Religion and Law round-up – 30th November

The Pope speaks on Europe, the Lords debate religion in public life, the Law Society climbs down on sharia-compliant wills – while the Swiss and the Northern Irish are getting cold feet about human rights…

Not the sharia practice note

On Monday. after howls of disapproval, the Law Society withdrew its practice note on how to draw up a sharia-compliant will in a way that satisfies the law of succession in England and Wales. So any non-specialist solicitor with a Muslim client who wants to leave his or her estate in accordance with Islamic as well as English law will either have to refer the client to a specialist – or just guess.

Lords debate on religion and belief in public life

On Thursday the Lords debated a motion “That this House takes note of the role of religion and belief in British public life”, introduced by Lord Harries of Pentregarth, former Bishop of Oxford. (Presumably that should have read “public life in the United Kingdom” – but almost everyone in politics outside Northern Ireland seems unaware of the distinction.) Continue reading

The Smith Commission, further Scottish devolution – and religion?

The Report of the Smith Commission for further devolution of powers to the Scottish Parliament was published on Thursday. As most readers will be aware, the Commission was set up after the Scottish independence referendum to make recommendations on greater financial, welfare and taxation powers for Scotland; and the Heads of Agreement were drawn up by nominees to the Commission from all five political parties at Holyrood. There are several issues in the report that may impinge on “law & religion”, some more directly than others. Continue reading

The Marriage Pledge – further developments

Our earlier considerations of the Marriage Pledge covered the initial reactions within the US to its publication on the First Things web site, and the relevance in Europe of such an approach: on the latter we concluded that there would be few UK clergy who would sign up to the Pledge. Nevertheless, the relationship between the state and religion is of general concern, particularly in connection with developments on same-sex marriage. Whilst there has been a continuing dialogue between proponents and opponents, the aspects that will be considered here are: how the Pledge would operate in practice; and the distinction between civil and sacramental marriage.

Operation of the Pledge Continue reading

German Constitutional Court upholds dismissal of divorced & remarried Roman Catholic doctor

Germany’s Federal Constitutional Court [Bundesverfassungsgericht] has reversed the judgment of the Federal Labour Court declaring unlawful the dismissal of a senior doctor in a Roman Catholic hospital after his remarriage without a prior annulment.

The self-determination of religious groups is protected by Article 140 of Germany’s Basic Law read in conjunction with Article 137(3) of the Weimar Constitution; and the Second Senate of the Court upheld the applicant’s dismissal, ruling that the Labour Court had taken insufficient account of the meaning and scope of the Church’s right to self-determination and that courts should not override Church decisions based on ecclesiastical self-understanding so long as those decisions did not contradict basic constitutional guarantees.

Somewhat surprisingly, however, the Court took the view that the case law of the European Court of Human Rights gave no reason to modify the interpretation of constitutional law on the matter. Continue reading

Pope Francis, Europe and human rights

In a short, four-hour visit to Strasbourg, Pope Francis delivered speeches to both the European Parliament and the Council of Europe. The BBC and other media outlets picked up the comments in the third paragraph of his speech to the Parliament on the world’s perception of the EU as “somewhat elderly and haggard Europe”,

“As the European Union has expanded, the world itself has become more complex and ever changing; increasingly interconnected and global, it has, as a consequence, become less and less ‘Eurocentric’. Despite a larger and stronger Union, Europe seems to give the impression of being somewhat elderly and haggard, feeling less and less a protagonist in a world which frequently regards it with aloofness, mistrust and even, at times, suspicion.”

However, the press release of the European Parliament was more upbeat, and its summary of the Pope’s speech stated: Continue reading

Law Society withdraws practice note on sharia-compliant wills

In March we posted on the practice note produced for solicitors by the Law Society of England and Wales on the sharia succession rules and how charitable gifts within sharia wills should be managed. Its purpose was to help the average English or Welsh solicitor with a client who wished to write a sharia-compliant will.

The note attracted a massive amount of criticism (though not, we should emphasise, from us) and today the Society issued the following press statement:

“24 November 2014

The Law Society has withdrawn its practice note on Sharia succession principles following feedback, including from some members.

Law Society president Andrew Caplen said:

‘Our practice note was intended to support members to better serve their clients as far as is allowed by the law of England and Wales. We reviewed the note in the light of criticism. We have withdrawn the note and we are sorry'”.

The practice note no longer appears to be on the Society’s website.

[With thanks to Joshua Rozenberg for the tweet.]

The Marriage Pledge – Its relevance in Europe

Our earlier post, The Marriage Pledge – Reaction within the US, summarized the issues arising in the United States following the publication of the Marriage Pledge on the First Things website: a debate that is still continuing[1]. In contrast to the many individual commentators on and signatories to the Pledge, the Archibsihop and Primate of the Anglican Church of North America has issued a strongly worded institutional response advising ministers not to sign it, pending a detailed consideration of its implications. Continue reading