Law and religion round-up – 22nd October

A week in which the main theme seemed to be discrimination on grounds of gender or sexual orientation

Church of England to debate blessings for same-sex couples?

Last week, as we noted, the Hereford Diocesan Synod passed a resolution requesting the House of Bishops to initiate the formulation of a discretionary liturgy for use following the registration of a civil partnership or a same-sex marriage. The BBC subsequently reported this under the headline Church of England to discuss same-sex blessing, stating that “The general synod will now debate a form of service described as ‘neither contrary to nor a departure from’ the doctrine of the church”.

Well, maybe: but we think that the BBC (and others in the media) may have jumped the gun slightly. Yesterday, the Church issued a press release in which it reminded the media that “Under the Standing Orders of the General Synod, the motion will fall to be debated at the Synod at a time to be decided by its Business Committee.” No doubt Synod will want to consider the issue at some point in the future, but we don’t suppose that it’s likely to come up at the next session.

Sex segregation in schools

On 13 October, we reported on the Court of Appeal’s judgment in Chief Inspector of Education, Children’s Services And Skills v The Interim Executive Board of Al-Hijrah School [2017] EWCA Civ 1426, in which it held that an Islamic school’s policy of total segregation of boys and girls from year five onwards amounted to unlawful sex discrimination.

The Jewish Chronicle now reports that the judgment is likely to have a serious knock-on effect on some Jewish schools as well. It is not known how many schools of either faith might be affected but, according to the report, one Jewish school, Hasmonean High in London, which operates boys’ and girls’ divisions on separate sites, has already indicated that it might have to split formally into two schools. The report concludes:

“The judgment didn’t say separating girls and boys for some activities amounted to discrimination in itself. Traditionally, the ecclesiastical authorities of a faith school have enjoyed considerable freedom in organising its religious studies and some Orthodox Jewish schools run different programmes for boys and girls in Jewish studies.

But the law seems to be edging towards a point where if a judge felt that girls educationally lost out by having a different Jewish curriculum – for example by being denied the opportunity to learn Talmud – he or she might feel there are grounds to intervene.”

Forthcoming Strasbourg judgment on opposite-sex civil partnerships

On Thursday, the ECtHR will be handing down judgment in the case of Ratzenböck and Seydl v Austria [2017] (no. 28475/12). The applicants, Helga Ratzenböck and Martin Seydl, have complained that, as a heterosexual couple, they have been denied access to a registered partnership, a legal institution only available to same-sex couples under the Registered Partnership Act 2009, and that this contravenes their Convention rights under Article 14 (prohibition of discrimination) taken in conjunction with Article 8 (right to respect for private and family life) on the basis of their sex and sexual orientation.

Regular readers will recall that in the case of a similar claim by Rebecca Steinberg and Charles Keidan, Steinfeld & Anor v The Secretary of State for Education [2017] EWCA Civ 81, the Court of Appeal dismissed their appeal by two to one. The Court agreed that the UK bar on opposite-sex civil partnerships engaged their Convention rights under Article 14 taken with Article 8 but the majority refused to make a declaration of incompatibility. In August, the BBC reported that they had been granted permission to appeal to the Supreme Court – which makes Thursday’s judgment by the ECtHR all the more interesting.

The legislative role of the Bishop of Sodor and Man

On Tuesday, Tynwald debated and approved the First Interim Report of the Select Committee on the Functioning of Tynwald – Remit and Work Plan [PP No 2017/0120]. Among the recommendations approved [see item 20] was that the Select Committee on the Functioning of Tynwald should have the authority to consider, inter alia, “Whether the Lord Bishop should retain his vote”. A motion [item 37] “That Tynwald is of the opinion that the Bishop should not retain his vote; and refers this opinion to the Select Committee on the Functioning of Tynwald to report with recommendations to Tynwald on the changes required for its implementation” was lost [With thanks to the Clerk of Tynwald].

So the Bishop rides again – unless and until the Select Committee recommends otherwise and Tynwald accepts that recommendation.

What’s in a ñame?

In France prior to 1966, Breton parents could not register a Breton first name for their child; the law was changed in that year after a court ruling. However, Breizh-Amerika reports that a couple in Quimper has been refused permission to name their baby boy “Fañch” because the local tribunal de grande instance ruled on 13 September that the use of the letter “ñ” “would be tantamount to breaking the will of our rule of law to maintain the unity of the country and equality without distinction of origin”. The tribunal did so because a Circular of 23 July 2014 prescribed the diacritics that could be used in first names, and “n” with a tilde was not included.

The French have a long tradition of refusing to allow parents to lumber their kids with unusual names: until 1993, the choice was restricted by a law that decreed which names were acceptable. Since then, there has been a free choice – unless, that is, the name is held to be contrary to the interests of the child. (The only comparable UK example we can think of was when the Family Division invoked the inherent jurisdiction of the High Court and – rightly, in our view – refused to allow a mother to call her daughter “Cyanide”: see C (Children) [2016] EWCA Civ 374.)

For our part, we share the French distaste for daft names, in principle at least; but this particular example is very odd indeed – and a group of Deputies of the Assembleé Nationale has complained about the ruling to the Minister of Justice. Does the future of French civilisation and the rule of law really hang on a tilde? [With thanks to Daniel Hill.]

Registration of Marriage Bill

On 21 October, the Daily Telegraph published an article Church of England bids to put mothers’ names on marriage certificates (£) which described a “draft Bill” tabled by “a senior bishop” for the inclusion of mothers’ names on marriage certificates. The Bishop of St Albans’ Registration of Marriage Bill [HL] 2017-19 is a Private Members’ Bill, not a Draft Bill; it was given its first reading on 29 June 2017, but no date has been set for its second reading. The Telegraph report indicated that the Bill has been welcomed by the Home Office, following an impasse over plans to update the documents, which currently only include the names of couples’ fathers.

Judicial citation of Wikipedia

In reading the judgment relating to the disposal of the remains of Ian Brady, Oldham Metropolitan Borough Council & Ors v Robin Makin & Ors [2017] EWHC Case No: HC-2017-002064 (Ch), the reference to Wikipedia at paragraph 86 prompted thoughts on how frequently this website was used as a source of information. An answer was provided, unsurprisingly, on the Wikipedia page Wikipedia: Wikipedia as a court source.

We have no issue with Wikipedia being the information source of first resort but believe that caution needs to be used in treating it as the source of last resort. In fact, the description at paragraph [86] of the 5th Movement of Symphonie Fantastique by Hector Berlioz, (Brady’s requested music) appears to have been taken from the Hector Berlioz website. For the record, it is reported that the other Moors Murderer,  Myra Hindley, had requested the less controversial Albinoni’s Adagio for Strings for her funeral service; however, in view of the secrecy surrounding her cremation, it is unknown whether her wishes were carried out.

Quick links

And finally… I

From the National Cyber Security Centre, which ought to know better:

And finally… II

This week Madeline Davies, deputy news & features editor at the Church Times tweeted “The theme from Father Ted was an actual (lovely) song?!” We’re not so sure, but we’re certain that the reception the Divine Comedy-Songs of Love would have received from Fr Jack Hackett would not be “drink” or “girls”. [Probably “that’s an ecumenical matter” – FC].

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