Law and religion round-up – 13th November

Another week dominated by “events, dear boy, events” and the continuing row over the decision of the Court of Appeal on the mechanism for Brexit…

Brexit in the courts – the plot thickens

On Tuesday:

  • the Supreme Court granted permission to appeal in R (Miller & Dos Santos) v Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union and set aside four days, 5-8 December, for a hearing before the full Court of eleven justices;
  • the BBC carried a report that the Lord Advocate is to seek to intervene in the Supreme Court appeal in Miller;
  • Maguire J heard argument in the High Court in Belfast on the stayed matters in McCord: according to Irish Legal News, it also remains to be determined whether an appeal should leapfrog to the Supreme Court – which, apparently, would be a first for Northern Ireland;
  • the Belfast News Letter reported that the Attorney General, John Larkin QC, had issued a notice that the devolution matters raised in Agnew – the other judicial review petition, by a cross-party group of MLAs – are worthy of further judicial consideration and should be referred directly to the UKSC.

On Thursday, the Government published the Grounds of Appeal to the Supreme Court of the Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union.

Brexit and the Daily Mail

In the run-up to the EU Referendum we indicated that we would be keeping track on “Euro myths and legends” so far as they impact on “law and religion” and cautioned on the increasing amount of misinformation regarding the European Union from the “red tops” and other sources. We also suggested that the blog on the European Commission’s Euro myths web page and Full Fact [“We’ll supply the facts, you supply the opinion”] were essential reading.

However, misinformation is not the sole prerogative of “Brexiters”, as shown by this week’s Full Fact analysis: The Daily Mail, “enemies of the people”, and a Nazi newspaper. It had been claimed that a recent Daily Mail headline bore an uncanny resemblance to the front page of a Nazi newspaper from 1933, both papers branding particular judges as ‘Enemies of the People’. The image of the two headlines has been doing the rounds on Twitter and Facebook for some time. In this case Full Fact concluded:

“The German headline reads ‘traitors of the people’. The men depicted in the 1933 newspaper weren’t judges, and the translation in the caption is wrong. They were people who had their citizenship revoked by the Nazi regime.”

In more detail, it said:

“The Twitter user who first posted the comparison, Dr Ned Richardson-Little, didn’t claim that the German paper showed judges. He pointed us to sources for the headline and the names of the ‘traitors’, which we’ve republished below. Dr Richardson-Little invited his followers to ‘compare and contrast’ the two images. It seems that the original tweet was misunderstood, amended and re-tweeted with the incorrect caption.”

We would point out, however, that as in the continuing misinformation regarding the EU, there is often a strong “first mover advantage” regarding the establishment of urban myths in the public consciousness.

Updated Oslo Principles

A conference hosted by the Oslo Coalition on Freedom of Religion or Belief in cooperation with the International Center for Law and Religion Studies at Brigham Young University has updated the Oslo Principles on Promotion of Freedom of Religion or Belief. It draws on experience since the Oslo Declaration in 1998.

Political Islam

The House of Commons Foreign Affairs Committee has published a report, Political Islam’ and the Muslim Brotherhood Review, that is fairly ciritical of what it sees as the historic tendency of successive UK administrations to lump political Islamist movements together instead of distinguishing between violent groups like IS and al-Qaeda and those that try to engage with democratic politics. John Oborne summarises the arguments here.

Trinity Western – update

The Toronto Star reports that Trinity Western University has sought leave to appeal to the Supreme Court of Canada against the ruling of the Ontario Court of Appeal that the Law Society of Upper Canada acted intra vires in refusing to accredit graduates of TWU’s nascent Law School. Earlier this month, the British Columbia Court of Appeal ruled in favour of TWU and the Star also reports that the Law Society of BC is seeking leave to appeal that ruling.

Church of England Director, Churches and Cathedrals

The Church of England has advertised for a Director for the churches and cathedrals work of the National Church Institutions, in succession to Janet Gough. The duties are summarised as follows:

“To lead a team that will work with others in the Archbishops’ Council and the Church Commissioners in supporting dioceses and cathedrals in making the best use of their buildings for mission. To build on the success of the division in spreading good practice and obtaining resources from outside the Church for fabric and conservation, and to connect the division’s work to others in the National Church Institutions, supporting complementary aspects of churches’ mission. To implement the recommendations of the Church Buildings Review, agreed by the Archbishops’ Council, Church Commissioners and other Church governance bodies in 2015-6, and in particular to strengthen relations with the Church Commissioners so as to provide seamless support on buildings matters for dioceses and cathedrals.”

 Applications close at midnight tomorrow, 14 November.

Commemoration of a great secularist

bradlugh-1A portrait bust of Charles Bradlaugh has been unveiled in Portcullis House – the new(ish) parliamentary building on the other side of Bridge Street. The bust, by Suzie Zamit, was commissioned and donated to the House of Commons by the National Secular Society, which Bradlaugh founded in 1866.

Bradlaugh, an avowed atheist, was first elected to the Commons in 1880 for the constituency of Northampton. He attempted to take his seat in the House on several occasions but was not permitted to swear the Oath of Allegiance: see Bradlaugh v Gossett (1884) 12 QBD 271 (QB). At one point he was imprisoned in the Clock Tower (where, incidentally, Frank used to sleep when on night-duty as a very junior Commons Clerk).

The refusals prompted four successive by-elections, each of which Bradlaugh won. After six years he was finally allowed to swear the Oath and take his seat. He promoted what became the Oaths Act 1888 (since consolidated into the Oaths Act 1978) as a private Member’s bill, ensuring that any future MPs who wished not to swear would be able to take their seats in the House by making a non-religious affirmation. A great man.

[Picture courtesy of Suzie Zamit.]

Quick links

  • Bingham Centre for the Rule of Law: We Need to talk about the rule of law: on 8 November, the Bingham Centre for the Rule of Law invited the Lord Chancellor to deliver a public lecture, to be hosted by the Centre, under the following title: “What is the rule of law? What does it require?”
  • Nick Fraser, BBC Radio 4The French Culture War: on the conflict between a new generation of French Muslims and hard-line secularism – well worth listening to if you have a spare half-hour.
  • Howard M Friedman and Emily Lund, Church Law & TaxQ&A: The Current State of Church-State Relations: interview with Professor Friedman on current trends in church-state relations and legislation, what the US can learn from religious cases abroad and his aims as a legal blogger.
  • Keith Kahn-Harris, Religion and the Public SphereBranding Jews exotic: sociiology rather than law but, nevertheless, an interesting discussion of the way the media tends to use photographs of strictly Orthodox Haredi Jews to illustrate general articles on Judaism – and of the misconceptions that can result.
  • Alasdair Henderson, UKHRBNot just a piece of cake: interesting reflection on the judgment in Lee v McArthur & Ors [2016] NICA 39 which concludes that “Peter Tatchell, the Guardian and the Telegraph are right; this decision risks significantly restricting freedom of conscience and freedom of speech for all of us. There must be a better way of balancing competing rights in a diverse, plural society”. Not sure we agree, but well worth reading.

And finally… I

… it’s Trexit:

“The establishment took him literally but not seriously, while his fans took him seriously but not literally.”

And finally… II

Michael Gove in The Times on Friday:

“The suggestion there should be a people’s march on the Supreme Court didn’t strike me as the best use of my time. I’m not sure what would be served by me standing outside the old Middlesex Guildhall building shouting: ‘What do we want? The deployment of the Crown prerogative over treaty-making powers! When do we want it? At a time decreed by the relevant cabinet subcommittee and not held hostage by a parliamentary timetable!’ “

Maybe he’s better at journalism than politics.

5 thoughts on “Law and religion round-up – 13th November

  1. The Northern Ireland Attorney General, John Larkin QC, has kept himself busy.

    On Wednesday 16th November he asked the Supreme Court in London to review a ruling that a Belfast bakery (Ashers Baking Company Ltd) was guilty of discrimination for refusing to bake a cake bearing the message ‘support gay marriage’. A spokeswoman for the Attorney General’s office confirmed that Larkin had used powers granted to him via the Northern Ireland devolution settlement to urge the highest court in the UK to reconsider the judgments of both the high court and appeal court in the province. She told the Belfast Telegraph on Wednesday: “I can confirm that an application for leave to appeal to the supreme court has been listed for hearing on [Tuesday] 22 November.” This is the same day that the McArthur family, who own and run the bakery, are expected to learn that they themselves have no legal recourse to a potential challenge in the UK’s highest court.

    The Belfast Telegraph reports that the Attorney General is seeking to refer the case to the Supreme Court for it to rule on whether the laws that were used against the McArthurs are constitutionally valid. The Appeal Court has dismissed these. It is understood that the issue of costs relating to the £36.50 cake thus far, both in the original case and the Court of Appeal, are reported to exceed £200,000, could be decided at the same hearing next Tuesday.

    In October, The NI Lord Chief Justice led the Appeal Court in Belfast in unanimously upholding the High Court judgment made last year that Ashers bakery had discriminated against a customer on the grounds of sexual orientation.

    The BBC reported two previous controversial interventions relating to religious/moral issues. In October 2012 the Attorney General had offered to assist the Assembly’s justice committee to investigate whether the recently opened Marie Stopes clinic, the first in the Province to offer private abortions under the restrictive NI law, was operating within the law. In the same month, he also faced controversy over the issue of gay adoption, when it was made public that Mr Larkin had argued that European regions should be able to opt out of legalising adoption by same-sex couples. However, the UK government made it clear that it was not consulted before John Larkin intervened.

    Larkin was born in Belfast and educated at St Mary’s Christian Brothers’ Boys Grammar School, Belfast, which is a Catholic institution.

  2. Thanks for the update; but I’m not sure about the import of your last paragraph. Everyone is born and educated somewhere: are you suggesting that the Attorney’s religious views influence his professional judgment? I should have thought that he would have come to the same conclusion even if he were a devout adherent of the Free Presbyterian Church of Ireland. And I say that even though I happen to disagree with him.

    • I’m no lawyer and I don’t know what grounds the NI AG has for requesting permission to appeal to the SC. None were reported. In the context of the situations in my second last paragraph regarding the provision in NI of facilities for abortion and against same-sex adoption there, it seemed to me that his motivation in also seeking to appeal the gay cake case might not only be explained as simply a matter of law.

      Last November Mr Justice Horner in the Belfast High Ct ruled that NI’s retention of 1861 Offences Against the Person Act strict abortion controls is “incompatible” with Article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights – respect for a person’s family life and personal autonomy. The NI AG also appealed that decision, arguing that allowing terminations in cases of severe foetal abnormality discriminates against children with disabilities – based on the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. That depends on a contentious legal interpretation of the definition of a ‘child’s’ rights to allow such rights to the unborn fetus, which happens to be a matter of catholic church doctrine.

      I see it as a matter of fair comment as to his possible motivations in these cases when there is a complete accord with Catholic church teachings. I am curious as to what is going on and think it is reasonable to suggest others also contemplate the possibilities. It’s much more comfortable to assume 100% adherence to judicial impartiality but we shouldn’t be fearful of critically assessing possible contrary indications.

      The Belfast Appeal Court hasn’t yet ruled in the later case.

      • Oh sure: what you wrote was certainly within the bounds of “fair comment”. I just tend to start from the assumption that senior lawyers try to keep their personal opinions and prejudices firmly on the other side of the office door when acting in a professional capacity. But maybe I’m being slightly naive.

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