Law and religion round-up – 26th March

A week in which events were totally overshadowed by the attack in Westminster

A thoughtful consideration of those events from an insider’s point of view was presented by the Rt Revd Nick Baines, Bishop of Leeds, in his Yorkshire Post article From a Palace of democracy to an Abbey of prayer, the best and worst of humanity, written just two hours after the end of the lockdown of parliamentarians and others, who had been transferred to Westminster Abbey.

Progress on Brexit

Prior to the Commons consideration of the Pension Schemes Bill [Lords] and the subsequent adjournment and lockdown of the parliamentary estate, a first reading was given to Tim Farron’s Ten Minute Rule Bill, Terms of Withdrawal from the European Union (Referendum). A second reading was scheduled for Friday 12 May – although its chances of becoming law are zero. Continue reading

Law and religion round-up – 19th March

A week dominated by Brexit, ‘First Minister vs Prime Minister’ and the fall-out from the first judgments of the CJEU on religious manifestation… 

Brexit

As expected, on Monday the Commons rejected the Lords amendments to the European Union (Notification of Withdrawal) Bill, the Lords did not insist on their amendments and the bill passed. So after a total of 70 hours of debate, the EU (Notification of Withdrawal) Bill completed its passage through Parliament and received Royal Assent on Thursday. The BBC reports that the Prime Minister is expected to wait until the end of the month formally to notify the EU of the UK’s intention to leave.

Meanwhile in Scotland… Continue reading

Urgent Commons question on CJEU rulings in Achbita and Bougnaoui

Visible Religious Symbols: European Court Ruling

This morning, 15 March, Mrs Maria Miller (Basingstoke) (Con) asked the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Women and Equalities “if she will make a statement on the recent Court of Justice of the European Union ruling allowing employers to ban workers from wearing religious dress and symbols in the workplace”. Following is a quick summary of the most important points.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Women and Equalities (Caroline Dinenage) replied as follows:

“The Government are completely opposed to discrimination, including on grounds of gender or religion, or both. It is the right of all women to choose how they dress, and we do not believe that the judgments change that. Exactly the same legal protections apply today as applied before the rulings. In both the Achbita case and the Bougnaoui case, the judgment was that there was no direct discrimination, but that there was some discrimination. A rule is directly discriminatory if it treats someone less favourably because of their sex, race, religion or whatever. A rule is indirectly discriminatory if, on the face of it, it treats everyone the same, but some people, because of their race, religion, sex and so on, find it harder to comply than others do. Indirect discrimination may be justifiable if an employer is acting in a proportionate manner to achieve a legitimate aim. Continue reading

Newsflash: Commons urgent question on religious clothing in the workplace

We understand that there is to be an Urgent Question in the Commons after Question Time today, 15 March, on the impact of the CJEU judgments in Achbita and Bougnaoui on wearing religious clothing in the workplace. We shall report it as soon as the uncorrected Hansard is available on the Commons website.

The CJEU and the ECtHR: an idiot’s guide

Five years ago we posted a piece entitled ‘Church and State III – the European dimension’. Perhaps the title was misleading, but some people still don’t seem to be able to understand the difference between the Court of Justice of the European Union and the European Court of Human Rights, so the following is an updated version, without the references to freedom of religion and belief.

Introduction: the great divide

In the not-too-distant future, the Prime Minister will trigger Article 50 of the Treaty on the European Union and the UK will begin the process of withdrawal. EU law will cease to apply to the UK when the withdrawal agreement enters into force or two years after notifying the European Council of the intention to withdraw unless there is a unanimous agreement to extend the negotiations. The House of Commons Library has produced a helpful note on all this: see Brexit: how does the Article 50 process work?

Until 2019, however, we shall still be members of the EU – and the extent to which we shall be obliged to take account of judgments of the CJEU after Brexit is still something of an open question, depending on what kind of trade deals we negotiate. Likewise, it would appear that the Conservative Party might well include repeal of the Human Rights Act 1998 and, possibly, withdrawal from the European Convention of Human Rights in its manifesto for the 2020 General Election. (Although it is possible that a General Election could be held before this date, under the provisions of the Fixed Term Parliament Act 2011 that would raise a number of practical difficulties.)

As of now, we are still full members of both institutions; and what follows sets out the basic structure of the two major European institutions: the European Union (“EU”) and the Council of Europe (“CoE”). There also are other less well-known Europe-wide political institutions, such as the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe, but they are much less important terms of domestic law.

Continue reading

The EU, tax exemptions for Church schools and the prohibition on State aid

An agreement between Spain and the Vatican dating from before Spain’s accession to the EU provides for various tax exemptions for the Roman Catholic Church. In Congregación de Escuelas Pías Provincia Betania v Ayuntamiento de Getafe C-74/16, the Church, relying on that agreement, seeks repayment of municipal tax amounting to €23,000 levied in respect of building work on La Inmaculada school, near Madrid. The building is used predominantly for compulsory education – which is equivalent to the education provided by State schools and the major part of which is financed by public funds – but it is also used for voluntary education, for which the Church charges a fee. The domestic court asked the CJEU for an opinion on the following question:

“Is the exemption of the Catholic Church from the tax on constructions, installations and works contrary to Article 107(1) of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union, where the exemption relates to work on buildings intended to be used for economic activities that do not have a strictly religious purpose?” [19]. Continue reading

Law & Religion 2016 and 2017: retrospect and prospect

Could 2017 be quite as horrible as 2016? Read on…

…and (maybe) weep

All else in 2016 paled into insignificance beside the vote for Brexit and the election of the next President of Trumpton. Needless to say, as a couple of grumpy OAPs raised in more liberal and rational times, we were not delighted at either outcome. Whether 2017 will be any better, who knows? Brexit will drag on and on, the situation in Syria will no doubt deteriorate further, Marine Le Pen might be the new President of France. Or the French electorate might have more sense and The Donald might not, after all, turn out to be as mad a box of frogs, though we aren’t holding our breath.

But apart from all that, there was quite a bit of law and religion. Continue reading