Law and religion round-up – 11th September

Parliament resumed, Dame Lowell Goddard explained why she thought that the Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse in its present form was doomed to failure – and the new Justice Secretary managed to avoid explaining anything much at all … 

Home Affairs Committee inquiry into sharia

On Monday, The Guardian reported that Elham Manea, associate professor in Middle East studies at Zurich University and a specialist in sharia, was going to tell the House of Commons Home Affairs Committee that “British courts should be able to issue Islamic divorces via a specialised unit set up to protect the rights of Muslim women” and argue for mandatory civil marriages alongside religious ceremonies:

“In written evidence to the Commons inquiry, Manea says the vast majority of women attending sharia councils have not formalised their religious marriage under British law and are often forced into conceding their civil rights in order to secure an Islamic divorce. Others complain of being coerced into mediation and reconciliation even if they have suffered abuse at the hands of their husband … She told the Guardian: ‘It’s true women will be stuck if you don’t provide a solution but that solution is not a parallel legal system. Interpretation in many Islamic countries including Tunisia and Morocco means a religious divorce automatically follows a civil one. It should be the same in Britain and a bureau within the courts should provide this service’.”

There is no sign of her memorandum on the Committee’s inquiry website, so presumably The Guardian has got hold of the memorandum before the Committee has authorised its publication.

Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse

The Times (£) has seen a memorandum to the Commons Home Affairs Committee from the Inquiry’s former Chair, Dame Lowell Goddard,  in which she asserts that:

 “With the benefit of hindsight, or more realistically the benefit of experience, it is clear there is an inherent problem in the sheer scale and size of the inquiry (which its budget does not match) and therefore in its manageability … Its boundless compass, including as it does every state and non-state institution as well as relevant institutional contexts, coupled with the absence of any built-in time parameters, does not fit comfortably or practically within the single inquiry model in which it currently resides.

I have recommended in my report to the Home Secretary that my departure provides a timely opportunity to undertake a complete review of the inquiry in its present form, with a view to remodelling it and recalibrating its emphasis more towards current events and thus focusing major attention on the present and future protection of children.”

The Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse is now chaired by Professor Alexis Jay.

More on the “British Bill of Rights” 

In her first appearance before the Commons Justice Committee, Liz Truss, the Lord Chancellor and Secretary of State for Justice, confirmed that the Government had not abandoned plans to repeal the Human Rights Act but intended to remain a signatory to the ECHR. When asked what the proposal was designed to achieve, she replied:

“We were members of the Convention long before the Human Rights Act. The Human Rights Act is a fairly recent phenomenon. What the British Bill of Rights will do is protect our rights but in a better way. That is fundamentally what we are saying: that there are big problems with the Human Rights Act that are nothing to do with the Convention – problems that have only emerged since the Human Rights Act came in. We are still working on it and I don’t have details about the proposal.”

However, she appeared not to rule out ending the right of individuals enforcing Convention rights in the UK courts. Fur further details, see Mark Elliott: The new Justice Secretary, Elizabeth Truss, on a British Bill of Rights.

Brexit and religious law

Noting the updating we have provided in our “Brexit Basics” series of posts, the latest of which was on 5 September, the Michaelmas Edition of Gospel and Law observes that very few of the reported commentaries have touched on the implications for ecclesiastical law and laws pertaining to religion. Whilst at first sight most of the laws ecclesiastical would appear to be immune from the consequences of Brexit – planning law, faculties, and burial –  there are some aspects of EU law that may make a difference to religious organisations as and when the Brexit process gets going. The Revd Dr Catherine Shelley gives a few speculative thoughts on: marriage law; human rights; data protection; the working time Directive and health and safety issues; and VAT.

Other than commenting on the statement “Brexit means Brexit”, here and here, we have confined our analysis to the very few issues on which there is a degree of certainty at the present time. In his article Brexit, Article 50 and the future in the next issue of Environmental Law and Management, David suggests that in this tranche of law, “in the short-term the rearrangement of government departments will probably have a greater effect than the Brexit negotiations themselves”.

A similar conclusion might be reached in relation to religious law, and in particular to the approach taken by Liz Truss in relation to the ECHR and British Bill of Rights [see above]. However, more general concern has been expressed by some commentators following her performance before the Commons Justice Committee last week: her stock responses of “looking into things” and “in due course” regardless of what was being discussed, and the need for No 10 to issue “a clarification” as to what she meant with regard to the reform of prison law.

Statements by “Brexit ministers” have also required “clarification”: on David Davis’s statement on membership of the single market made during his speech to the Commons on Monday, here, and on Liam Fox’s views on UK business (“fat and lazy”) and the role of the FCO made to the Conservative Way Forward group, here.

Faith-schools and the BHA

On Wednesday, Andrew Copson, Chief Executive of the British Humanist Association, gave evidence to the House of Commons Education Select Committee. He noted that at least 350 schools with no religious character were now part of multi-academy trusts (MATs) that also contain at least one religious school, with another 17 in the pipeline. The BHA believes that this will allow religious groups to exert influence over the ethos, staffing, curriculum and worship in schools with no religious character and is calling for robust safeguards to be introduced.

Jeremy Pemberton appeal

Jeremy Pemberton’s appeal against the decision in Pemberton v Inwood, Acting Bishop of Southwell and Nottingham [2015] ET 2600962/2014 was before the Employment Appeal Tribunal on Thursday and Friday.

Neutral citations for consistory cases

Our Friday post Exhumation, reburial and judicial precedent: Re Sam Tai Chan gave further consideration to the issue of exhumation and reburial of remains in consecrated ground has been considered. The judgment is entitled “In the Consistory Court of the Diocese of Durham: In the matter of St Chad’s Bensham and in the matter of the petition of Sam Tai Chan” , and this provided a challenge as to how it might translate to a neutral citation. The citation agreed with Chancellor Bursell is Re Sam Tai Chan [2016] ECC Dur 2; this follows the normal convention because, although she was not included in the heading to the judgment, Sam Tai Chan was the petitioner.

We are grateful to the Revd Ray Hemingray for pointing us in the right direction and for this following advice, which will be of use to others searching for a case:

“…in view of the new neutral citations, you can use the search facility on the ELA web site to find judgments for a particular diocese. For example, if you type ECC Lee in the search field and hit Return, you will get a list of all the judgments for the Diocese of Leeds since we started the neutral citation system. So long as you know the diocese, this can save you a fruitless search for a case by one name, when in fact it is listed under another name.”

Monuments in the churchyard

The BBC reports that letters of objections have been sent to the diocese with regard to the installation of a life-size statue of Alexander Selkirk, (1676 – 13 December 1721, aka Alexander Selcraig), in the churchyard of  St Andrew’s, Clifton, Bristol. Selkirk is said to be the inspiration for Daniel Defoe’s Robinson Crusoe, but in addition to objections that the life-like crouching statue could look out of place, and “be a bit creepy” and “terrifying” at night in a graveyard, he does not seems to have been a model citizen. According to Wikipedia:

“[h]e was summoned before the Kirk Session in August 1693 for his ‘indecent conduct in church’, but he ‘did not appear, being gone to sea.’ He was back at Largo in 1701, when he again came to the attention of church authorities for beating up his brothers.”

The churchyard site was only chosen “on the rebound”, the £70,000 statue by New York-based artist Frank Benson having been turned down following objections of the residents of two earlier prospective locations. The public consultation for this third, churchyard site ended on 19 August, following which the proposal will be subject to consideration by the consistory court. As with most dioceses, whilst all works pertaining to consecrated ground fall within the ambit of the faculty jurisdiction, the installation of such a memorial is quite uncommon and is not addressed within the relevant Churchyard Regulations.

Quick links

  • Church of England: Week in Westminster, 5th-9th September 2016 This week bishops in the House of Lords led a debate on banking reform and spoke in debates on school admissions and civil society. Bishops also paid tribute to the departing Lord Speaker and asked questions on executive pay, children at the Calais refugee camp and pensions for UK nationals living abroad. Church Commissioner answered questions on children in care and churches in Blackburn. Answers to questions tabled during the parliamentary recess on religious freedom in Saudi Arabia, Pakistan and Bangladesh were also published.
  • Premier Christian Radio: In The Dock: series that began on 30 July (we’ve only just become aware of it) in which retired High Court judge Sir Jeremy Cooke and Ranti Williams “present the show that takes a look at what’s happening in the courts and asks whether the law is helping or hurting your faith”.
  • GAFCON: GAFCON UK website launched “Through affiliation to GAFCON UK, Christians in the British Isles will be connected with this global movement for renewal and mission with its spiritual vitality and evangelistic zeal, doctrinal clarity, wisdom and faithfulness under pressure.”

And finally … “Just when you thought it was safe to go back in the water” …

…  Al Jazeera reported that, in spite of the fact that the Conseil d’État suspended a ban imposed by the Mayor of Villeneuve-Loubet on wearing the burkini on his town’s beachesan administrative court in Corsica has just refused to lift another burkini ban, saying it was justified on public order grounds. The Mayor of Sisco had brought in the ban after a confrontation between Moroccans and local residents in mid-August: reportedly, someone took a photograph of a woman swimming in the sea wearing a veil and the police had to intervene to break up the resulting fracas.

The court in Corsica ruled on Tuesday that the ban should be maintained because “strong emotions persist” and “The presence on a beach in Sisco of a woman wearing a swimming costume of the type targeted [by the ban] … could cause risks to public order which it is the town hall’s duty to prevent.”

Next stop, presumably, the Conseil d’État again.

One thought on “Law and religion round-up – 11th September

  1. Pingback: Ecclesiastical court judgments – August/late summer | Law & Religion UK

Leave a Reply