Law and religion round-up – 17th June

90 days is a long time in politics…

… or out of it, particularly with the loss of a Parliamentary Pass.

Boris Johnson and the Commons Committee of Privileges

On Thursday, the Commons Committee of Privileges published its Final Report on “conduct of Rt Hon Boris Johnson”. The Committee concluded as follows:

“Although Mr Johnson’s resignation as an MP renders it impossible for a sanction of suspension to be imposed, we draw attention to the fact that before the events of Friday 9 June, we had provisionally agreed to recommend a suspension long enough to engage the provisions of the Recall of MPs Act. In the light of Mr Johnson’s further contempts, we put on record that if he had not resigned his seat, we would have recommended that he be suspended from the service of the House for 90 days for repeated contempts and for seeking to undermine the parliamentary process, by:

    • Deliberately misleading the House
    • Deliberately misleading the Committee
    • Breaching confidence
    • Impugning the Committee and thereby undermining the democratic process of the House
    • Being complicit in the campaign of abuse and attempted intimidation of the Committee.

In view of the fact that Mr Johnson is no longer a Member, we recommend that he should not be granted a former Member’s pass.

The Report is to be considered by the House tomorrow. Its direct connection with “religion” is admittedly tenuous – but it should not be forgotten that the matters covered in the report took place at a time when places of worship were closed and funerals were subjected to a strict limit on numbers attending.

Employment and “protected beliefs” again

The claimant worked as a pastoral administrator and work experience manager in the respondent secondary school.  After complaints were received about Facebook posts that she had made about relationships education in primary schools, she was suspended and, after a disciplinary investigation, dismissed. She complained that her dismissal amounted to direct discrimination because of her protected beliefs, or to harassment relating to them. The ET had concluded that the school had sacked her because of its concerns that someone reading her posts could reasonably consider that she held homophobic and transphobic views (which she denied) and that the reason for her dismissal was, therefore, not because of, or related to, her protected beliefs.

She appealed, and in Higgs v Farmor’s School [2023] EAT 89 the Appeal Tribunal ruled in her favour, at least provisionally. The ET had erred in its approach because it had failed to engage with the question identified in Eweida and Ors v United Kingdom (2013) 57 EHRR 8; had it done so, it would have concluded that there was a close or direct nexus between her Facebook posts and her protected beliefs. As a result, the proportionality assessment that the ET was required to undertake had been flawed. This case was remitted for re-hearing on that issue. We aim to post a full note later in the week.

“Contested heritage”

The Ecclesiastical Law Society’s 35th Annual Conference, Sacred Space and Contested Heritage, was held on 10 June 2023 at St Peter’s, Eaton Square, London. The Rt Revd Dr John Inge, Bishop of Worcester, spoke on Good and Bad in Place – and God, Araba Taylor, Deputy Chancellor of Southwark and Deputy Commissary General of Canterbury on Hidden Faults and Presumptuous Sins, and Janet Berry, Head of Conservation & Collections Policy, Cathedral & Church Buildings Division, Church Commissioners on Contested Heritage and the work of the Cathedral & Church Buildings Division. Copies of their presentations will be published in the Ecclesiastical Law Journal. 

On 15 June 2023, we posted a Case Note on In Re St Mary Redcliffe [2023] ECC Bri 1. Following the events which led to the statue of Edward Colston being thrown into Bristol harbour on 7 June 2020, the St Mary Redcliffe PCC and the Diocese of Bristol took the decision to remove the four panels at the bottom of the church’s “Good Samaritan” window in the North Transept, which bore the name of Edward Colston, his emblem and his motto “Go and do thou likewise” (Luke 10:37). 

There was concern that protestors might try to damage the windows, and it was decided to remove the commemorative panels, with a view to replacing them with stained glass images which would not connect the windows with Colston. As a temporary measure, these were replaced with plain glass. In In Re St Mary Redcliffe, the Bristol Consistory Court addressed the petition inter alia for a confirmatory faculty for the removal of the four stained glass panels in the North Transept window; an application for the permanent removal of these panels and the installation of four modern stained glass panels in their place. 

In his review of the case law, Re St Margaret, Rottingdean (No 2) [2021] ECC Chi 1Re Jesus College Cambridge [2022] ECC Ely 1; and In the Matter of Dorchester, St Peter, Holy Trinity and All Saints[2022] ECC Sal 4, Gau Ch observed that it was clear from the diversity of decisions in these cases that any grant of a faculty was fact-specific; the test that he had to apply is set out in Re St Alkmund, Duffield [2013] Fam 158 together with the Church’s statutory duties under S35 Ecclesiastical Jurisdiction and Care of Churches Measure 2018

He concluded that the four small portions of the huge North transept window were of little or no heritage significance, particularly in the context of this ancient church. In direct contradistinction to the Rustat case, this was an attempt to correct a false narrative of the life of Edward Colston. Now that the extent of Colston’s involvement in the slave trade was clear, the exhortation ‘Go thou and do likewise’ was entirely inappropriate.

In granting a faculty, he determined that replacing the windows with the proposed alternatives was entirely consonant with s.35 Ecclesiastical Jurisdiction and Care of Churches Measure 2018. 

Smyth case: update from independent reviewer

On Thursday, Keith Makin, the Independent Reviewer into the abuse perpetrated by John Smyth issued the following statement:

“The police matter I referred to in my last updating statement has been concluded. The review is now able to proceed to the next stages, which will culminate in it being handed to the Archbishops’ Council, for subsequent publication. Relevant extracts from the draft report will soon be shared with the victims of John Smyth and with people who are named and criticised. This is to ensure that the draft report is factually accurate and is entirely framed within the Terms of Reference for the review, as well as being based on verifiable evidence. As I have said before, the review team is aware of the distress and impact this statement is likely to cause to survivors, their families and all those affected.“

Reforming the law on cohabitation

The Chair of the Commons Women and Equalities Committee has written to Lord Bellamy KC, Parliamentary Under Secretary of State, Ministry of Justice calling on the Government to improve protections for cohabitants in England and Wales in the event of relationship breakdown or the death of a partner.

She notes that the Law Commission has just begun preliminary work on its review of financial remedies on divorce and will produce a scoping paper in September 2024 ahead of a full review, but points out that

“any agreed changes could take many years to come into effect. If the government was to then conduct further consultation on reforming cohabitation law, as suggested in its response, cohabitants would have to wait even longer before seeing any meaningful change. On changes to weddings law, the Law Commission itself – in its recommendations to the government – observed that cohabitation law reform is still necessary even if there are changes to the legal formalities of getting married”.

She concludes that the Committee can see

“no reason why reviewing divorce and weddings law should prevent the Government from pursuing a separate, bespoke regime for cohabitants now. We ask the Government to reconsider its response and to provide basic legal protections for millions of people, many of whom face financial hardship if their relationship breaks down or their partner passes away.”

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4 thoughts on “Law and religion round-up – 17th June

  1. This comment would be more appropriate on the future post about the HIggs appeal, but I’ll make it now lest I forget, or Frank does.

    I am having trouble understanding the final sentence in para 82 of the EAT judgment. I am wondering whether “would not justify” in the final clause should read “would justify”.

    • Good question: I’ve now looked at that passage at least five times and I’ve also looked at the cases cited in the paragraph. I think that the “not” is a typo – but I’m still not sure!

        • What it’s saying is that there can be nothing which renders a belief “objectionable” in the Equality Act sense, that wouldn’t *also* provide a justification under the ECHR (and thus the Human Rights Act). In other words, the Equality Act test and the ECHR test should be regarded as the same – and in that regard, the Tribunal refers to the Page case, where the Court of Appeal indeed held that the Equality Act should be ‘read down’ (applying s.3 of the Human Rights Act) so as to import the ECHR Art 9(2)/10(2) test.

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