowing physicians to assist patients to end their lives?
  • What, if any, are the physical and mental health criteria which would make an individual eligible to access assisted dying/assisted suicide services?
  • What protections could be put in place to protect people from coercion and how effective would these be?
  • What information, advice and guidance would people need in order to be able to make an informed decision about whether to access assisted dying/assisted suicide services?
  • What capabilities would a person need to be able to consent to assisted dying/assisted suicide?
  • What should the Government’s role be in relation to the debate?

Non-party campaigner spending at elections

On 24 November, the Electoral Commission opened a consultation on a draft Code of Practice on the law relating to non-party campaigner spending, including what qualifies as expenses, reporting controlled expenditure and donations, and joint campaigning. The Code, which was produced pursuant to the new sections 100A and 100B of the Political Parties, Elections and Referendums Act 2000 inserted by section 29 of the Elections Act 2022, will apply to general elections to the Westminster Parliament and to the Northern Ireland Assembly. The consultation closes on 20 January. (At the last general election for the Westminster Parliament, the Quakers registered as a non-party campaigner.)

Northern Ireland: abortion clinic buffer zones

On Wednesday, in Abortion Services (Safe Access Zones), REFERENCE by the Attorney General for Northern Ireland [2022] UKSC 32, in a unanimous judgment the Supreme Court upheld the legality of the Abortion Services (Safe Access Zones) (Northern Ireland) Bill, which creates a safe access zone of 100 metres from abortion clinic entrances in which protests may not take place.  the European Convention on Human Rights. The Attorney had argued that Clause 5(2)(a) of the Bill, which would make it an offence “to do an act in a safe access zone with the intent of, or reckless as to whether it has the effect of ­ (a) influencing a protected person, whether directly or indirectly”, was a disproportionate interference with the freedom of conscience, speech and assembly of anti-abortion protesters, contrary to Articles 9, 10 and 11 ECHR. The Court concluded at [156]:

“The right of women in Northern Ireland to access abortion services has now been established in law through the processes of democracy. That legal right should not be obstructed or impaired by the accommodation of claims by opponents of the legislation based, some might think ironically, on the liberal values protected by the Convention. A legal system which enabled those who had lost the political debate to undermine the legislation permitting abortion, by relying on freedom of conscience, freedom of expression and freedom of assembly, would in practice align the law with the values of the opponents of reform and deprive women of the protection of rights which have been legislatively enacted.”

Clergy Discipline Measure 2003: Revd Dr Stephen Sizer

On 6 December, following a complaint to the Diocese in 2018 by Mrs Marie van der Zyl, President of the Board of Deputies of British Jews, the Bishop’s Disciplinary Tribunal for the Diocese of Winchester ruled that the Revd Dr Stephen Sizer had committed misconduct under the Clergy Discipline Measure 2003. The Tribunal will now determine a Penalty. In a statement published on Anglican Mainstream, Dr Sizer said:

“I am most grateful to the Tribunal for the careful way in which they approached the evidence and reached their conclusions.  I accept those conclusions and the criticisms of my conduct, and apologise unreservedly for the hurt and offence caused.   As I said at the time, I am particularly sorry that I posted a link on Facebook in January 2015 to an article blaming Israel for 9/11, and repeat my apology for the deep hurt that my conduct caused.

I do not propose to say any more at this juncture as I pray and reflect further.”

Removals from the grave

Our post Evidence from the grave – III considered aspects of exhumation for the purpose of examining the remains of monarchs and mass murderers, and for medical research. To these examples must now be added Re Stourport Town Cemetery [2022] ECC Wor 8, in which Humphreys Ch granted a faculty to authorize the exhumation of the remains of the petitioner’s father and re-interment with the purpose of removing some jewellery from the deceased. The funeral directors, Co-op Funeralcare, had apparently buried the Petitioner’s father wearing jewellery that the family had specifically requested be removed [2].

The family now wished to open the grave to obtain this jewellery before closing the grave up again. The mistake was noticed shortly after the remains had been interred and the petitioner had acted promptly. There was no plan to remove the remains of the deceased, nor to disturb them any further than was essential for the purpose of obtaining the jewellery. All family members consented to the exhumation and wished it to take place [3], though Stourport Town Council’s Parks and Cemetery Superintendent was unenthusiastic about the proposal “although he stopped short of directly opposing it” [5] and exhumation was conditional on “all reasonable conditions” he might require.

Apart from the removal of a small book of poems from the grave of Rossetti’s wife, Lizzie Siddal, in 1862, the retrieval of items buried with the deceased is almost unknown. Since Siddal was buried in Highgate Cemetery, the necessary permission was obtained from the Home Secretary.

Quick links

And finally… product placement?

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When on 16 October 1555 Latimer cried “Be of good comfort, Master Ridley, and play the man; we shall this day light such a candle, by God’s grace, in England, as I trust shall never be put out”, he couldn’t have anticipated the candle stall in the Oxford Christmas Market in December 2022.

2 thoughts on “Law and religion round-up – 11th December

  1. “A legal system which enabled those who had lost the political debate to undermine the legislation permitting abortion, by relying on freedom of conscience, freedom of expression and freedom of assembly, would in practice align the law with the values of the opponents of reform and deprive women of the protection of rights which have been legislatively enacted.”

    On the face of it, albeit maybe obiter, this looks to have much wider implications than buffer zones. Is the Supreme Court really saying that arguing against democratically agreed legislation in any circumstances is unlawful? Wouldn’t that have stopped those who opposed the previous legislative ban on abortion, which was also based on previous political debate?

  2. Pingback: Law and religion round-up – 11th December - Bitcoin News Monthly

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