“Hey Siri, what does ‘independent’ mean?”…
… and yes, Siri did give definitions which accorded with our understanding of the word.
So it’s farewell to the Bill of Rights Bill
On Tuesday, Justice Secretary Alex Chalk KC announced at Oral Questions in the Commons that “Having carefully considered the Government’s legislative programme in the round, I can inform the House that we have decided not to proceed with the Bill of Rights, but the Government remain committed to a human rights framework that is up to date, fit for purpose and works for the British people”. The Parliament website now states that the Bill has been withdrawn.
Dominic Raab subsequently told The Times: “It is disappointing to see this major Conservative reform, which can strengthen freedom of speech and help us deport more foreign criminals, dropped from the government’s agenda. All the wrong people will celebrate.” No surprise there, then.
Charity law (Scotland)
The Scottish Parliament has voted unanimously to pass the Charities (Regulation and Administration) (Scotland) Bill.
“Secular atheism” as a protected belief?
In Ms K Sunderland v The Hut.com Ltd and Ms P Cohen  UKET 2300911/2022, Ms Sunderland was employed by The Hut.com as a Senior Business Development Manager from 6 September 2021 until her dismissal on 10 November 2021 . One of the reasons for her dismissal was a “Twitter rant” in which she tweeted:
“love your optimism. The thing is, religion undermines the hard fought for values and tolerances of progressed countries… Suppresses free speech and is autoimmune from criticism. This is toxic and where the hostility comes from. Religion is totalitarian. Islam has become the new Nazism” .
She claimed that her dismissal was unfair and discriminatory and that she was harassed on the grounds of conservative philosophical beliefs, namely a) conservatism (though she had left the Conservative Party), gender equality, secular atheism and freedom of expression, contrary to s.19 Equality Act 2010. She also claimed unfair dismissal, contrary to s.98 Employment Rights Act 1996 [9,10]
Applying the Grainger principles, the Tribunal found:
- That there was insufficient evidence to demonstrate a belief in conservatism or a belief that went beyond a political viewpoint .
- That she had not provided evidence to support her belief in gender equality. “Rather, her evidence is that she believes some forms of religion oppress women but that is not evidence of a wider belief in gender equality as she has expressed it” .
- That she had not provided evidence of a belief that was cogent or coherent. “The concept of secular atheism is not intelligible and further, there is no evidence at all to support the claimant’s belief in the concept as she has defined it” .
- On freedom of expression, that she had not been consistent in her approach. “She regarded her anti-Islamic tweets to be freedom of speech even while comparing Islam to Nazism and yet found comments made by others about Jews to be hate speech” .
While a belief in “secular atheism” met the fifth criterion in Grainger, none of the strands of the claimant’s beliefs met other parts of the Grainger test. She did not, therefore, have a protected characteristic based on the philosophical beliefs on which she sought to rely . Her dismissal was not connected in any way at all, objectively or subjectively, to her conservatism, and on that basis, the tribunal did not go on to consider the position of a hypothetical comparator . The claim for unfair dismissal failed because she could not meet the threshold of s.108 (4) Employment Rights Act 1996 and the two-year qualifying threshold continued to apply . Claim dismissed.
Safeguarding and the Church of England
Civil Society reports that the Archbishops’ Council has reported itself to the Charity Commission after the winding-up of its Independent Safeguarding Board. The Commission said that “In line with our guidance, the Archbishops’ Council has reported a serious incident in relation to these matters. We will engage with the trustees to determine whether a regulatory response is required”.
Listed Places of Worship Grant Scheme
Not before time, the Listed Places of Worship Grant Scheme website has been redeveloped – the site it replaces was quite dreadful.
The redeveloped site includes a new online application portal. It follows the same format as the existing PDF form but will be easier to process than downloading and completing a physical document. The option to use the old PDF version will remain, but the application portal is planned to be more efficient, with all the information and attachments uploaded and submitted in one place.
Comfortable seating in church
Considerations on the replacement of pews with chairs invariably include their relative comfort, and in Re Holy Trinity Westcott  ECC Gui 3, the petitioners used
“. …published [but unreferenced] ergonomic principles” to show the discomfort of pews – a recommended seat depth of 16” – 18” compared to the ‘insufficient’ pew depth of 13″ coupled with the recommendation of a backward sloping seat base of 5-8 degrees compared to the flat pew”.
However, Burns Ch in granting a faculty commented:
“. I do not accept that pews are unwelcoming because they are always uncomfortable. Although pews are not naturally ergonomic and may lack the comfort of a modern chair design, they are still a much-valued feature of many Victorian churches and should not be disposed of lightly.”
“. I have considered the CBC guidance on chairs and consider that the new Theo chairs meet the CBC advice to use of high-quality wooden chairs.”
The CBC guidance, wisely, does not refer to the principles of ergonomic design. David asserts that the most comfortable seating in Wantage is the 15th century misericords.
Bishops in the House of Lords
At 5:30 pm on Wednesday, the Rt Revd Martin Warner will speak at the Ecclesiastical Law Society meeting in London on “The Bishop in Parliament” (there are still a few places left if you’re interested).
A general debate on Bishops in the House of Lords has been scheduled in Westminster Hall for Thursday 6 July from 1:30 to 3:00 pm. The subject for the debate has been chosen by the Backbench Business Committee and the debate will be opened by Tommy Sheppard MP. Mr Sheppard told the Backbench Business Committee that the debate would include the role of the House of Lords and its place in the constitution and whether the Church of England should remain the Established Church. A report on Bishops in the Lords has been prepared by the House of Commons Library.
Peter Frost, Chris Jones and Josh Peters, Lexology: UK: EAT provides welcome guidance on proportionality in belief/freedom of expression cases: on Higgs v Farmor’s School.
Mark Hill & Simon Lee, UK Constitutional Law Association: State, Churches and Chancel Repairs – Twenty Years On: on the twentieth anniversary of the House of Lords decision in PCC of Aston Cantlow v Wallbank  UKHL 37.
Fiona McLellan, Lexology: Guidance from the EAT on handling religion/belief discrimination claims: also on Higgs v Farmor’s School.
On 27 June 2023, English Churchman and St James’ Chronicle posted its final Editorial announcing its closure after 262 Years. This observed:
“Producing a fortnightly publication without editorial and reporting staff to share the workload is like getting on a motorised treadmill. You cannot get off and you cannot just stop without busting your nose. Others might liken it to being a dairy farmer. You cannot take time off because the cows have to be milked twice a day no matter what.”
With clear echoes of “The Graffiti Wall of Death”, we do not publish to such a strict schedule, occasionally dropping the weekly round-up when there is no relevant news to post. But while we share the workload for L&RUK, we would very much welcome any serious offers of additional assistance to assure its long-term continuity.