Religion and Law round-up – 26th January

Face-veils in criminal trials

On Wednesday The Guardian carried a Press Association report that HHJ Peter Murphy had warned the jurors in the trial of Rebekah and Matthias Dawson for witness intimidation that they should not be influenced by the fact that Ms Dawson was appearing in the dock in a niqab veil:

“Rebekah Dawson is fully entitled to dress in any way she chooses. If you have any feelings about that put them aside because they have nothing to do with the case”.

However, he reiterated his ruling in September (in D(R), R v [2013] EW Misc 13 (CC) about which we posted at the time) that though she could stand trial wearing a full-face veil she would have to remove it while giving evidence:

“I have not done that arbitrarily, I have done this because of this – that courts have known for many, many, years, indeed centuries, that when a jury is evaluating evidence a witness gives it is important for them to see the witness as well as listening. In other words, you have to see the demeanour of the witness and reactions to the questions being asked”.

We note in passing that reporting restrictions appear to have been lifted. Various publications broke the news of her identity in September when HHJ Murphy made his original ruling: we didn’t.

Parliamentary Bills Update

Anti-social Behaviour, Crime and Policing Bill 2013-14: The Lords Report stage continued on 22 January (day 4), with a discussion on compensation for miscarriages of justice. The need for a clear definition, or test, before compensation is made, was discussed in relation to the requirement for ‘a new or newly discovered fact’, proving innocence beyond all reasonable doubt.  An amendment to adjust the test, awarding compensation in cases where evidence ‘is so undermined that no conviction should be based on it’, was taken to a vote. Members voted 245 in favour and 222 against of the change.  The Lords’ Third Reading is scheduled for 27 January.

Transparency of Lobbying, Non-party Campaigning and Trade Union Administration Bill 2013-14: The House of Commons considered the Lords Amendments on 22 January 2014 here and here. MPs overturned the Lords’ bid to include special advisers on the register by 311 to 258, although they supported a government compromise without a vote. Likewise, the Lords amendment on staffing costs was overturned by 310 to 278, and MPs decided by 314 to 274 to reject the Lords amendment on constituency-level spending limits for third parties, which be limited to activity directly targeting people in a given constituency. The Bill returns to the Lords for further consideration during the ping-pong exchanges between the two Houses

Care Bill [HL] 2013-14: At the Eighth Sitting of the Public Bill Committee on 21 January 2014, after a lengthy discussion it voted to remove Clause 48, as expected.  The next meeting of the Public Bill Committee will take place on 28 January 2014, and is scheduled to report to the House by 4 February 2014.

European Union (Referendum) Bill 2013-14: During the Lords committee stage of the European Union (Referendum) Bill on 24 January 2014, peers passed the amendment of Lord Armstrong of Ilminster (CB) by 245 votes to 158 on the wording of any proposed referendum by the end of 2017. As a consequence the Bill must now return to the House of Commons for further consideration and, if the Commons disagree to the Lords amendment it will have to be sent yet again to the Lords in order for the Lords to consider the Commons disagreement. There is only limited time available for the debate of this bill, and the additional time required has reduced significantly the possibility of the Private Member’s Bill completing its parliamentary stages, here.

New publication on protections for religious rights

OUP has announced the publication of The Protections for Religious Rights: Law and Practice, co-authored by Sir James Dingemans (Queen’s Bench Division), Can Yeginsu (4 New Square), Tom Cross (11 King’s Bench Walk) and Hafsah Masood (3 Hare Court).

OUP says that it is the first practitioner work to offer a full and systematic treatment of the law as it pertains to religious rights in the UK and abroad. It examines the applicable legal instruments, considers the current state of the law, and reviews domestic, comparative, and international case law to provide a comprehensive reference resource that informs on all matters of significance in this area:

“The protections for religious rights in the UK are rooted in international law and the English common law. Religious conflicts have arisen when communities have perceived that their religious rights have been targeted for suppression, or ignored. Despite international human rights instruments which are intended to protect such rights, many courts have adopted a narrow and restrictive approach towards these aspects”.

The book includes chapters on employment, education, family, and goods and services and includes a global treatment of legislation and authorities, drawing on expertise from the United States, Canada, South Africa, Australia, India, Ireland, New Zealand, and Turkey. The final chapter addresses other areas which engage protections for religious rights: places of worship, criminal law, planning, charitable status, prisons, immigration, and animal rights. There is an appendix of selected materials for easy reference to relevant extracts from international treaties, constitutions and domestic statutes. It is available in hard copy for £125 and for download as an e-book from Amazon for £87.50.

Religious beliefs and political affiliations

In advance of its “God and Government Conference” on 15 March 2014, the Christian think-tank Theos has published a report “Voting and Values in Britain: Does religion count?” in which it examines the political affiliations of Anglicans, Roman Catholics, other Christians, those from other religions and of no religion, and whether the level of people’s religious commitment makes a  difference. The BBC reports the report’s findings as Church of England still ‘Tory Party at prayer’, although it is reassuring to know that “socio-economic factors are still the dominant theme when it comes to voting”.

The report found that “nominal Anglicans” have historically tended to vote Labour, though this changed for the first time in the 2010 election; those who attend Catholic services either frequently or infrequently have usually supported the Labour Party; Nonconformist Christians such as Methodist and United Reformed worshippers are more fluid in their voting intentions; in 2010, Muslims favoured Labour, while the Jewish vote went to the Conservatives; Hindus tended to support Labour, while Sikhs were evenly split between the two main parties; and Buddhists disproportionately voted for the Liberal Democrats at the last election.  However, the analysis of the voting patterns for non-Christian religions is more difficult on account of the smaller sample sizes.

Meetings in Wales on women in the episcopate

The Church in Wales has announced that during January and February, the C in W Bishops are to hold a number of open meetings in each of the six Welsh dioceses to consult on the code for ordaining women as bishops. As part of September’s legislation to ordain women to the episcopate, the Bishops are required to to draw up a Code of Practice to ensure that all members of the Church, including those with conscientious objections to the decision, continued to feel accepted and valued in it. Although the date has passed for written submissions to the consultation, members have this further opportunity to have their say on what provisions that code should include. These meetings will be followed by a discussion at the Church’s Governing Body meeting in April.

Further details on the Code are described in a post by Ancient Briton which notes

“The Bill proposed by the bishops … was successfully amended by the  Archdeacon of Llandaff, the Ven Peggy Jackson, and the Reverend Canon Jenny Wigley …. [substituting] a voluntary code of practice for the statutory provisions contained in the bishops’ bill. Details can be found here along with the Select Committee’s recommendations.”

Land: registration of manorial rights

Further to the short Westminster Hall debate on Manorial Rights (England and Wales), [15 Jan 2014 : c 329WH], a Commons Library Standard Note has been published Land: registration of manorial rights – SN06803. The Note

“provides information about manorial rights over land in England and Wales and recent changes that have affected the ability of individuals to exercise these rights … [and] provides links to guidance for affected property owners provided by the Land Registry”.

With regard to the procedures for registering rights, the Note relies heavily upon the quasi-law guidance produced by the Land Registry:  Registrations and notices about mines and minerals, chancel repairs and manorial rights Public Guide 25, and A customer guide to disputed applicationsPublic Guide 26 – both of which provide detailed practical guidance on this area.

In addition to the WH debate, the Note summarizes a parliamentary written answer [HC Deb 10 October 2013 Col 367W], although other than explaining the status quo, neither give any ministerial assurances on changes to the legislation in this area.

Opposite-sex civil partnerships?

Perhaps not. We noted that on 23 January 2014, the Government Equalities Office at Department for Culture, Media & Sport published the promised Consultation on the future of civil partnership in England and Wales. We also noted that, from the tone of the introduction by Helen Grant, Minister for Sport, Tourism and Equalities, (which stressed that the contents were not Government policy proposals but, rather, “ideas for changing civil partnership which others have suggested” the Government does not seem at all enthusiastic about changing the present law.

And finally… rules for Twitter

The Telegraph reports that the Diocese of Bath & Wells has produced a set of “nine commandments” for Twitterati, of which Rule 1 is to think before you tweet: “Before posting always think: Is this my story to share? Would I want my mum to read this? Would I want God to read this?”. So:

  1. Don’t rush in
  2. Remember updates are transient yet permanent.
  3. You’re an ambassador for the Church.
  4. Don’t hide behind anonymity.
  5. Think about the blurring of public/private life boundaries.
  6. Safeguarding: communicating directly online is like meeting someone in private.
  7. Stay within the legal framework.
  8. Respect confidentiality.
  9. Be mindful of your own security.

All of which looks remarkably sensible to us and could be applied equally to making comments on other people’s blogs or, indeed, to writing our own posts. As regular readers will be aware, we feel particularly strongly about anonymity: but the basic rule must simply be, “please be nice to each other”.