Law and religion roundup – 7th July

So now we know the General Election result …

… and as widely predicted, the Labour Party won a landslide victory. For students of law and religion, that means, at the very least, that the Equality Act 2010 and our membership of the Council of Europe are safe for another five years. However, there remain outstanding issues that need to be addressed.

One is the absence of recognition for humanist weddings in England and Wales. The High Court agreed in R (Harrison) v Secretary of State for Justice [2020] EWHC 2096 (Admin) that the current lack of provision for legal humanist weddings in England and Wales was in breach of Article 9 ECHR. Eady J held that the facts fell within the ambit of Article 9 but at [129] declined to make the declaration sought on the grounds that “there is currently an ongoing review of the law of marriage in this country that will necessarily engage with the wider concerns that have been raised”. In the event, precisely nothing was done – and it is to be hoped that the new Government will address the issue as a matter of urgency.

Another and possibly the more important one is the total lack of rights for cohabiting couples in England and Wales. The Law Commission looked at the issue as long ago as 2007 – see Cohabitation: The Financial Consequences of Relationship Breakdown – but no action was taken on its report. The House of Commons Women and Equalities Committee published a report on The Rights of Cohabiting Partners in 2022 in which it urged action on the Law Commission’s recommendations, but the Conservative Government responded, not unreasonably, that the Commission’s report was by then so old that the issue would have to be revisited before any reform could be contemplated.

The latest estimate by the Office for National Statistics is that in 2020 there were more than three million cohabiting couples in England and Wales: six million people – about one-tenth of the total population. That alone, in a rational world, should make the case for reform. The Labour manifesto included a pledge to remedy the situation, and it is to be hoped that the new Government will refer the matter to the Law Commission pdq.

Progress on the Smyth Review?

On Tuesday, the Church of England’s lead safeguarding bishop, Rt Revd Joanne Grenfell, issued a statement in which she expressed her disappointment and that of her colleagues in the National Safeguarding Team that the Smyth Review, originally commissioned in 2019, will not be published until the end of the summer at the earliest, though she was aware of the complexities and demands of the review:

“We need to ensure in the future that the commissioning of reviews is done differently, and according to the timescales and good practice set out in the Safeguarding Practice Review Code agreed at General Synod last year.”

So that’s a “no”, then

The BBC reports that the City of Wolverhampton Council has rejected a planning application to convert the vacant Wednesfield Methodist Church into a gurdwara.

The Council concluded that the number of parking spaces in the planned development failed to meet the transport needs for the proposed temple, “particularly given the capacity of the building being 150”. That would lead to on-street parking “resulting in an unacceptable detrimental impact to pedestrian safety and the safe and free flow of road traffic”, due to the small number of parking spaces and the “expected level of noise”. The development “would adversely affect the amenity of nearby residents” because of expected levels of noise and activity associated with people coming and going, and “by virtue of the established residential character and proximity of” properties, it would “give rise to unacceptable levels” of disturbance.

It is not clear whether the charitable trust that made the application will appeal. [With thanks to Religion Media Centre.]

Quick links



And finally…I

From The Times:


And finally…II

“It is a little-known fact that Keir Starmer’s deputy speech-writer is Abigail Martin, former press officer and speech-writer to the Archbishop of Canterbury”: Tim Howles.

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