Law & Religion UK is intended as a forum for academically-rigorous exploration of the interactions between law and religion, together with the associated human rights issues. We welcome pertinent guest posts and comments on current developments that reflect the views and opinions of their respective authors and meet the General Conditions applying to the site. Those that do not meet these criteria or which are otherwise unidentifiable are unlikely to be published

Frank Cranmer and David Pocklington


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“Gay wedding row” in Market Bosworth

The Leicester Mercury is a valuable source of current local information on the developments associated with the reburial of Richard III [1]. However, this week it carried a story more pertinent to mainstream “law and religion” issues – the headline “’It is not a gay wedding’ – unholy row erupts over parish priest’s civil partnership service at church”. The story concerns the planned service of blessing in St Peter’s, Market Bosworth, to celebrate the civil partnership of the Team Rector of the Market Bosworth Benefice,  Revd Dominic McClean, and his same sex partner. From the reported facts, this does not appear to raise any significant legal issues since it concerns the personal opinions of a parishioner which he has pursued in letters to the Bishop of Leicester and the Archbishop of Canterbury.

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The ECtHR, Turkish Alevis and the rights of religious minorities

Turkey’s human rights record in relation to its religious minorities is, to put the most charitable interpretation on it, rather patchy – and here we go again.

The facts

Unless they are Christian or Jewish, schoolchildren in Turkey have to take part in a mandatory course on religious culture and ethics. In Mansur Yalçın & Ors v Turkey [2014] ECHR 938 [in French] fourteen Turkish Alevis, unhappy with the content of the course, had asked the Ministry of Education in 2005 to initiate a consultation with leading members of their community with a view to overhauling the curriculum to include Alevi culture and philosophy. The Directorate of Religious Education attached to the Ministry of Education rejected their request and they and 1,905 others then challenged that decision in the Ankara Administrative Court. Continue reading

CPS announces prosecution for assisting suicide

Prosecutions in England and Wales under s 2(1) Suicide Act 1961 are rare; but the crime remains on the statute book. On Monday the Crown Prosecution Service announced that a woman called Milly Caller had been charged under s 2(1). Emma Crossman died on 15 January 2014 having taken her own life using equipment that had allegedly been bought for her by Ms Caller. In a statement, Rosemary Ainslie of the CPS said this:

“In July 2014 the CPS received a file concerning allegations in relation to the actions of Milly Caller, 22, from Sleaford, in the suicide of Emma Crossman, a 21 year old woman from Lincolnshire. Having carefully reviewed the evidence in accordance with the Code for Crown Prosecutors, the CPS has decided that there is sufficient evidence to provide a realistic prospect of conviction, and that a prosecution is in the public interest. Accordingly I have today authorised the police to charge Milly Caller with one charge of encouraging or assisting suicide in that she provided equipment to Emma Crossman with the intent of encouraging or assisting suicide. Milly Caller will appear before Lincoln Magistrates’ Court on 16 October 2014.

May I remind all concerned that criminal proceedings against Milly Caller will now be commenced and of her right to a fair trial. It is extremely important that there should be no reporting, commentary or sharing of information online which could in any way prejudice these proceedings”.

The details of the full charge are as follows:

“Amelia Caller

Encouraging or assisting suicide, contrary to section 2(1) of the Suicide Act 1961: On a day between 12 January 2014 and 15 January 2014 you did an act capable of encouraging or assisting the suicide of another person, namely Emma Crossman, in that you provided equipment to Emma Crossman, and that act was intended to encourage or assist suicide or an attempt at suicide”.


In the circumstances, it would be highly improper for us to make any further detailed comment on this particular case and, in any event, we know nothing more about it than the bare details in the CPS statement. For parliamentarians, however, the fact that a prosecution is pending may well be something at the back of the minds of the Lords Committee that will consider Lord Falconer of Thoroton’s Assisted Dying Bill, which had its second reading on 18 July.

As Ms Ainslie of the CPS indicated, the matter is sub judice; and though (as indicated in the 2005 Report of the House of Commons Procedure Committee on the matter) the sub judice rule may be relaxed when one or other House is considering legislation, there is normally a very strong convention that even in those circumstances matters before the criminal courts are referred to only very circumspectly, if at all.

Sham marriage, the church and the law

Last week the Daily Telegraph and others carried reports of the prosecution of a south London vicar who conducted a “conveyor belt” operation for sham marriages, extending over the period December 2007 and March 2011 and involving 494 illegal immigrants. Although the prosecution is on-going, it is nevertheless timely to summarize the development of the legislation and the changes that are about to be introduced.

Whilst involvement in sham marriages is not restricted to the Church of England, its common law duty to conduct marriage combined with the (present) exemption from the “civil preliminaries” make it particularly susceptible to abuses such as those reported. Lord Hardwicke’s Act was introduced in 1753 to overcome a similar problem of “clandestine weddings”, a key component of which was the mandatory calling of the banns.  Ironically, the problem of “sham marriages” is formally addressed through s 57 Immigration Act 2014 which, when brought into force next year, will exclude the procedures of calling the banns and common licences where one or both of the couple is not a relevant national, i.e. a British citizen, EEA national or Swiss national. Continue reading

Religion and law round up – 14th September


A mixed week in which same-sex marriage and inter-Church cricket were both in the news…

Same-sex marriage and clergy discipline

On Monday it was announced that Jeremy Pemberton, who lost his Permission to Officiate after he married his partner Laurence Cunnington in April, had filed an Equality Act claim in the Employment Tribunal against the Archbishop of York and the acting Bishop of Southwell and Nottingham. Because Canon Pemberton no longer had a licence in that diocese Sherwood Forest Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust revoked its offer of a post as its chaplaincy and bereavement manager.

The announcement provoked an interesting debate on the Web, principally in Ian Paul’s blog, Psephizo. The whole issue of whether or not any particular cleric is “employed” and who may be sued in such circumstances is extremely complex. Some comments are better-balanced and better-informed than others – but you can judge for yourself.

Scotland, the Constitution and religion

In the margins of the debate in the run-up to the Scottish independence referendum next Thursday a group of academics – Tufyal Choudhury, Professor Ian Leigh and Dr Deirdre McCann of Durham Law School and Sir Tom Devine. Professor Emeritus of Scottish History and Palaeography at the University of Edinburgh – have produced detailed proposals for the protection of religious freedom in the event of a Scottish Constitution being drafted. In Religious freedom in Scotland: A legal proposal they conclude that any written Constitution: Continue reading

Church to burn Union Flags

Not in anticipation of a “Yes” in the Scottish referendum, after which there could be quite a few Union Flags [1] surplus to requirements, but as sanctioned in the judgment Re St Mary Magdalene South Bersted [2014] Chichester Cons Ct, Mark Hill Ch. The Union Flags in question were among the redundant or dilapidated items that the incumbent, churchwarden and PCC secretary of the church sought to remove and dispose of, including 4 short free-standing modem oak pews (circa 1967), 3 desks, a portable altar and communion rail, 2 old ‘Glastonbury’-style sanctuary chairs, a wooden cross, 2 wooden candlesticks and 11 standards (flags) and their metal wall fixings. Continue reading

Diocesan bells advice out-of-tune with court

The tuning of church bells arouses almost as many emotions as a boundary dispute, and has added complications: technical issues regarding their acoustics; an often subjective assessment of the sounds produced; and the concerns of the ringers themselves regarding the ease with which a bell may be rung.  Complaints over alleged nuisance are another issue, although  these are generally dealt with by the secular courts or the local authority environmental officers.

The short judgment in Re St Michael Michaelchurch Escley [2014] Hereford Cons Ct, Mark Ockelton Dep Ch is a further consideration of the direction given by the Chancellor and an admonishment of the Diocesan Advisory Committee for its approach to the issue: Continue reading