Law and religion round-up – 25th June

Safeguarding and the Church of England

In an otherwise quiet week, the big story was a statement on Wednesday from the Archbishops’ Council that it had, “with regret … come to the reluctant conclusion that, despite extensive efforts over recent months, working relationships between two members of the Independent Safeguarding Board (ISB),  and the Council have broken down” and that it had “agreed a reset”. The Council would end the contracts of Jasvinder Sanghera and Steve Reeves and of the acting Chair, Meg Munn. 

It went on to say that it would be putting in place interim arrangements to continue the independent oversight of existing case reviews and that they would be “carried out by independent experts qualified to conduct case reviews, just as at present, and they will be independently commissioned”. For the very immediate future, Meg Munn was to provide business continuity for the remainder of that phase of the ISB’s work and case reviews would be overseen by one or more independent chairs of Diocesan Safeguarding Advisory Panels.

In their accompanying statement, the two Archbishops said that they ”bitterly regret that we have reached this point and the Archbishops’ Council has not reached this decision lightly”, adding that “Independent oversight of the Church of England’s safeguarding is an urgent and indispensable first step away from the suspicion of marking our own homework”.

To describe the decisions as “controversial” would be a major understatement. In an interview with The Telegraph, Sanghera and Reeves claimed that there had been “clear interference” with their work, a “lack of transparency” and a “reluctance to provide information”, which meant that at times they had been “met with hostility”. Even more seriously, in an interview on Thursday’s World at One on Radio 4 [starting at 21.09], Julie Conalty, Bishop of Birkenhead and deputy lead bishop for safeguarding, appeared to express serious reservations about the Council’s decision. While she conceded that the decision had not been lightly undertaken, she told the interviewer that, while criticism might often be harsh or even wrong, it had to be heard nonetheless. Asked whether she trusted the decision, she replied:

“That’s a really interesting question, isn’t it? I trust that the Archbishops’ Council will have carefully looked at it. I think that, culturally, we are resistant as a Church to accountability, to criticism, and therefore I don’t entirely trust the Church, even though I’m a key part of it and a leader within it, because I see that the way the wind blows, as it were, is always in a particular direction. And that is true of most organisations, but I think it is particularly true within the Church.”

Or as she tweeted:

”Today the church is less accountable. To remove, at short notice, the strongest independent voices holding the CofE to account for its safeguarding failings makes us look resistant to robust scrutiny and challenge – which, of course, we are.”

Veganism as a protected characteristic again

In Ms T Owen v Willow Tower OPCO 1 Ltd [2023] 2400073/2022, a preliminary hearing, the issues before the Employment Tribunal were whether Ms Owen had sufficient continuity of service within the meaning of s.108 Employment Rights Act 1996 to bring a claim for unfair dismissal under s.98(4) and (more interestingly from the point of view of law and religion) whether her belief in veganism amounted to a protected characteristic within the meaning of s.10 Equality Act 2010.

Employment Judge Mellor ruled against her on both points. We hope to provide a case-note later in the week.

Bishop of Sodor and Man

The Lord Bishop of Sodor and Man has a seat and vote de jure on the Legislative Council and takes part in debates and votes in Tynwald Court (the Legislative Council and the House of Keys sitting together). There has been a continuing debate on this issue on which Peter Edge, Professor of Law at Oxford Brookes, has commented in a series of earlier posts, here, here, and here

On 20 June 2023, a further bid to remove the Lord Bishop from the Manx Parliament was thrown out. The Hon. Member for Douglas East, Ms Faragher, moved, “That legislation should be introduced to remove the Bishop from the Legislative Council, and that this legislation should take effect before any successor to the present Bishop is appointed.”

An amendment was moved by Mrs Maltby, to add at the beginning “That Tynwald is of the opinion that appointed Members of the Legislative Council should not be able to vote, and”; and to replace all words after “legislation should be introduced” with the words “to give effect to this principle”.

The Bishop himself called on members to consider whether there was scope for an independent “voice of legitimate dissent” who at times would vote with a minority to give them a voice. The current incumbent, the Rt Revd Peter Eagles, is expected to retire on 28 October 2023. 

Lambeth Awards 2023

On 22 June, the Archbishop of Canterbury announced the recipients of the 2023 Lambeth Awards. An award ceremony was held at Lambeth Palace for the 33 recipients, their families and their colleagues, followed by a special service of Evening Prayer. Our particular congratulations go to the Revd Raymond Hemingray, who was awarded the Canterbury Cross for Services to the Church of England: For outstanding services to ecclesiastical law and the Church of England. The full citation is here. Without Ray’s frequent and succinct summaries of current consistory court judgments, we at L&RUK would find it very difficult to cover these cases comprehensively. 

And finally…

ITV News reports that a restaurant in California (where else?) hired a fake priest to encourage workers to confess their “workplace sins” such being as late for work, dipping their hands in the till or having “bad intentions” toward their bosses. The Eastern District of California court ordered the restaurant to pay $140,000 in back wages and damages to 35 employees.

All of which supports the feeling that playing “Spot the Loony” isn’t what it used to be –  it’s getting far too easy.

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