Law and religion round-up – 4th March

Coroners, IICSA, diversity, pews – and some of the more puzzling things that people do in church… 

Coronial jurisdiction and the “cab-rank rule”

As readers will recall, the decision of HM Coroner for Inner North London, Ms Mary Hassell, not to prioritise the release of a body for burial to meet the religious needs of the deceased or the deceased’s family, even when doing so would cause no material disadvantage to others, has been challenged by the Adath Yisroel Burial Society and a judicial review hearing is due to take place on 27 and 28 March before Singh LJ.

Joshua Rozenberg reports on the latest state of play in Legal Cheek [see the second part of his post]. The Chief Coroner, HHJ Lucraft QC, who has been joined to the case as an interested party, has entered a submission via counsel which states, in short, that:

“The chief coroner considers that the policy as formulated by [Ms Hassell] is not lawful, even though it may have been produced in a sincere desire to be fair to all in her area.

First, the policy is over-rigid and effectively fetters the discretion of a coroner to decide the order in which he/she handles tasks with due regard to the circumstances and interests of particular families. Secondly, the policy when seen in context is not capable of rational justification. Thirdly, the policy if applied strictly would have the effect of infringing article 9 rights or would be discriminatory in article 14 terms.”

The chief coroner is not persuaded that the policy involves indirect discrimination under the Equality Act 2010 or a breach of the public sector equality duty … But the point may be academic in light of his other views.”


The Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse (IICSA) has been in the news on two occasions this week. On 1 March 2018, the  IICSA published its report, Child Migration Programmes, which criticises Government for the policy of child migration and recommends that all child migrants be financially compensated by HMG through a redress scheme. The report also recommends that organisations involved in implementing the migration programmes offer apologies to child migrants, where they have failed to do so.

The “sending institutions” considered in the report are: Barnardo’s; The Fairbridge Society; The Children’s Society; The National Children’s Home; The Royal Over-Seas League; Cornwall County Council; The Salvation Army UK; The Church of England Advisory Council for Empire Settlement (CEACES); The Sisters of Nazareth; Father Hudson’s; and the Roman Catholic Church.

Pages 120-121 of the report refer to the activities of CEACES, which was the part of the Church of England devoted to managing the Church’s participation in the child migration programmes. It had a logistical and information-providing role in the programmes, coordinating the migration of children to affiliated institutions in Australia.

From 5-23 March the Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse will hold its first public hearing into the Church of England, focusing on the Diocese of Chichester as a case-study. The first week’s timetable has just been published. The investigation will assess the appropriateness of safeguarding and child protection policies and practices in the “Anglican Church” (i.e. the Church of England, the Church in Wales, and other Anglican churches operating in England and Wales).

It will consider the adequacy of the Past Cases Review of the Church of England and the Historic Cases Review of the Church in Wales. As a case study, it will consider the experience of the Diocese of Chichester, where there have been multiple allegations of sexual abuse, and numerous investigations and reviews. It will also consider the case of Peter Ball, formerly Bishop of Lewes and subsequently Bishop of Gloucester, and investigate whether there were inappropriate attempts by people of prominence to interfere in the criminal justice process after he was first accused of child sexual offences.

Accommodating diversity in court

The new edition of the Equal Treatment Bench Book has just been published. It includes new and expanded sections on litigants in person, refugees, modern slavery, Islamophobia and anti-Semitism. The Guardian quotes Lady Justice Rafferty, the chair of the Judicial College, who writes in the foreword “The team has not shrunk from the hardest or knottiest of tasks and the job has not been easy.”

The guidance is in line with existing case law, although, as the book points out, that does not always provide absolute legal clarity. Balancing the interests of justice when a case involves a defendant or witness who is asked to remove a veil to give testimony is one of the most awkward legal dilemmas. The advice suggests: restrict the number of observers allowed into court; court artists should be banned from drawing those required to lift their veil; and that limited screening should be provided so that only judge and jury are given a clear view.

House of Commons debates freedom of religion or belief

On 1 March, the House of Commons held a debate in Westminster Hall on freedom of religion or belief (FORB), introduced by Jim Shannon, the DUP Member for Strangford. The purpose of the debate was to highlight FORB issues that the Government might raise at the UN Human Rights Council and much of it focused on alleged international abuses of religious rights. However, various issues of perceived religious discrimination in the United Kingdom were also raised, which we noted here.

Consistory court judgments

We published David’s round-up of consistory court judgments for February ranging over reordering, extensions and other building works, audio-visual equipment, exhumation, and churchyards and burials. Though not mentioned in the round-up, we also learned from a helpful tweet by Peter King, Bath Abbey’s Organist Emeritus, that the Victorian Society had been unsuccessful in its application for permission to appeal against the Chancellor’s decision to grant a faculty for the permanent removal of the Abbey’s pews, reported here. The Society has been ordered to pay the Abbey’s costs in relation to the application. We will include a report on the judgment if and when it becomes available.

Worship is weird

As we have noted earlier, New Zealand is more tolerant towards Pastafarianism than many countries, the Government having approved the Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster to conduct legal marriages in 2015. However, there are limits; and the NZ Herald reports that a Pastafarian in Pakuranga had accepted his school’s ban on wearing a colander for his ID photo, although he still plans to take the matter to the Human Rights Commission. Before condemning the practice, readers might wish to read the piece in Christian Today by Martin Saunders, Eight weird things Christians do during worship, who makes the point “we become relaxed and acclimatised in church to patterns of behaviour that an outside observer might find strange, or indeed utterly bonkers”. For “outside observer” we should also include someone from a different church tradition; however, there is little difference between #2, “faceplanting” and a priestly prostration during the Passione Domini on Good Friday.

We assumed that we were aware of all the variations in baptism – immersion (immersio), pouring (infusio) or sprinkling (aspersio) – and were puzzled by Fr Z’s post, Are “butt baptisms” valid? In fact, this referred to “partial immersion baptisms”, and the answer was “No”. Helpfully, Fr Z included a sketch of a baptism with an arrow pointing at the baby’s head, emphasizing the point “If the water does not touch the head, at least the hair of the head, the baptism is invalid”. So now we know, and so do the good folk of Husborne Crawley for whom the issue of baptism in frozen water is considered.

New publication

OUP has recently published Litigating Religions: An Essay on Human Rights, Courts, and Beliefs by Christopher McCrudden. The author’s intention is

“to present an accessible discussion, for a non-specialist audience, of some key themes and problems that arise in the courts when religions and religious beliefs enter the frame. It is not a textbook, or a monograph, in which you, the reader, will find a comprehensive account of the relationship between law and religion – there are already many such books available. Rather, I present here the phenomenon I describe as ‘religious litigation’ … It is an attempt to make sense of the current puzzling relationship between courts and religions.”

Quick links

And finally… I

The BBC reports that a village in Germany has voted to keep a church bell embossed with a swastika and the words “All for the Fatherland – Adolf Hitler”. The local parish council said that the bell, which has hung in the church since 1934, should stay as “an impetus for reconciliation and a memorial against violence and injustice”. We suspect that the admirable Richard von Weizsäcker would have agreed: you can’t change the past, however much you might wish to.

And finally… II


3 thoughts on “Law and religion round-up – 4th March

  1. Consistory Court Judgments: Update re Christ Church, Spitalfields [2017] ECC Lon 1.

    An application to the Deputy Chancellor for permission to appeal to the Court of Arches under FJR 2015 rule 23.1 (1) was made by the deadline date of 4 February 2018 and is currently with the Deputy Chancellor for determination pursuant to rule 23.2. I understand that no party has asked for a hearing and that the application is to be determined by Chancellor June Rodgers without a hearing.

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