Law & Religion 2014 and 2015: retrospect and prospect – Part I

It’s that time of year again, when folks wonder where the last twelve months have gone and make New Year resolutions which will last for at least a week – and bloggers write reviews of the past year. So here’s Part One of ours…


Scotland said, “No, but…”

Much the biggest domestic news of the year was that the Scottish independence referendum on 18 September returned a “No” vote by a margin of 55% to 45%. In its aftermath, the unionist parties looked hard at further devolution to the Scottish Government and Parliament, while the SNP added almost 60,000 new members in the wake of the result. Alex Salmond resigned as leader of the SNP and First Minister and was replaced by his depute, Nicola Sturgeon, while the leader of the Scottish Labour Party, Johann Lamont, also resigned, complaining that Labour at Westminster treated Scotland like a branch office, and was replaced by former Scottish Secretary Jim Murphy.

On 19 September, the Prime Minister announced that Lord Smith of Kelvin would chair a Commission on further devolution and its proposals were published in late November. The intention is to publish legislation by Burns Night 2015, 25 January (which falls on a Sunday).

The CJEU and the ECHR: where next?

The Court of Justice of the European Union threw a very large spanner into the ongoing works of EU accession to the ECHR when it issued a full-court opinion on the draft accession agreement declaring it incompatible with the European Treaties. There have already been several analyses of the decision: for helpful summaries see Michèle Finck on the International Journal of Constitutional Law  blog and David Hart on UKHRB.

Issues of religion or religious belief: Shergill v Khaira

In June the Supreme Court was faced with the knotty problem of the extent to which the courts may legitimately involve themselves in matters of religion and belief. In Shergill & Ors v Khaira & Ors [2014] UKSC 33. Continue reading

High Court of Ireland rules brain-dead pregnant woman can be taken off life support

On Friday a three-judge bench of the High Court of Ireland (Kearns P, Baker & Costello JJ) ruled in PP v Health Service Executive [2014] 10792P that a brain-dead pregnant woman could be taken off life support. The doctors who had treated her were concerned that removing her life support might violate Ireland’s constitutional protection of the unborn child. In a post on Human Rights in Ireland prior to the judgment, Fiona de Londras explained that:

“By granting a constitutionally protected right to life to the unborn foetus, the Constitution has embedded a ‘two patient’ approach that, where the pregnant woman is effectively deceased but the foetus is not, inevitably morphs into a ‘one patient’ approach. This one patient, however, is dependent for life on the body of the deceased woman and thus questions of difficult and harrowing proportions arise.”

Continue reading

End of Year Quiz for 2014

As in previous years, we have compiled a quiz concerning events in law and religion during 2014, many of which have featured in our posts.  Answers will be published on 3rd January.

1. Who on New Year’s Eve left a voicemail message when the nuns didn’t answer the phone; and what were they doing?

IMG_2055(5)2. What have the following in common: peaceful protesters, noisy children in the street, street preachers, canvassers, carol singers, trick-or-treaters, church bell ringers, clay pigeon shooters and nudists; the choir of Bath Abbey; and Japanese Knotweed? Continue reading

Consistory courts catch-up, December ’14

This post includes links to, and brief summaries of, recent consistory court judgments concerning exhumation, reordering of churches and a range of other topics. In addition, there is a summary of earlier posts relating to specific aspects of the faculty jurisdiction . Continue reading

Can a commercial company have “beliefs”? Exmoor Coast Boat Cruises Ltd v Revenue & Customs

In Exmoor Coast Boat Cruises Ltd v Revenue & Customs [2014] UKFTT 1103 (TC) the company appealed against decisions of HMRC refusing its application to file its VAT returns on paper. It was represented by Mr Oxenham, its sole director and sole shareholder.

The background

Initially, filing VAT returns online was made compulsory for all businesses with a turnover of over £100,000 and any newly-registered business with effect from 1 April 2010. Subsequently, it was extended to all businesses without exception with effect from 1 April 2012. The technical VAT details of this appeal need not concern us: the interest for students of law and religion is that Mr Oxenham claimed exemption from the obligation to file on-line on grounds of religious belief, relying on Regulation 25A(6)(a) Value Added Tax Regulations 1995/2518 (subsequently inserted by the Value Added Tax Regulations 1995), which exempts “a practising member of a religious society or order whose beliefs are incompatible with the use of electronic communications”. Continue reading

Religion and Law round-up – 21st December

“Participating” in abortion, marking time on humanist weddings, first same-sex marriage under Scots law – and a hitch in EU accession to the ECHR..

Abortion and conscientious objection

The big news of the week was that Greater Glasgow and Clyde Health Board won its appeal in the controversy over whether or not Mary Doogan and Connie Wood, labour ward coordinators at the Southern General Hospital and practising Roman Catholics, could claim conscientious objection under s 4 Abortion Act 1967 to having to supervise staff participating in abortions. Maria Strauss, an Associate at Farrer & Co, wrote a joint post on the case with Frank.

Humanist weddings in England and Wales?

The Sunday Times reported (£) that Number 10 was blocking proposals to provide for humanist marriages although the Lib Dems remained in favour. Understandably, the British Humanist Association was very disappointed indeed, not least because experience in Scotland (where celebrants are licensed rather than buildings) suggests that there is quite a strong demand for humanist wedding ceremonies.

On Thursday the Government published its response to the consultation: Marriages by non-religious belief organisations. In short, though ministers don’t seem to be against humanist marriages in principle, they reckon that the law in England and Wales on licensing buildings for the solemnisation of marriages is so complex that “it is necessary to carefully consider the legal and technical requirements concerning marriage ceremonies and registration and the range of relevant equality issues”. So they have asked the Law Commission to conduct “a broader review of the law concerning marriage ceremonies”. In short: nothing this side of the General Election. Continue reading

Does “caste” fall within the definition of “race” in s 9 Equality Act 2010?

Chandhok & Anor v Tirkey (Race Discrimination) [2014] UKEAT 0190 14 1912 was an appeal against the refusal of Employment Judge Sigsworth to strike out some parts of a claim by Ms Tirkey. She had claimed that the Chandhoks had treated her badly and in a demeaning manner and initially sought “compensation for direct or indirect race discrimination and harassment including injury to feelings” and “compensation for discrimination on the grounds of religion or belief, including injury to feelings…”. She then claimed (by amendment) that her treatment was in part because of her low status which was “infected with considerations of caste”.

The Chandhoks applied to strike out this amendment on the following grounds: