Law and religion round-up – 23rd April

A week in which the Pope lost his “blue tick” Twitter verification…

… and joined Frank and David (and possibly many others) with unverified accounts who never aspired to “blue tick” status…

… and Dominic Raab’s ministerial career underwent Rapid Unscheduled Disassembly – which leaves us wondering if the Bill of Rights Bill is heading for the scrapheap.

Prayer outside abortion clinics again

The Catholic Herald reports that West Midlands Police has agreed to relax bail conditions preventing Isabel Vaughan-Spruce from praying silently in public following her second arrest outside the British Pregnancy Advisory Service clinic in Station Road, Birmingham. She was arrested for praying outside the clinic two weeks after Crown Prosecution Service had discontinued an earlier case against her.

The police then imposed bail conditions to run for three months which included a ban on her praying in public – even outside the 150-metre buffer zone around the clinic. The police said the conditions were necessary to prevent her from “committing an offence whilst on bail” or from “interfering with witnesses or otherwise obstructing the course of justice”. The force has now lifted the conditions following a challenge that the ban was disproportionate and unnecessary.

Safeguarding and the Smyth review

As we noted on Tuesday, the Church of England published a statement by Keith Makin, the independent reviewer in the case of the sadist John Smyth, that he had reported various matters to the police and that this would impact the planned timescale for the completion of the review, which was originally due to report in May 2020. Readers might also be interested in the account of the March meeting of the Church of England’s National Safeguarding Steering Group.

Following the Church of England’s update on the Smyth Review on 28 April 2022, we have indexed relevant posts on L&RUK and elsewhere which have indicated the timeline of events since 2017; this was last updated on 18 April 2023.

Vicarious liability in the Supreme Court

On Wednesday, the Supreme Court will hand down judgment in Trustees of the Barry Congregation of Jehovah’s Witnesses v BXB. In 1990, the respondent, Mrs B, was raped by an elder of the Barry Congregation of Jehovah’s Witnesses, Mark Sewell, after they had been out evangelising together. Mr Sewell was convicted of her rape and of indecently assaulting two other people in 2014.

In 2017, Mrs B brought a claim for damages against the JW’s worldwide governing body, Watchtower and Bible Tract Society of Pennsylvania, and the Barry Trustees, claiming that they were vicariously liable for the rape because of the nature of their relationship with Sewell and because of the connection between that relationship and the commission of the rape. Both the High Court and the Court of Appeal found for Mrs B. We noted the Court of Appeal judgment here.

ANiE in Kigali

In our post, Alternative Episcopal Oversight – AMiE, ANiE (18 February 2023), we reported that following the recent votes by General Synod on the Living in Love and Faith process, the ANiE had issued Alternative Episcopal Oversight: The Anglican Network in Europe (ANiE) and the Church of England (COE). This asserted that in response to the proposals of the bishops and the General Synod decision, “many are now considering what their options might be”.

Thirty-six ANiE delegates attended GAFCON IV in Kigali, Rwanda, following which the ANiE issued a statement fully endorsing GAFCON’s Kigali Commitment, (21 April 2023). This lengthy document traced what it termed “the Current Crisis in the Anglican Communion” over the past 25 years, most recently following the General Synod statement on LLF, supra. Standing with those who are “compelled to resist’” within the Church of England and others, it welcomed GAFCON’s commitment…”

In response, the Church of England issued the brief Lambeth Palace statement on GAFCON IV Kigali Commitment which noted inter alia that the Kigali Commitment makes many of the same points that have previously been made about the structures of the Anglican Communion:

“[a]s the Archbishop of Canterbury has previously said, those structures are always able to change with the times – and have done so in the past. The Archbishop said at the recent Anglican Consultative Council meeting in Ghana (ACC-18) that no changes to the formal structures of the Anglican Communion can be made unless they are agreed upon by the Instruments of Communion”.

Religion, statues and laïcité

In 2018, a statue of Michael the Archangel was installed in front of the local church in Sables-d’Olonne, in the Vendeé. After complaints, however, the local tribunal administratif and the administrative court of appeal both ordered the municipality to remove it on the grounds that its presence offended the principle of laïcité. On 7 April, the Conseil d’Etat upheld the judgment of the administrative court of appeal: unfortunately, its judgment is not yet available on its website, but Le Figaro reports the decision here.

Apparently, the locals are not happy with the ruling. In March 2022, the municipality organised a referendum in which 94 per cent of voters supported retaining the statue in its current position, and the Mayor has denounced the judgment as a victory for “wokisme et de la cancel culture” and there are plans to move the statue to private land.

Quick links

And finally…

If you are attending a church service or a concert at or around three o’clock this afternoon, don’t forget to switch off your mobile phone and remind everyone else to do so. Otherwise, the proceedings are going to be interrupted by a chorus of loud ten-second beeps from the UK-wide test of the Emergency Alert System.

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