Law and religion round-up – 5th February

Exclusion zones and abortion clinics

The Catholic Herald reported on Friday that the Crown Prosecution Service has decided not to proceed with charges against Isabel Vaughan-Spruce, who was arrested and charged with four counts of failing to comply with a Public Space Protection Order in violation of a “buffer zone” around the British Pregnancy Advisory Service’s Robert Clinic in Kings Norton. She had been due to appear at Birmingham Magistrates Court on 2 February. The CPS has now decided to discontinue the case, but has warned her that the charges might be revived if they receive further evidence against her.

ADF UK reports, however, that the CPS also informed Ms Vaughan-Spruce of “her right to seek a verdict” and says that “she has now made known her intention to pursue a verdict in court. Her first hearing date is yet to be set”. Watch this space.

Dr Stephen Sizer: penalty judgment

In December, we noted the Decision of the Winchester Diocese Bishop’s Disciplinary Tribunal that the Revd Dr Stephen Sizer had committed misconduct under the Clergy Discipline Measure 2003. The Tribunal was held following a complaint made to the Diocese in 2018 by Mrs Marie van der Zyl, President of the Board of Deputies of British Jews, alleging that Dr Sizer’s conduct was “unbecoming or inappropriate to the office and work of a clerk in Holy Orders within section 8(1)(d) of the Clergy Discipline Measure 2003 in that he provoked and offended the Jewish community and/or engaged in antisemitic activity”.

On Monday, the Diocese of Winchester announced that the Acting Bishop of Winchester, the Rt Revd Debbie Sellin, had received the penalty judgment and had imposed a penalty of prohibition until December 2030.

In a press statement on the case, the Archbishop of Canterbury said:

“I note the findings of the Bishop’s Disciplinary Tribunal for the Diocese of Winchester regarding the Revd Dr Stephen Sizer and his subsequent prohibition from licensed ministry in the Church of England. It is clear that the behaviour of Stephen Sizer has undermined Christian-Jewish relations, giving encouragement to conspiracy theories and tropes that have no place in public Christian ministry and the church. I renew my call for the highest possible standards among ordained ministers of the Church of England in combatting antisemitism of all kinds.”

Religion and the Census 2021

On Monday, the Office for National Statistics published the statistics for religion by age and sex, England and Wales: Census 2021. The statistics reveal that those who identified as Christian on the tick-box response options had the oldest average age – 51 – compared with an average age of 40 for the overall population of England and Wales. The youngest group were Muslims, with an average age of 27, followed by those who reported “No religion”, with an average age of 32.

Church of England statement on the Independent Safeguarding Board and the Christ Church review

On 1 February 2023, the Church of England issued a Statement on ISB and Christ Church review which said that at its meeting the previous week the Archbishops’ Council had agreed that the review of the handling of safeguarding issues regarding the former Dean of Christ Church, Oxford, Dr Martyn Percy, originally referred to the Independent Safeguarding Board (ISB), “should be led by another person. All parties had been informed of this decision and next steps will be announced in due course”.

The Archbishops’ Council and the Diocese of Oxford originally referred the review to the ISB early in 2022 and Terms of Reference were announced in May. In the autumn, the ISB announced it was pausing work on the review due to finite resources, current workload and a desire to study the outcomes of other independent reviews into Christ Church.

Due to ongoing concerns about current working relationships and the conclusion of the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) investigation into the Chair of the ISB, the Council also agreed at its January meeting that the three ISB members should “enter into a dispute resolution process to ensure this important independent work can continue with effective collaborative working between its members. This will enable the ISB to reach decisions including on outstanding work and to provide services to the Church agreed in its contract”.

Thinking Anglicans reports that General Synod has an item on Safeguarding scheduled for the afternoon of Thursday 9 February and provides links to relevant material.

Marriage and Civil Partnerships: Minimum Age, England and Wales

The Marriage and Civil Partnership (Minimum Age) Act 2022 (‘2022 Act’) received Royal Assent on 28th April 2022, and a Government announcement in the following August indicated that it would be brought into effect on Monday 27 February 2023. This was confirmed in the Marriage and Civil Partnership (Minimum Age) Act 2022 (Commencement and Transitional Provisions) Regulations 2023 (“the Regulations”) made on 26th January 2023.

Part 1 of the Regulations brings the Act into force and Part 2 makes transitional provision to Marriage and Civil Partnership Schedules which have been issued before these Regulations come into force. Schedules are issued by Registry Offices to couples who have “given notice” for civil marriage, and for non-CofE religious marriage. Equivalent provision is made for marriages solemnized and civil partnerships registered on the authority of a Registrar General’s licence. Also, replicating provision is made for notices to register as civil partners under the Civil Partnership (Armed Forces) Order 2005 (S.I. 2005/3188), the Civil Partnership (Registration Abroad and Certificates) Order 2005 (S.I. 2005/2761) and the Consular Marriages and Marriages under Foreign Law (No. 2) Order 2014 (S.I. 2016/3265).

However, marriage schedules differ from the marriage documents issued by ministers in the Church of England following the completion of the banns. Marriage documents are not addressed in Part 2 of the Regulations.

In either case, no-one under 18 in England and Wales will be able to marry or enter a civil partnership in England and Wales under any circumstances, including with parental or judicial consent. Part 2 of the Regulations concerns the validity of pre-27 February marriage schedules on the basis of the “applicable period” as determined by s.33(3) Marriage Act 1949. However, even if valid, the marriage could not be solemnized on the authority of that marriage schedule until both parties reached the age of 18.

Quick links

And finally… on the current Establishment debate

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