Law and religion round-up – 17th September

Non-party election campaigning: draft code of practice

The Government has at last published the Non-party campaigning: draft code of practice. If approved by Parliament, it will come into force in November 2023. It is accompanied by a Ministerial Statement, here.

The Code applies to UK Parliamentary general elections and to Northern Ireland Assembly elections: it does not apply to elections to the Senedd or Scottish Parliament unless the regulated period (the period when the spending laws apply) for either of those elections overlaps with the regulated period for a UK General Election.


In October 2013, we posted Copyright and religion: an idiot’s guide following news that a church had received a demand from the publisher for £7,000 in compensation for breach of copyright. After three months’ stressful negotiation, the PCC paid £1,500 in an out-of-court settlement.

In its e-News on 14 September 2023, the Diocese of Oxford reported that one of its parishes had been approached by representatives of a picture agency for unlicensed use of a photograph; in this instance, the parish was hosting a PDF copy of a PowerPoint given by an external speaker at a church event.

Copyright holders are increasingly using bots to spot unlawful use of copyrighted material, and the Diocese advised parishes never to copy images from image libraries, Google or news sites, lest they be liable for image hosted. It recommends Unsplash and Pixabay as access to Creative Commons websites.

An unfortunate choice of words, and a helpful direction

In the otherwise unremarkable case Re St Helen Thorganby [2023] ECC Yor 3, the petitioners sought permission to replace the existing free-standing projector with a more substantial arrangement. De Mestre Ch noted: 

“[16] The works are described in documents before me as ‘permanent’, due to the fixed nature of the fastenings, the fact that the projector and screen will be attached to the wall at all times rather than packed away and stored as the current arrangement is…However, it is important, in terms of assessing harm to significance, to consider that ‘permanent’ in this is sense is a different usage to ‘permanent’ when that word is used to convey the causing of unalterable changes to, or to the loss of, historic fabric…The attachment of the projection and screen equipment are changes that are capable of being reversed without ill effects to the fabric of the church”.

Potentially more problematic, however, was the description of the present arrangement by the Family Worship Team as “an accident waiting to happen”, which others might regard as a “reasonably foreseeable” event. In granting a faculty, the Chancellor commented:

“[23] Taking all of these factors in the round, I am persuaded, on the balance of probabilities that the risks and problems described are real and do indeed present potential health and safety risks which it is important for the church to address”.

She also imposed an unambiguous requirement on Portable Appliance Testing (PAT), an issue associated with urban myths on the legality of its requirements [at 31.2]. 

Invalid wedding liturgies in Norway?

Christian Network Europe reports that about 800 marriages conducted by the Methodist Church in Norway may be invalid because the liturgy under which the weddings were conducted had not been approved by the Directorate for Children, Youth and Families (Bufdir).

The Church requested and received approval for its wedding liturgy in 1970 and again in 2023; in the meantime, however, it made changes in 1991, 2009, 2017 and 2019 without submitting them for approval and, according to the Directorate, only the liturgies of 1970 and 2023 were approved. The Director of Matrimonial Law at Bufdir has warned in an e-mail to Dagen that “The consequences of marrying a couple without the wedding ritual being approved by Bufdir is that the marriage has not been concluded.”

In Defence of the Chancellor

On Wednesday 13 September, the Worshipful David Etherington KC, Chancellor of London and Norwich, delivered a lecture to the Ecclesiastical Law Society. This lecture had originally been scheduled for 2022 but was postponed following the death of her late Majesty Queen Elizabeth. Chancellor Etherington’s lecture continued the conversation begun by the then Dean of the Arches, Charles George, in a lecture in 2019, and was Illustrated with many insights from his experience as an ecclesiastical judge. 

Quick links

And finally…I

The Law Society Gazette reports that “important gaps remain in the Government’s official repository of court judgments more than a year after its launch”. The Incorporated Council of Law Reporting in England and Wales estimates that about 20 per cent of the judgments that might be expected to be on the Find Case Law database of the National Archives are missing. Not much of a surprise.

And finally…II

On 16 September 2023, the Ecclesiastical Law Society announced the performance of Thrice to Rome – A canon law play by Professor Norman Doe. This dramatization of the three appearances of Gerald of Wales in Rome before the court of Pope Innocent III in 1201-03 is based on Gerald’s own accounts of the trials. and its first performance will take place at St David’s Cathedral, Wales, on Friday 6 October at 7pm. The cast is made up of a group of current canon lawyers, joined by staff of St Davids Cathedral; it marks the 800th anniversary of the death of Gerald in 1223.

“This is a unique happening which should not be missed by anyone interested in the life and works of Gerald of Wales, Gerallt Gymro, or in the turbulent transition years of the 12th century, when Wales was moving from a country led by its native Princes to one dominated by English and Norman monarchs”.

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