Law and religion round-up – 31st January

Rebecca Steinfeld and Charles Keidan unsuccessful on opposite-sex civil partnerships, Ofsted’s objections to niqabs, Baroness Cox’s Arbitration and Mediation Bill – and a new blog…

Heterosexual civil partnerships? Not yet

On Friday Andrews J handed down judgment in Steinfeld & Anor v The Secretary of State for Education [2016] EWHC 128 (Admin) (Our first thought was Education?? shurely shome mishtake: however, the Education Secretary also has the equalities brief in her portfolio.) She held that the refusal to allow Rebecca Steinfeld and Charles Keidan to register a civil partnership had not violated their Convention rights because it was their own choice “not to avail themselves of the means of state recognition that is open to them. The state has fulfilled its obligations under the Convention by making a means of formal recognition of their relationship available.” Denying them a civil partnership was not, therefore, unlawful state interference with their Article 8 rights [39].

In short, the provisions of the Civil Partnership Act had not become incompatible with Articles 14 and 8 ECHR “just because same-sex couples now have two routes to achieving legal recognition of their relationship by the state and opposite-sex couples continue to only have one. The difference in treatment … does not infringe a personal interest close to the core of the right to family life, still less the right to private life protected by Article 8” [84]. Continue reading

Tom Sharpe burial no longer “Blott on the (ecclesiastical) Landscape”

Consistory court sorts out irregular features of the burial of some of Tom Sharpe’s ashes – but what next?

In our post of 15 June 2014 we commented on the Ascension Edition of the Ecclesiastical Law Society’s Newsletter Gospel and Law which included some “tests of problem-solving skills by way of fun and exercise for the little grey cells” for its younger members about to embark on the forthcoming exam season. We suggested that to these, which “may bear some but limited connection to real situations”, might be added the following recent problem, yet to be resolved:

Unauthorized Burial

In fulfilment of his wishes, the long-term partner of a popular, well-known author [Tom Sharpe] made an unauthorized burial of his ashes, in the same Northumberland cemetery as his father is laid to rest. The ashes were buried in a small hole dug by hand, and the spot was marked by a bottle of whisky, a cigar and his favourite pen”,

and suggested that the legal, pastoral and media issues needed to be addressed; we also provided links to media reports: the Church Times (£) and the Daily Mail, here and here. The former has now come before the ecclesiastical courts and is reported in the judgment Re St Aidan Thockrington [2016] ECC New 1 [1] . The Newcastle Chronicle carries additional reporting and photographs.  Continue reading

Marrakesh Declaration: rights of religious minorities in predominantly Muslim communities

An international 
conference primarily of Muslim scholars has issued a declaration on religious rights which is potentially so important that we feel that it is worth posting the English text in full…


“In the Name of God, the All-Merciful, the All-Compassionate

Executive Summary of the Marrakesh Declaration on the Rights of Religious Minorities in Predominantly Muslim Majority Communities, 25th-27th January 2016

WHEREAS, conditions in various parts of the Muslim World have deteriorated dangerously due to the use of violence and armed struggle as a tool for settling conflicts and imposing one’s point of view;

WHEREAS, this situation has also weakened the authority of legitimate governments and enabled criminal groups to issue edicts attributed to Islam, but which, in fact, alarmingly distort its fundamental principles and goals in ways that have seriously harmed the population as a whole;

WHEREAS, this year marks the 1,400th anniversary of the Charter of Medina, a constitutional contract between the Prophet Muhammad, God’s peace and blessings be upon him, and the people of Medina, which guaranteed the religious liberty of all, regardless of faith; Continue reading

Reason, law and religious freedom

The following guest post is a lightly-edited version of a paper that first appeared on the website of the Kirby Laing Institute for Christian Ethics. Stephen Williams, Professor of Systematic Theology at Union Theological College, Belfast, explores one of the basic theoretical issues in law & religion.


Judgement on the proper place of religious freedom in relation to law is affected by the perception of how religion stands in relation to rationality. Seven consequences of the supposition that religious belief is irrational are briefly set out, and their bearing noted on the question of conscience.


In the contemporary debate on the law and religious freedom, ‘religion’ is often conceived in a way that prejudices the terms of the debate. This article explores the effects on our approach to the question of law and religious freedom of the assumption that religion is irrational, whether this means contrary to reason or incapable of being rationally established.[1] I shall pass over three questions: 1. how religion should be defined, whether in philosophy, theology or law; 2. how desirable a legal definition is, whether at national, European or international level; 3. what status religious liberties should have in relation to other liberties. A fourth question, indirectly related to the third, will be touched on, but not examined: the question of whether religious belief should be a protected characteristic precisely because it is religious, or because it shares relevant characteristics with non-religious moral beliefs or philosophical belief-systems that are equally entitled to protection.

‘Religion’ is here understood in its ordinary-language sense and so excludes atheism. As far as I can tell, the supposition about religious irrationality has consequences in at least seven relevant areas.

Seven consequences of viewing religion as irrational Continue reading

Ofsted, school uniform and niqabs: the Chief Inspector’s statement

HM Chief Inspector of Education, Sir Michael Wilshaw, has made a statement on wearing full face-veils in schools, as follows:

“The Prime Minister and Secretary of State are right to give their backing to schools and other institutions which insist on removing face coverings when it makes sense to do so. Continue reading

Challenges to school admissions criteria and “vexatious litigation”

Yesterday the Secretary of State for Education, Nicky Morgan, announced that the Government is to amend the rules relating to the Schools Admission Code in England by:

  • stopping objections to a school or local authority’s admissions arrangements from outside the local area;
  • stopping “vexatious complaints against faith schools from secularist campaign groups”; and
  • requiring admissions authorities to consult on their admission arrangements every four years rather than, as at present, every seven years.

Which is a very interesting use of the word “vexatious”. Continue reading

Flood damage and the faculty jurisdiction

Court decides between conflicting expert advice post-flood remediation

At the end of last year, we posted Guidance to churches on flooding  which reproduced information circulated by the Diocese of York for those whose church is at risk of flooding, or has been flooded. This  included links to the 2-page Checklist for church properties to prepare for flooding and the longer Flooding and Historic Buildings published by Historic England in April 2015. In addition, the CofE has also posted Keeping the water at bay – how churches can adjust to regular flooding.

Our post noted “whilst the issue of flooded churches is outside the normal remit of L&RUK until remediation falls within the faculty jurisdiction, [these] links may be of use to those who have suffered flood damage”. The present post summarizes the concerns on the extent of flood damage that have been raised in Westminster, and a recently published consistory court judgment on two alternative technical solutions that had been presented to the court. Continue reading