Law and religion roundup – 16th June

This week

The manifestos of the main political parties in the UK were launched this week. Of interest to “law and religion” were the references to the European Convention on Human Rights, the Human Rights Act, illegal faith schools/ register of children not in school, recognition of humanist marriages, reforming weddings law and further cohabitation rights. However, as Election Day becomes closer, the misinformation, manipulation of images and deliberate untruths on key issues continue. We look forward to the commencement of the new UK Parliament when the impetus for this point-scoring by the parties will be decreased – or so we hope.

The manifestos

The Conservative manifesto includes this: “If we are forced to choose between our security and the jurisdiction of a foreign court, including the ECtHR, we will always choose our security.” Which, of course, would mean leaving the Council of Europe. That said, however, David Allen Green points out that the absence from the manifesto of any explicit statement on withdrawal from the ECHR means that in the event of a Conservative win, “there is no manifesto commitment they can rely on in forcing any changes to the Act through the House of Lords”.

Russell Sandberg has noted that the Conservative manifesto makes no mention of wedding or cohabitation reform, but it does commit to removing the cap on faith schools (presumably the number of spaces reserved for adherents) and encouraging their growth. It no longer commits to banning so-called conversion therapy, stating: “It is right that we take more time before reaching a final judgement on additional legislation in this area”. However, Labour is expected to ban conversion practices outright. 

The Conservatives also propose to “End frivolous legal challenges that frustrate infrastructure delivery by amending the law so judicial reviews that don’t have merit do not waste court time”. In the absence of any fuller explanation, who would judge what has “merit” remains to be seen: call us naïve, but we thought that that was what judges were for. 

The Labour manifesto includes an interim commitment to introduce “legislation to remove the right of hereditary peers to sit and vote in the House of Lords. Labour will also introduce a mandatory retirement age. At the end of the Parliament in which a member reaches 80 years of age, they will be required to retire from the House of Lords.” But the longer-term intention is wholesale reform:

“Labour is committed to replacing the House of Lords with an alternative second chamber that is more representative of the regions and nations. Labour will consult on proposals, seeking the input of the British public on how politics can best serve them.”

Which might look like the end of bishops in the Upper House – but we have been here before on more than one occasion.

The LibDem manifesto includes pledges to recognise humanist marriages, reform weddings law and implement further cohabitation rights.

The General Election and the offence of “undue influence”

The Electoral Commission has published Guidance for Candidates and Agents at UK Parliamentary general elections in Great Britain. On the subject of the electoral offence of “undue influence” it says the following:

“A person is guilty of undue influence if they carry out an activity on account of:

    • a person having voted in a particular way or refrained from voting
    • assuming a person to have voted in a particular way or to have refrained from voting.

These activities are:

    • using or threatening to use violence against a person
    • damaging or destroying, or threatening to damage or destroy a person’s property
    • damaging or destroying, or threatening to damage or destroy a person’s reputation
    • causing or threatening to cause financial loss to a person
    • causing spiritual injury to, or placing undue spiritual pressure on, a person
    • doing any other act designed to intimidate a person
    • doing any act designed to deceive a person in relation to the administration of an election.

Undue influence doesn’t exclusively relate to physical access to the polling station. For example, a leaflet that threatens to make use of force in order to induce a voter to vote in a particular way could also be undue influence.”

Our recently-revised note on”spiritual influence” is here.

July General Synod

The General Synod of the Church of England will meet in York from 5 July to 9 July, and last night’s post included links to the Order of Business and the GS Misc papers, which are circulated information and not for debate. Of particular interest are Clergy Discipline Commission Annual Report 2024 (GS Misc 1386) and two papers concerning the House of Bishops: Transparency of the work of the House of Bishops (GS Misc 1387) and Summary of decisions by the House of Bishops and by its delegated committees February 2024 – July 2024 (GS Misc 1377). Links to other papers of relevance to “law and religion” will be posted as they become available.

“Liking” tweets

On 9 February 2022, we posted CDM Tribunal considers “liking” tweets on a case considered by the Bishop’s Disciplinary Tribunal for the Diocese of Southwark which addressed the issues resulting from a priest’s use of the “like” function on his Twitter account. In view of the widespread use of social media by those subject to the Clergy Disciplinary Measure (CDM), the case provided a salutary warning to those who use social media, and to those currently reviewing the CDM, it raised questions regarding its use in this and other similar cases. 

As of 13 June 2024, the “like” capability on ‘X’/Twitter ceased to be accessible to others apart from the person “Liking” a particular Tweet. Our February 2022 post has now been updated. 

No right to assisted dying under the ECHR

In the case of Dániel Karsai v Hungary [2024] ECHR No. 32312/23, the applicant, who is suffering from motor neurone disease, wishes to avail himself of some form of physician‑assisted dying before his illness becomes unbearable – but there is no such provision in Hungary. He sought a declaration that this breached his rights under Article 8(1) (respect for private life) and Article 14 (discrimination).

The First Section ECtHR observed that there were potentially broad social implications and risks of error and abuse involved in the provision of physician-assisted dying and that despite a growing trend towards its legalisation, the majority of states parties continued to prohibit medically-assisted suicide and euthanasia, the court observed. It held by six votes to one that there was no right under the Convention to assisted dying and that the current lack of provision in Hungary was within the state’s margin of appreciation. However, it also observed at [167] that

“the Convention has to be interpreted and applied in the light of present-day conditions. The need for appropriate legal measures should therefore be kept under review, having regard to the developments in European societies and in the international standards on medical ethics in this sensitive domain”.

Groundwater pollution from cemeteries

On 22 March 2017, we posted How will new position statements impact on development of cemeteries, in which we outlined the underlying provisions, discussed their application, and examined some of the apparent inconsistencies.

This week, the Environment Agency published Application for an environmental permit: part B9 bespoke groundwater activity for a human cemetery. This updates the requirements on the information to be supplied &c when applying for bespoke permits for local councils or other cemetery operators. Environmental Permitting Regime (EPR) permits are required for certain treatment installations such as discharges into cemeteries, despite the relatively low volumes of effluent involved, as discussed here.

Our monthly review of ecclesiastical court judgments includes new bespoke applications for an environmental permit under the Environmental Permitting (England and Wales) Regulations 2016 for discharges into churchyards from trench arch systems, such as those reported in September 2021.

Quick links

And finally…

Thames Water is taking its commitment to canvass ALL local residents on its proposals for a new reservoir very seriously and is keeping everyone informed.

A buried human body normally decays to skeleton within 10 to 20 years, so it is unlikely that the burial in the churchyard, closed by Order in Council in 1880, will be causing pollution in nearby Letcombe Brook – unlike the Thames Water installation downstream. 

2 thoughts on “Law and religion roundup – 16th June

  1. You have stated – and I have had it confirmed – that ‘As of 13 June 2024, the “like” capability on ‘X’/Twitter ceased to be accessible to others apart from the person “Liking” a particular Tweet.’ Is it the same or different with regard to Facebook groups? What about sharing in both instances?

    • “Clicking Like below a post on Facebook is a way to let people know that you enjoy it without leaving a comment. Just like a comment, anyone who can see the post can see that you liked it…When you like something, this lets us know to show you other content that we think you’d also like to see”,

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