Law and religion round-up – 4th December

A week dominated by arguments about public religious manifestation and, inevitably, the fallout from the Brexit vote – of which much, much more to come… 

Reasonable accommodation in the workplace?

On 30 November at Prime Minister’s Question Time, Theresa May said in reply to a question from Fiona Bruce (Congleton) (Con), that

“We have a very strong tradition in this country of religious tolerance and freedom of speech, and our Christian heritage is something we can all be proud of. I am sure we would all want to ensure that people at work do feel able to speak about their faith, and also feel able to speak quite freely about Christmas.”

Perhaps coincidentally, the past week saw two publications on manifestation. Continue reading

British Muslims’ social attitudes are not so different after all

How widespread among Muslims is support for sharia? Answer: not as widespread as you might assume, if the conclusions of a survey commissioned by the Policy Exchange are to be believed.

In Unsettled Belonging: A survey of Britain’s Muslim communities, Martyn Frampton and David Goodhart look at a survey of about 3,000 British Muslims held in conjunction with ICM. Continue reading

Law and religion round-up – 6th November

A week in which everything else paled into insignificance beside… 

…Brexit: a spanner in the works

The big news of the week was that a max-strength Divisional Court of Queen’s Bench [Thomas LCJ, Etherton MR and Sales LJ] ruled in R (Miller & Anor) v The Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union [2016] EWHC 2768 (Admin) that the Government has no power under the Crown Prerogative to trigger the Article 50 process for withdrawal from the European Union without the prior approval of Parliament. Unsurprisingly, a Government spokesperson said that HMG was “disappointed” with the outcome. Equally unsurprisingly, the Government is to appeal to the Supreme Court.

The Prime Minister said subsequently that she was “confident” that the Government would win the appeal. But presumably the Government was “confident” of winning at the initial hearing…

Subsequent events

Following the High Court ruling, a number of commentators have suggested that this could result in the Prime Minister calling a “snap election”. However, that possibility  is now governed by the Fixed-term Parliaments Act 2011 introduced by the Cameron administration; S2 requires the resolution of a motion of no confidence in Her Majesty’s Government, or a motion for an early parliamentary election supported by two-thirds of the membership of the House of Commons (including vacant seats). Furthermore, the option of repealling the 2011 Act is no simple matter, as explained by Lord Norton; he suggests that whilst this is possible, it is not necessarily simple, or politically feasible.

Barristerblogger, Professor Mark Elliott and others noted that In the wake of the dramatic Article 50 judgment, various Brexiteers have been venting their feelings. On 5 November, the Bar Council, the representative body of all barristers in England & Wales, passed a resolution calling on the Lord Chancellor to condemn the recent attacks on the judiciary. A measured summary of the situation has been produced by Harry Bingham, eldest son of the late Lord Bingham, in an open letter to Liz Truss.  A brief statement was issued by the Ministry of Justice on Saturday afternoon, but this stopped short of condemning attacks on senior judges over the Brexit ruling.

The Supreme Court has indicated that it will hear the government’s appeal over 4 days during the week of 5 December with a larger than usual panel of judges. We suspect that Ms Truss’s cursory dismissal of the media attacks will be further tested in the run-up to the UKSC hearing, and afterwards.

Abortion – or its absence – in Northern Ireland

In Northern Ireland, unlike the rest of the UK, abortion is only allowed if a woman’s life is at risk or there is a permanent or serious risk to her physical or mental health. On Wednesday, an appeal began in the Supreme Court against the judgment in R (A (A Child) & Anor) v Secretary of State for Health [2015] EWCA Civ 771, in which the appellants were a girl, A, and her mother, resident in Northern Ireland. Continue reading

Sharia councils – another view

Today, 1 November, the Commons Home Affairs Committee begins taking evidence on its inquiry into sharia councils. Also today, the Muslim Women’s Network UK has issued an open letter on that inquiry and the parallel investigation being conducted by the Government.

The signatories urge caution and ask the two inquiries to prioritise the voices of Muslim women. Continue reading

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: Continue reading

Law and religion round-up – 28th August

Another fairly quiet week in the UK

…although our thoughts are with victims and survivors of Wednesday’s earthquake in Umbria, Lazio and Le Marche, about 105 km north-east of Rome, which was centred on Amatrice and Accumoli. A mass funeral took place on Saturday for 35 of the 290 people killed in the 6.2-magnitude quake; in Scheggino, a few kilometres up the valley from the earthquake’s epicentre, the choir of St Mary’s, Maldon (UK) sang Choral Evensong, including a setting of the Pie Jesu specially composed over by James Davy (Director of Choristers, Chelmsford Cathedral) in remembrance of the victims of the earthquake.

The “British Bill of Rights” saga grinds on

On Monday, Justice Secretary Liz Truss told presenter Nick Robinson on the Today programme that the Government had not ditched plans to replace the Human Rights Act with a British Bill of Rights: Continue reading

Law and religion round-up – 14th August

Professor Alexis Jay agreed to chair the Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse, the Jehovah’s Witnesses failed to head off the Charity Commission’s  inquiry into their safeguarding practices – and we discovered the identity of …

… The Minister for Faith and Integration

Readers may be as interested as we were to learn that the faith portfolio in the new Government has been given to Lord (Nick) Bourne of Aberystwyth. A barrister and former Professor of Law at Swansea, he was appointed Parliamentary Under Secretary of State for the Wales Office in May 2015 and, additionally, Parliamentary Under Secretary of State at the Department for Communities and Local Government on 17 July 2016, where his responsibilities include faith and integration, community cohesion and racial equality. We came across the information about his appointment entirely by accident, in a report in Jewish News.

Charity Commission inquiry into Jehovah’s Witnesses to proceed

On Friday, Third Sector (£) reported that the Supreme Court has ruled that the Watch Tower and Bible Tract Society of Great Britain cannot prevent the Charity Commission from opening a statutory inquiry into the charity’s safeguarding practices, after the Court of Appeal had refused in Watch Tower Bible & Tract Society of Britain & Ors v The Charity Commission [2016] EWCA Civ 154 to set aside the Commission’s decision to open the inquiry. Continue reading