Law and religion round-up – 26th February

And in the week when we scoured the shops for sun-dried turnips (or should that be swedes?)… 

The Government’s commitment to the ECHR?

On Tuesday morning during Oral Questions in the Commons, the Secretary of State for Justice said this in reply to a supplementary question from Martin Docherty-Hughes (West Dunbartonshire, SNP): We have made it clear that we would not rule out ever withdrawing from the ECHR in the future”.

On Tuesday afternoon,  the Attorney General, Victoria Prentis KC, told the Commons Justice Committee that “The Government’s position is that the Government is committed to remaining a member of the ECHR”.

Perhaps the two positions are not mutually-exclusive – or, there again… [With thanks to Joshua Rozenberg.]

Marriage and civil partnership status in England and Wales: Census 2021

The latest information from the 2021 Census reveals that the proportion of adults who have never married or been in a civil partnership has increased in every decade – from 26.3% in 1991 to 37.9% in 2021, whereas the proportion of adults who are married or in a civil partnership (including separated) has fallen from 58.4% in 1991 to 46.9% in 2021. The increase in adults who have never been married or in a civil partnership since 2011, after standardising for age, is seen across all local authorities, religious groups and ethnic groups.

Reminder: minimum age of marriage and civil partnerships (England and Wales)

The Marriage and Civil Partnership (Minimum Age) Act 2022 comes into effect tomorrow,  Monday 27 February. No 16- or 17-year-old will be able to marry or enter a civil partnership in England and Wales under any circumstances, including with parental or judicial consent. The Explanatory Notes to the Act are here

Whilst the number of people marrying in England and Wales at 16 or 17 is small and continues to decline – only 134 out of nearly 235,000 marriages in 2018 – the purpose of the Act is to address the practice of child marriage through raising the minimum age of marriage and civil partnership to 18.

Amendments to the Treasure Act 1996

On Thursday, we noted the proposed amendments to the Treasure Act 1996 but, at the time of writing, the associated draft code of practice did not appear to be available. It has now been published, here.

The draft code notes that the Church of England has its own statutory rules for dealing with movable articles – the Ecclesiastical Jurisdiction and Care of Churches Measure 2018, the Faculty Jurisdiction Rules 2015, the Care of Cathedrals Measure 2011 and the Care of Cathedrals Rules 2006. Finds subject to those rules have therefore been excluded from the definition of “treasure” for the purposes of the Act – and that includes those found in or on land, such as consecrated burial grounds and churchyards, or in or under churches or other places of worship subject to the faculty jurisdiction, or in or under cathedral churches or within their precincts. The exemption only applies to finds made in connection with Church of England churches in England “and the small number of Church of England churches in Wales that remained within the Church of England when the Church in Wales was disestablished”.

Finds connected with other Churches and faiths will still fall under the treasure process. Where appropriate, they will generally be offered to accredited museums connected with the faith concerned.

Northern Ireland: annual reporting by registered charities

The Charity Commission for Northern Ireland is issuing a reminder to charity trustees about their legal duty to submit their charity’s accounts and reports each year, starting with the first full financial year beginning on or after 1 April 2022.

In recent years, some charities have not been obliged to submit their annual reports and accounts to the Commission each year because of the hiatus in registration caused by the decision of the Court of Appeal in McKee & Hughes v The Charity Commission for Northern Ireland [2020] NICA 13, which held that all Commission orders and decisions had to be made by the Board of Commissioners or a committee to include Commissioners with delegated authority, rather than by Commission staff following manuals approved by Commissioners. However, the Charities Act (Northern Ireland) 2022 overwrote that judgment and restored the status quo ante, with the result that all charities are once again legally required to report annually to the Commission. There is further information on the financial years to which annual reporting applies here.

Charities’ Annual Return 2023

On Friday, the Charity Commission published Charity Annual Return 2023: question guide to help charities in England and Wales understand what information they will need to prepare for the 2023 Annual Return. The updated Annual Return will apply to charities’ financial years ending on or after 1 January 2023.

Archbishops’ Commission on Racial Justice

On 23 February 2023, the Archbishops’ Commission for Racial Justice released its Second Biannual Racial Justice Report. The Commission reports to the Archbishops every six months with recommendations “to help the Archbishops fulfil their commitments to identify, respond to, and root out systemic racism in the Church”. The section of the Report Process and Engagement notes “…In October, the Dean of Arches provided a very comprehensive overview on the Consistory Court system and William Nye, Secretary General to the Archbishops’ Council, gave an update on resourcing for the Racial Justice Unit, and an overview of progress on From Lament to Action”.

Also: “In addition the Commission has taken receipt of a number of representations since its first report. Most notably it has received:

  • A detailed paper by the Church Buildings Council and the Cathedrals Fabric Commission for England;
  • Representations from the Master of Jesus College, Cambridge, about reflections on the Rustat case; and
  • A letter from the Chair of the Ecclesiastical Judges Association in response to the Commission’s First Report.”

We look forward to reading these documents when they are placed in the public domain. 

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