Law and religion round-up – 12th March

Exclusion zones and abortion clinics again

Last month, the Catholic Herald reported that the Crown Prosecution Service had 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. The Washington Times reports that she was arrested last week for doing the same thing again: there is an online video of the incident.

And on the same subject, the Public Order Bill includes powers to make it an offence to interfere with, intimidate or harass women accessing, or people providing, abortion services by breaching the “safe access zone”, which would extend 150 metres from clinics. On Tuesday, an amendment to Lords amendment 5 to Clause 9 of the Bill (Offence of interference with access to or provision of abortion services) tabled by Andrew Lewer (Northampton South, Con) was debated: it aimed at ensuring no offence is committed if a person is “engaged in consensual communication or in silent prayer” outside the clinics or hospitals offering abortion services. On a free vote, the amendment was negatived by 116 votes to 299: the division list showed that the Home Secretary and the Attorney General were among those who voted in favour of the amendment.

Street preaching

The BBC reports that David McConnell, a street preacher who had been found guilty in September 2022 of harassing a transgender woman by calling her a “man” and “gentleman”, has had his conviction quashed. Sitting at Leeds Magistrates’ Court, Recorder Anthony Hawks, said although the Bench accepted that Mr McConnell’s words had been insulting and that the victim, Ms Munir, had suffered “harassment, alarm and distress”, there was no evidence that he had intended that. According to the report, he said: “We live in a time when free speech is important and vital and we live in a time when people’s attitudes towards gender are very different from how they were years ago. All these issues need to be properly respected, so I make no criticism whatsoever of the Crown bringing a prosecution in this case”.

No new guidance on blasphemy

The Religion News Centre reports that the Department for Education has indicated to Schoolsweek that it will not publish new guidance on blasphemy in schools, despite the promise by the Home Secretary following the suspension of four pupils when a copy of the Quran was damaged in a Wakefield school. The DoE is reported as saying: “there is a range of existing guidance – such as on behaviour, exclusions and the political impartiality – to help schools make decisions on how to meet the needs of their pupils and to manage and resolve concerns and complaints”. The schools minister Nick Gibb has written to the headteacher and council pointing out there is no blasphemy law and “schools should be promoting fundamental British values of the respect for rule of law, individual liberty and tolerance of those with different faiths and beliefs”.

Solar panels: King’s College, Cambridge, and York Minster

Last week we reported that approval had been granted at King’s College, Cambridge and at York Minster for the introduction of solar panels on these two buildings of national importance. These projects are important in that they include quantified analyses of the potential carbon reductions which may be achieved on buildings such as these. In the case of King’s College, the chapel roof is “the single largest potential opportunity for renewable electricity generation on the main college site and equates to almost of the achievable roof space for solar panels”.

The consistory court deliberations were limited to the placement of solar panels on both the north and south sides of the Chapel roof “[b]ecause the Chapel alone falls within the jurisdiction of the Consistory Court of the Diocese”. However, if correct, these estimates highlight the scale of the task facing the Church of England as a whole in achieving “net-zero carbon by 2030”.

The post has been updated to include additional technical information from a King’s College Press Release on the project.

Lord High Commissioner to the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland

The King has approved the reappointment of the Rt hon Lord Hodge DPSC as His Majesty’s Lord High Commissioner to the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland in 2023.

The European Council and fundamental rights

The European Council has approved conclusions on protecting and promoting fundamental rights in the EU. The conclusions were prepared in the light of the Commission’s annual report for 2022 on the application of the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights, which focuses on the empowerment of civil society organisations, human rights defenders and justice practitioners as key actors in a democracy.

The conclusions emphasise the essential role that freedom of association plays in ensuring a democratic and pluralist society and the proper functioning of public life and argue that unjustified restrictions to the operating space of civil society organisations and human rights defenders can present a threat to the rule of law.

Thoughts on blogging…

…this time from Howard Friedman, Distinguished University Professor and Professor of Law Emeritus, who blogs on Religion Clauseto which we make frequent reference (and vice versa). His interview with Newstex sets out his rationale for Religion Clause which commenced in 2005 and many aspects of which are reflected in our own approach to blogging on L&RUK.

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