Law and religion round-up – 30th April

Parliament was prorogued on Thursday ahead of dissolution on 3 May …

… but first, 

… there were several key pieces of legislation, of which there is a full list in Hansard, here.

Among the bills that survived the pre-Election frenzy, a truncated Finance Bill left out the trigger to start HMRC’s ‘Making Tax Digital’ initiative, no doubt to the relief of small charities everywhere. But it will almost certainly be back on the agenda in due course, whatever the election result.

Parliament also passed the Northern Ireland (Ministerial Appointments and Regional Rates) Bill: a piece of emergency legislation which retrospectively resets the “14-day clock” in the Northern Ireland Act 1998 that expired on 27 March and replaced it with a 108-day grace period ending on 29 June. The duty on the Secretary of State to set a date for a new Assembly election is therefore suspended, at least for a period, and he can continue negotiations over power-sharing.

Burial in the wrong grave

In Re Fairmile Cemetery Lower Assendon [2017] ECC Oxf 2 the petitioner sought a faculty to exhume and re-inter a body mistakenly buried in a plot within of a block of graves reserved for his family because of an administrative error by the burial authority, Henley-on-Thames Town Council, which duly grovelled – with costs [84-86]. McGregor Ch refused to grant a faculty (and we shall note the case more fully in due course).

What is of immediate interest, however, is that the case revealed evidence of some fairly murky goings-on in local authority burial grounds. Apparently, the previous Town Clerk had said that he could arrange for the mistakenly-buried body “to be relocated informally”:

“This would be achieved by what he referred to as ‘sliding’ the body, i.e. excavating the ground so as to move the coffin sideways so that it no longer occupied plot 172, but without lifting it out of the ground” [34].

The Chancellor was having none of that, observing crisply that

“any interference with human remains that have been buried in consecrated ground would, unless authorised by faculty, be unlawful under ecclesiastical law … If such interference amounts to the remains being ‘removed’ it is also a criminal offence … Such unlawful action by a burial authority is to be deprecated. Should cases of this happening become known to the court, I shall instruct the Registrar to report the matter both to the Archdeacon with a view to appropriate steps being taken to enforce ecclesiastical law, and to the Police with a view to their investigating whether a criminal offence has been committed” [35: emphasis added].

The Council of Europe and rights of religious minorities

At its Spring session, the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe agreed Resolution 2163 (2017) on The protection of the rights of parents and children belonging to religious minorities. The operative part is as follows:

“5. The Assembly … calls on all member States of the Council of Europe to protect the rights of parents and children belonging to religious minorities by taking practical steps, legislative or otherwise, to:

5.1. affirm the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion for all individuals, including the right not to adhere to any religion, and protect the right of all not to be compelled to perform actions that go against their deeply held moral or religious beliefs, while ensuring that access to services lawfully provided is maintained and the right of others to be free from discrimination is protected;

5.2. promote reasonable accommodation of the deeply held moral or religious beliefs of all individuals in cases of serious conflict to enable citizens to freely manifest their religion or belief in private or in public, within the limits defined by legislation and provided that this is not detrimental to the rights of others;

5.3. repeal any law or rule which establishes a discriminatory distinction between religious minorities and majority beliefs;

5.4. ensure easy-to-implement options for children or parents to obtain exemptions from compulsory State religious education programmes that are in conflict with their deeply held moral or religious beliefs; such options may include non-confessional teaching of religion, providing information on a plurality of religions, and ethics programmes.”

It should be noted that Resolutions are not binding on the Council of Ministers.

Ireland and abortion

The Irish Citizens’ Assembly, which was set up by the Oireachtas to advise it on a number of ethical and political issues facing Ireland, has voted to recommend repeal of the Eighth Amendment to the Constitution, which inserted Article 40.3.3° into the text, as follows:

“The State acknowledges the right to life of the unborn and, with due regard to the equal right to life of the mother, guarantees in its laws to respect, and, as far as practicable, by its laws to defend and vindicate that right.”

In effect, it introduced a constitutional ban on abortion except where there was a serious risk to the woman’s life. Even so, in A, B and C v Ireland [2010] ECHR 2032, the ECtHR ruled against the Government on what it perceived to be an absence of provision for abortion in the case of a risk to the life of the pregnant woman and the issue was given further impetus by the tragic death in 2012 of Savita Halappanavar, who presented with back pain at University College Hospital, Galway, was found to be miscarrying and died of septicaemia a week later.

The Assembly, which is chaired by a Supreme Court judge, Ms Justice Laffoy, voted by 64% to 36% in favour of having no restrictions in early pregnancy, while four members voted in favour of abortion without any restriction as to gestational age. Laffoy J will present a report to the Oireachtas on members’ recommendations by late June. If the report is accepted in principle, to change the law will require a referendum and primary legislation.

Disputed property and Church privileges

The judgment in Sociedad Anónima del Ucieza v Spain [2014] ECHR 1186 – about a dispute over the double registration of former property of the Roman Catholic Church – has now become final, after the Grand Chamber panel rejected the Spanish Government’s request for referral. We noted the original judgment here and the decision on just satisfaction here.

Bishop of Llandaff

The Church Times reported that the new Bishop of Llandaff is to be June Osborne, the current Dean of Salisbury. Next: an election for a successor to Archbishop Barry Morgan as Archbishop of Wales.

From our correspondent in Italy

Whilst Frank has been manning the blog during the week, here’s another in our occasional series “you’d have difficulty in obtaining a faculty for that”, observed by David on his walking holiday.

The Duomo in Matera, Puglia.

Quick links

The state of the blog

Though things have improved considerably, we are still experiencing random drop-outs and we haven’t had any kind of explanation from our service provider. Our profound apologies and our thanks to everyone for their patience. All we can say is that it’s driving us barmy as well.

And finally… I

The admirable Pew Research Center has published 5 facts about the death penalty in the US. It omits Fact 6 either on grounds of taste or, perhaps, because it’s too obvious: it kills people…

And finally… II

You couldn’t have made up the media reactions to the service at Worcester Cathedral last Sunday to mark the start of the British Asparagus Festival, complete with a guy dressed as a stick of the aforementioned comestible. Asparagus me, Domine, hyssopo … or perhaps you’d rather have hollandaise with that.

Differing perspectives on pew replacement

Further thoughts on the “chairs vs pews” debate

Last year, our August post, Pews, perceptions and practicalities, offered some thoughts on the “chairs vs pews” debate. The recent judgment on the reordering of St Margaret’s in Rainham, Kent, has prompted further consideration, this time concerning the selective reporting and interpretation of consistory court judgments as well as other related issues. Continue reading

Church registration in Hungary: Magyarországi Evangéliumi Testvérközösség

The ECtHR has handed down judgment on the issue of just satisfaction for Hungary’s violation of the Convention rights of Magyarországi Evangéliumi Testvérközösség [The Hungarian Evangelical Brotherhood].

Background

The Evangelical Brotherhood has been active since 1981. Prior to the adoption of the new Church Act that came into force in January 2012, religious communities had been registered as Churches and received state funding. Under the new law, aimed at problems relating to the exploitation of state funds by certain Churches, only a number of recognised Churches continued to receive funding: all other religious communities – the Evangelical Brotherhood included – lost both their status as Churches and the corresponding benefits. They were, however, free to continue their religious activities as associations. Continue reading

UKIP, niqabs, burqas – and bans

UKIP has made a commitment in its Manifesto to ban the public wearing of the burqa and niqab. Speaking on the BBC’s Andrew Marr Show on Sunday, UKIP’s leader, Paul Nuttall, said wearing a burqa or niqab in public was a barrier to integration and a security risk and that Muslim women who defied the ban would face a fine. Somewhat counter-intuitively, he also told Andrew Marr that “Manfred Weber, who’s the leader of the biggest group in the European Parliament, is now talking about an EU-wide ban. We can either be on the curve on this or behind the curve.” UKIP also proposes to outlaw sharia in the UK, though Nuttall told Marr that there were no proposals to ban Jewish religious courts because the Jewish population was smaller than the Muslim population.

All of which is interesting. A general ban on face-covering in public would no doubt survive a challenge at Strasbourg and probably at Luxembourg as well: see S.A.S, Achbita and Bougnaoui. There is, however, a slight snag with a UK-wide ban: Continue reading

Law and religion round-up – 23rd April

A week dominated by…

…the General Election, June 2017

On 18 April we published a short post on the announcement by the Prime Minister of her intention to move a motion for an early election in the House of Commons on the following day, under the provisions of the Fixed-term Parliaments Act 2011. The House of Commons Library immediately published a helpful short guide to the election, and for anoraks, it answers the question: Will the Manchester Gorton by-election go ahead? vide infra. The House of Commons Library has also produced a briefing on the Fixed Term Parliaments Act.

On 12:57 pm on 19 April, the Prime Minister moved “That there shall be an early parliamentary general election”. [HC Hansard, 19 April Vol 624 Col 681]. After a 90-minute debate, the House divided: Ayes: 522; Noes: 13.  Continue reading