Law and religion round-up – 23rd July

Faith school admissions in England

On Monday, there was a short debate on an oral Question in the Lords, when Baroness Burt of Solihull (Lib Dem) asked His Majesty’s Government “what assessment they have made of the United Nations Committee on the Rights of the Child’s recommendation that the United Kingdom should prevent the use of religion as a selection criterion for school admissions in England”.

Baroness Barran, the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department for Education replied:

“My Lords, the UK is a proud signatory of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child. However, the Government support faith schools’ ability to set faith-based oversubscription criteria. This allows parents to have their children educated in line with their religious beliefs. Faith schools can give priority to applicants on the basis of faith only when they are oversubscribed. Where places are available, they must admit all children who apply.”

In reply to a supplementary, she added: “Only when a school is oversubscribed can the admissions authority introduce additional restrictions. Indeed, many faith schools do not restrict on the basis of faith.”

No great surprise.

Humanists’ membership of SACREs

Humanist UK reports that Kent County Council has decided not to appeal the judgment in R (Bowen) v Kent County Council [2023] EWHC 1261 (Admin). Russell Sandberg noted the judgment here.

Silent prayer at abortion clinics again

Readers may recall the recent case of Isabel Vaughan-Spruce, who was charged with four counts of failing to comply with a Public Space Protection Order in violation of a “buffer zone” around a British Pregnancy Advisory Service clinic in Kings Norton by praying silently outside it: the Crown Prosecution Service decided not to proceed with the charges.

ADF UK reports that the Bournemouth, Christchurch and Poole (BCP) Council has decided not to pursue Adam Smith-Connor for non-payment of a fine for praying silently near an abortion clinic in its area following the police’s assessment that praying silently was not an offence in England and submissions by his legal team that the state had no power to restrict thoughts directed towards God.

Grants for protective security measures for places of worship

We have received the following from Diana Evans, Head of Places of Worship Strategy in the Policy and Evidence Group at Historic England, which we publicise at her request:

Protective Security Measures for Places of Worship – open for applications

Applications for the following Home Office’s security schemes are still open:

    • Places of Worship Security Funding Scheme
    • Protective Security for Mosques Scheme

An application can be made via the following link: Protective security schemes for places of worship ( Please note that the same application portal is used for both schemes.

The Home Office is holding three online engagement events to promote the launch of the two schemes. Each event will provide you with an introduction to both schemes, details on how to apply and an opportunity for Q&A.

Please select a date from the list of online engagement events below. You will be directed to a registration page on MS Teams, and upon completion, receive a link to your chosen online webinar.

We encourage you to promote these engagement events with faith-based community representatives in your local area and with networks who have experienced hate crime, or feel they are vulnerable to it.

For further inquiries or to request details for our upcoming events, please contact” 

“The Sixth Commandment”

The first episode of the BBC four-part series The Sixth Commandment was broadcast on Monday 18 July. It explores the deaths of Peter Farquhar and Ann Moore-Martin in Buckinghamshire in 2014 and 2017 and the subsequent events including the police investigation and 2019 criminal trial of Ben Field. Some have queried the description of Ben Field as a “deputy warden”, a post that Ben Field held at the church in September 2014. The role of deputy warden is not a formal office in the Church of England and has no legal definition. However, for a parish with more than one place of worship, this is provided for in the Church Representation Rules – part 9M34, 35.

Field’s interest in the priesthood is described in section 4.10 of the Lessons Learned Review. On 19 July, the Diocese of Oxford updated its page The Ben Field case following the broadcast of The Sixth Commandment on BBC One in July 2023. The section Facts and corrections, including information on “Was Ben Field a ‘trainee vicar’?” and “When did Ben Field start attending Stowe Church?”, was further updated on 20 July, and now reads “Field was never considered for ordination training, but he was due to attend a Bishops Advisory Panel (BAP) at which he would be considered for training”.

Revd Michael Hall

On 21 July 2023, the Diocese of Oxford issued the Press Release, Learning Lessons Review: Revd Michael Hall, concerning an independent report by Elaine and Patrick Hopkinson. In April 2022, the Diocese commissioned a safeguarding case review into allegations of spiritual abuse connected with St Margaret’s, Tylers Green, High Wycombe between 1981 and 2000. An initial Church investigation had concluded on the balance of probabilities that Hall had spiritually abused a significant number of the congregation and had engaged in sexually-inappropriate behaviour with members of the congregation which was witnessed by children and young people. 

Extracts from the Press Release are reproduced here, and a copy of the Learning Lessons Review (LLR) is available here. A later post will consider the aspects of spiritual abuse addressed in the Report.

Forthcoming lecture on Aston Cantlow v Wallbank

Aston Law School has organised a lecture by Mark Hill KC to be given at the parish church of St John the Baptist, Aston Cantlow, on Monday, 4 September, on Aston Cantlow v Wallbank [2003] UKHL 37, the leading case on chancel repair liability. Mark was junior counsel for the Parochial Church Council. His lecture will be preceded by an introductory talk and tour of the church by John Martin. The programme is as follows:

14.30 Welcome, introduction to the church and tour by John Martin
15.30 Mark Hill lecture
16.30 Respondents
17.15 Open Q&A, chaired by Professor Simon Lee, Aston University
17.45 Conclusions led by Mark Hill
18.00-18.45 Reception.

The afternoon is free to attend, but space is limited so places will be allocated first come, first reserved. If you would like to attend, please register your interest with Simon Lee via by Friday 25 August. The church is some three miles from Stratford-upon-Avon.

Consultation on mandatory reporting of child sexual abuse: a reminder

The Home Office consultation on Mandatory reporting of child sexual abuse is still open for responses: it closes on 14 August. Submissions are sought from a very wide range of people and institutions, including the catch-all “members of the public”.

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One thought on “Law and religion round-up – 23rd July

  1. Thank you, as ever, for the round-up!

    On school admissions, the supplementary question and answer is very much to the point. Our Diocese, and I believe others, actively advises schools to remove such criteria when they review their admissions policy. I’m reminded of Revd Nigel Genders’ statement that “our schools are not faith schools for the faithful, they are church schools for the community.” Assuming that’s correct, then over-subscription criteria might be one of those areas in which the distinction makes a real difference.

    It’s worth remembering that the relevant admissions authority is the local authority in the case of a Voluntary Controlled school. So it’s only in a Voluntary Aided or Academy/MAT context, and thus a subset of church schools, in which the question can arise.

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