Religion and law round up – 7th July

Unusually, a fairly quiet week by current standards – unless you’re the Pope or the Archbishop of Canterbury (or Wales) 

Human transplantation in Wales

Undoubtedly the biggest news of the week in law and religion terms (broadly defined) was the enactment by the National Assembly of the Human Transplantation (Wales) Bill  by 43 votes to 2, with 8 abstentions. The proposals in the Bill, which introduces a “soft opt-out system of organ donation”, generated a considerable amount of controversy both among  faith leaders and senior health professionals. Much of the criticism was led by the Archbishop of Wales, Dr Barry Morgan,  who has provided a focus for these objections and expressed misgivings both as the Bill was in its final stages and, much earlier in the proceedings, in his presidential address to the Church’s Governing Body in September 2011.

A good summary of the Bill and its potential implications is available on the Oggy Bloggy Ogwr site, which identifies a number of issues including the establishment of a new organ donor register at UK level, identification of “excluded relevant material” through Welsh Government Regulations and a new system of relevant authorities with power to store bodies for organ transplantation – as well as costs.

The establishment of the scheme is likely to cost £7.6 million between now and 2022 and the target is for an extra 15 donors per year. The Explanatory Memorandum of 25 June 2013 indicates [page 44, para.124] that these additional donors with associated increases in transplantation rates would generate an NPV (Net Present Value) of approximately £147 million.

Same-sex marriage

Forthcoming legislation continues to have a high profile in the politico-religious agenda, and last week we posted two substantial pieces: a commentary on the Marriage and Civil Partnership (Scotland) Bill; and a summary of the legal issues debated in the House of Lords during the Committee stage of the Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Bill, which moves to its Report stage tomorrow.

Rome and Canterbury

In his Spectator article Here comes the God squad, Damian Thompson considers what the new Pope and the new Archbishop have in common, and suggests that Evangelicals have taken charge in the Vatican and Lambeth Palace. Whether or not one accepts that “the new leader of the faithful is a sharp operator who finds himself surrounded by a medieval court system of hopeless characters, each jealously guarding their own silos of activity” applies equally in both Churches, their respective diaries appear to be prompted by similar important dates – Archbishop Welby was enthroned two days after Francis was inaugurated, and this week, Friday 5 July has been an important day for each.

The CofE’s General Synod is taking place in York – at which Archbishop Welby delivered his Presidential Address, available here. The agenda and copies of the papers are available here and other issues to be considered include: progress on meeting challenges for the Quinquennium; new faculty jurisdiction rules; a “catch-all” (Miscellaneous Provisions) Measure, which includes an amendment to section 25 of the Burial Act 1857; a follow-up to the Chichester Commissaries’ Reports on safeguarding; and a report from the Mission and Public Affairs Council on welfare reform and the Church. The contentious issue of women in the episcopate will be debated on Monday 8 July.

Meanwhile in Rome, Francis had an equally important day on 5th July with the publication of his first encyclical Lumen Fidei (The Light of Faith), commenced by Benedict XVI and almost completed in draft before he stood down in February 2013.  Lumen Fidei was presented at a press conference in the Holy See Press by Cardinal Marc Ouellet and Archbishops Gerhard Ludwig Muller and Rino Fisichella. The Vatican summary is here, and the influence of its two authors has been analysed here, here and here Meanwhile, on Friday Pope Francis received in a private audience Cardinal Angelo Amato, Prefect of the Congregation for the Cause of Saints, and authorized the Congregation to promulgate decrees in relation to a number of the faithful on their road to sainthood [1], reported  here in Italian  This reports

“The Supreme Pontiff finally approved the votes in favour of the Ordinary Session of the Cardinals and Bishops about the canonization of Blessed John XXIII (Angelo Giuseppe Roncalli) and decided to convene a Consistory, which will also cover the canonization of Blessed John Paul II (Karol Józef Wojtyła)”.

No dates for the canonization ceremonies have yet been given.  Comments on the decision on the canonization of John XXIII without the required second miracle are here, here, and here.

This good news will be welcomed in a week which saw the resignation of both the Director and Deputy Director of the Vatican Bank, aka The Institute for the Works of Religion (IOR).

“Six days shalt thou labour…”: Slinger v DWP

The Jewish Chronicle reported that the Social Entitlement Chamber, which adjudicates benefits disputes, had allowed an appeal by a nineteen-year-old Charedi man from Greater Manchester, Mr Jacob Slinger, against a decision of the Department for Work and Pensions after he was denied Jobseeker’s Allowance for over six months and told that he must work on Shabbat. He had left his university course in November 2012 and had applied for the benefit but was refused on the grounds that his stipulation that he could not work on Friday afternoons and Saturdays in order to observe Shabbat was deemed “not reasonable”. The relevant Regulations state that jobseekers must be available for work for a minimum of 35 hours a week: Mr Slinger had agreed to be available for work for 53 hours a week – but not on Friday afternoons or Saturdays.

Religious observance and availability for work is a complex area – see, for example, Copsey v WWB Devon Clays Ltd [2005] EWCA Civ 932 and Cherfi v G4S Security Services Ltd [2011] UKEAT 0379 10 2405 – but both those cases related to people actually in work, not to benefit claims. Religious observance as a bar to Jobseeker’s Allowance is a new one on us: so if anyone has a copy of the tribunal judgment we should very much like to see it.

Trades unions and religious organisations

The Grand Chamber of the ECtHR has announced that it will hand down judgment in Sindicatul ‘Păstorul cel Bun’ v Romania on 9 July, on appeal from the Third Section judgment of 31 January 2012 which held by five votes to two that the refusal of the authorities to grant legal personality to the applicant trades union (the “Union of the Good Shepherd”, established on 4 April 2008 by 35 clergy and laity of the Romanian Orthodox Church) and enter it in the trade unions register violated Article 11 ECHR (freedom of assembly and association).

This is an important case both for the right to freedom of association and for the (possibly conflicting) rights of religious organisations to govern themselves in accordance with their canonical norms; and we shall report the judgment asap.

“Time stands still with gazing on her face…”

Although it is essentially a non-news item, the story by the Daily Mail “Is this a wind up? Time stands still in Bronte village after health and safety rules mean 1871 church clock can no longer be wound” serves as a timely reminder to PCCs and incumbents of their obligations when volunteers and others are “working at height”. Although such issues may be identified at the church’s Quinquennial Inspection by the DAC-approved architect or chartered building surveyor, the primary purpose of these is to ensure that church buildings are kept in good repair rather than health and safety.  In the present case, an inspection on behalf of the insurer deemed that the step-ladder and winding platform for the clock of St Michael and All Angels Church in Haworth were unsafe and could no longer be used until remedial work (at an estimated cost of ~£1,000) was performed. From the report, a review of working practices would also seem to be in order [2].

The church is to be commended for undertaking the required action, but the newsworthiness is derived from the comments of the clock-winder who has been performing this task for 23 years – “It is health and safety gone barmy”; “I am not aware there has been an accident in the tower since it was built in 1871.  If there had been I would have been aware of it”; “You could argue the church itself is more dangerous. You could bang your head on a pew or slip on the chancellery (sic) steps.”

(But, O Daily Mail, it’s not about “health and safety” at all: it’s about the insurer being unwilling to insure against what is regarded as an unacceptable risk relative to a realistic premium – a judgment that insurers have to make every day of their working lives.)


[1] i.e. acknowledgement of “heroic virtues” of “Servants of God” nominated by bishops, for recognition as “Venerable”; acknowledgement of miracles and martyrdom as precursors to beatification, “Blessed”, and canonization, “Saint”.

[2] Access to the winding platform is via a spiral staircase to the ringing chamber and from there, a step ladder up which the winder climbs, carrying the crank handle. The ladder is said to be “beyond its sell-by date” and the banisters inadequate. In addition to being worn out, they are only 71 cm high, rather than 109 cm, and need a second rail to prevent anyone slipping through the gap.

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