Law and religion roundup – 23rd June

Free school meals and discrimination?

In R (GH) v The Mayor of London [2024] EWHC 1305 (Admin), the claimants, Charedi Orthodox children, sought permission to apply for judicial review of the decision of the Mayor of London to extend his Universal Free School Meals scheme for the academic year 2024-2025 but to continue to confine the scheme to state-funded primary schools. They attended Charedi independent schools, and it was argued on their behalf that such schools were key institutions for preserving Charedi culture. Not all Charedi children attended independent schools, but it was claimed that the only option for most Charedi families was to send their children to independent Charedi schools and that to do so, therefore, was not a free choice. In the Charedi community in Stamford Hill, 97.2% of children attended independent schools [3-4].

The claimants argued

  • that in making his decision, and having regard to his statutory duty to consult pursuant to ss.30 and 32 of the Greater London Authority Act 1999, the Mayor had failed to take reasonable steps to acquaint himself with relevant information;
  • that the decision not to extend the Scheme to independent schools was outside the range of reasonable decisions open to him;
  • that he had failed to comply with the Public Sector Equality Duty; and
  • that the decision had resulted in unlawful indirect discrimination contrary to s.19  Equality Act 2010 and Article 14 ECHR.

MacDonald J held that none of the grounds advanced by the claimants amounted to “an arguable ground for judicial review having a realistic prospect of success” [50]. Permission refused [51].

Bishops in the House of Lords

This week, Pete Wilcox, Bishop of Sheffield, announced that he would not be voting in the General Election on 4 July. “Whilst most members of the House of Lords are legally barred from voting in Parliamentary elections, the ban does not technically extend to the Bishops, but ‘by long convention’, we abstain”. A detailed explanation of these and other aspects of the UK Parliamentary Franchise is given in the House of Commons Library document, Who can vote in UK elections?

A legal incapacity to vote is a restriction that prevents someone from registering to vote and from voting. For UK Parliament elections, a legal incapacity to vote arises from being a Member of the House of Lords, being a prisoner serving a prison sentence or committing certain electoral crimes: offences related to voting, registration and campaigning.

However, the Lords Spiritual, Bishops of the Church of England who sit in the House of Lords, are not “Peers of the Realm” so they are able to vote in general elections. By tradition, they do not do so, although the decision is a matter for each individual. Consequently, bishops are free to vote in general elections if they so wish. This right is not without controversy, however. In 1983, the then Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr Robert Runcie, revealed that he had voted in the general election that year. He said he was informed that he was able to and that he had voted as a private citizen. 

You read it here first!

In a guest post this week, Shirani Herbert reviewed the “errors, irregularities and illegality” following the removal of pews under licence arising in Re: Church of St Michael, Bath, Twerton-on-Avon [2024] ECC B&W 1. This received a significant number of views both on this blog and on ‘X’/Twitter, and was picked up by The Times and others: see Kaya Burgess: Church ordered to seek and find 22 missing pews.

When pews are replaced for other seating, it is common for them to be subject to the condition on their removal that “the pews are stored safely and kept in good condition”, as these were in May 2017 under Licence from the then Archdeacon. From then it is often “Out of sight, out of mind”, but in this case, the errors and irregularities might have passed unnoticed but for the investigation by his successor who ascertained that they had been moved on two occasions, stored with other pews not subject to the faculty jurisdiction, and sold to an elusive purchaser for £1,500. Readers who missed the original post are urged to read Shirani’s post.

And finally…

Just in case you aren’t totally bored by the election campaign, last year the Law Society Gazette posted Election court awards costs against petitioner in ‘dates bribe’ case: “A rare sitting of the Election Court has agreed to withdraw a petition for a council election to be declared void after receiving ‘conclusive evidence’ that the petitioner handed packets of dates to potential voters…”.

In Muhammed Afzal v Ayoub Khan & Ors [2023] EWHC 376 (KB), His Honour Judge  Foster, sitting as election commissioner, was ruling on a petition by Labour candidate Muhammed Afzal to overturn the result of a local election in Birmingham in May 2022. The judge observed that “the election took place during Ramadan, and that the consumption of dates is a traditional way in which Muslims end their fast at sundown”, So in fact, it was a “Law and Religion” case. 

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