Law and religion round-up – 30th April

“Sliding coffins”, burning altars, and plastic ducks…

… although we’re not intending to report on the plastic ducks in the font. “Burning Altars” is a thematic segue to the series of posts on the burial of fonts,  but must wait until we have posted the consistory court update for April. As to “coffin-sliding” someone wondered if it might be a Transylvanian winter sport, but for metallurgists such as David in a former career, Coffin’s Law is associated with a random slip model of metal fatigue…

COVID vaccine as “the mark of the beast”?

In Mr J Mitchell v Royal Mail Group Ltd (England and Wales: Religion or Belief Discrimination) [2023] UKET 1805473/2022, Royal Mail Group applied to strike out the claim that Mr Mitchell’s dismissal had amounted to direct discrimination or harassment related to religion or belief. He stated that his belief originated from his Church’s views in 2020 and early 2021 on the COVID-19 vaccination and was based on his Church’s earlier interpretation of Revelation13:16: “My belief is what it says in the Bible – that the COVID vaccine was the mark of the beast and for us not to get it”.

One of the reasons for his dismissal had been that he was a manager, and Royal Mail had serious concerns about the way in which he expressed his beliefs in the workplace.

The ET concluded that Mr Mitchell’s complaint of religion or belief discrimination had little chance of success, but it refused to make a strike-out order. The case continues.

Does government ‘do God?’

Does government ‘do God?’, the report by Colin Bloom, the Government’s Independent Faith Engagement Adviser and a former Chair of the Conservative Christian Fellowship, was published last week under the auspices of DLUHC. Mr Bloom’s brief was to make recommendations to the Secretary of State on how government should engage with faith groups in England.

We published a list of the recommendations here. It is probably better to read the report slowly rather than to comment prematurely, but we did wonder at the proposal in Recommendation 2 that “By December 2023, every local council should be signed up to a Faith Partnership Charter with their places of worship”. Apart from the fact that that leaves only eight months in which to get Faith Partnership Charters up and running, what happens if a local council does not wish to get involved with its “places of worship”? Or if the “places of worship” are not keen on engaging with their local council?

Vicarious liability again

On Wednesday, the Supreme Court handed down judgment in Trustees of the Barry Congregation of Jehovah’s Witnesses v BXB [2023] UKSC 15, which we noted here. The Court upheld the appeal and decided that neither the Watchtower and Bible Tract Society of Pennsylvania nor the Trustees of the Barry Congregation were vicariously liable for the rape of Mrs B by Mark Sewell, an elder of the Barry Congregation.

As Lord Burrows pointed out at [5], in the Christian Brothers case – Catholic Child Welfare Society & Ors v Various Claimants & The Institute of the Brothers of the Christian Schools & Ors [2012] UKSC 5 – Lord Phillips had said at [19] that the law of vicarious liability was “on the move”. Recent decisions by the Supreme Court – of which this is the latest – would suggest that “the move” has either slowed down dramatically or stopped altogether.

There is an excellent note on the UKSC blog, here. And ITN News simply lifted our own post and stuck it on its website, here, without attribution: we don’t know whether to be flattered or annoyed.

Gay Pride at primary school

Heavers Farm, a local authority primary school, arranged some LGBT-themed teaching which included mandatory participation in a school-run Pride Parade to celebrate Pride Month. Two of the parents objected to their four-year-old son, who was in the school’s reception class, being involved. After a series of exchanges they sued, claiming a breach of the Education Act 1996 and pleading breach of statutory duty.

In Montague & Ors v The Governing Body of Heavers Farm Primary School [2023] Central London Cty Ct F00CR532, they lost: HHJ Lethem held that the Act did not provide a private law remedy. They are to appeal.

Safeguarding and the Church of England

The C of E’s Independent Safeguarding Board is currently part of the structure of the National Church Institutions, with oversight from the Archbishops’ Council. In the latest Annual Report for 2022-23 by Jasvinder Sanghera and Steve Reeves, published on Monday, the authors wish to see the Board become an independent entity:

“The aim of the Board is to develop a separate legal body in cooperation with the NCIs and the wider Church community which will improve and embed a model of scrutiny of safeguarding within the Church of England with the following principles:

  1. Operational independence.
  2. Increase the scope of the ISB’s work and powers to publish reviews and impose sanctions for breaches of good safeguarding practice.
  3. A significant increase in staff, funding, and financial independence.
  4. Regulatory independence (with oversight from a regulated body).
  5. Powers of access to all church files and personnel when required for ISB work.

Proposals have been presented to the two Archbishops to create an interim separate legal entity which will deliver the ISB’s functions while the longer-term path to independence is developed. We are now moving forward to further develop and consult on these proposals for Phase Two of the ISB with a wide range of stakeholder groups from Spring 2023. We intend to present the initial plans and findings from this to the General Synod in July 2023.”

There is a long summary of the report in the Church Times.

Grant funding from local authorities

On Thursday 27 April, the Second Church Estates Commissioner, Andrew Selous (South West Bedfordshire, Conservative) answered questions on Grant Funding from Local Authorities. He said:

“Grants that would cover kitchens, loos or disability access, basic repairs to rooves and windows and so on are in many cases unavailable to Church of England parish churches because of an inconsistency in the way in which local authorities are applying the law, and the Bishop of Bristol has tabled an amendment to the Levelling-up and Regeneration Bill to resolve this so that parish churches can apply for such grants, and I hope the Department will be supportive of it”.

Whilst this will not be news to readers of L&RUK, the purpose of such exchanges is to keep the issue within the minds of policymakers. The Bishop of Bristol’s amendments have the support of heritage bodies and the National Association of Local Councils, whom the Commissioner has also met on the issue: essentially, these are to ensure that “Church of England parish churches [are] treated the same as other faith and community buildings”.

“Net Zero” in the Church of England

This week two important judgments relating to the Church’s target of “net zero” emissions have been circulated: Re King’s College Chapel Cambridge (2) [2023] ECC Ely 2; and Re Holy Trinity Headington Quarry [2023] ECC Oxf 4, both of which will be covered in a separate post. The former concerns the application of data on the PV panels on the North Roof of the chapel, on which there was disagreement between the Petitioners and the CBC. The latter concerns the present applicability of an archdeacon’s notice issued in 2019 on the replacement of a boiler using fossil fuel.

Canon Law Study Day, St Stephen’s House, Oxford 

The College is hosting a Canon Law study day in co-operation with the Centre for Law and Religion at Cardiff University on 25th May 2023, via Zoom or in person in Oxford. Speakers include Professor Norman Doe; Morag Ellis KC; The Revd Alexander McGregor; Edward Dobson; and The Revd Stephen Coleman.

For further information, e-mail

Quick links

  • Anand Menon & Robert Hazell, Constitution Unit, UCLThe British Monarchy: on “the nature of the UK’s constitutional monarchy and where it sits in our uncodified constitution; the rituals that we will witness on 6 May; and the way the monarchy has evolved, and the place it now occupies in the everyday life of the UK and of the 14 ‘realms’ where the British monarch remains head of state”.
  • Church of England: Authorised Coronation Liturgy and Authorised Coronation Liturgy with Commentary. The official version of the rituals on 6 May, supra, released on 29 April.

And finally…I

If enacted, the Victims, Witnesses and Justice Reform (Scotland) Bill introduced earlier this week will, inter alia, abolish the “not proven” verdict in criminal trials and reduce juror numbers from 15 to 12, though it will increase the majority required for a conviction from a bare majority to at least two-thirds. Nothing whatsoever to do with “religion” – just rather sad to see a couple of pieces of Scottish legal history disappear.

And finally…II

The Chancellor’s Court of the University of Oxford has many similarities with the consistory court at St Peter’s Carmarthen which is featured on our monthly round-up of ecclesiastical judgments. By the late nineteenth century, the Oxford court had lost many of its earlier powers and was chiefly a debt-recovery court, used frequently by Oxford shopkeepers and tradespeople to recoup money owed to them by students at the University, notably Oscar Wilde in 1877/8. Like the Convocation House and the Divinity School, the University Chancellor’s Court is licensed for wedding and civil partnership ceremonies

5 thoughts on “Law and religion round-up – 30th April

  1. Thank you for posting the answer from the Second Church Estates Commissioner. As I understand it, the law supposedly forbidding grants from local authorities to churches applies not only to parish churches but to any church property (including e.g. halls) of any denomination.

    Perhaps I could also mention the accumulation of evidence that this is causing problems and the widespread wish for change on the HRBA website at

    We also provide a useful summary of the law, written by . . . yourselves!

  2. “And ITN News simply lifted our own post and stuck it on its website, here, without attribution: we don’t know whether to be flattered or annoyed.”. May I suggest both?
    All news media need to be open, honest and respectful of others: and set a good example. Please consider contacting ITN News thanking them and asking for a public acknowledgement of the source.

  3. The ISB, as part of their wish for true independence, are seeking powers to “impose sanctions”. This surely begs the question as to the legal authority/act/regulations under which they would impose such sanctions and the legal process for appeals against any such judgements. Other ‘independent’ regulators (eg OFSTED, OFWAT, CQC, etc) derive their enforcement powers through an Act of Parliament.

    What is being proposed for the ISB? If they become independent from the Church’s legal framework and canon law, will every ‘sanction’ in relation to the safeguarding and practice process ultimately have to be backed by a civil court action?

  4. It is interesting to note in the Headington case reported that the Assistant Archdeacon notes the problem with using “have due regard” in rules. The Assistant Archdeacon makes clear that there it is effectively a term of art that normal people (i.e. most PCC members) won’t read as “must follow”, but in its normal sense of “think about”.

    Is it time to change the words to plain English?

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