Law and religion round-up – 11th February

A week in which General Synod welcomed plans for mutual recognition of ministries with the Methodist Church – and the Masons got their aprons in a twist…

Anglicans and Methodists

The Church of England General Synod has voted in favour of a motion welcoming the joint report, Mission and Ministry in Covenant, co-written by the two Churches’ faith and order bodies and published last year, which sets out proposals for intercommunion and the interchange of presbyteral ministries. Continue reading

Jehovah’s Witnesses and discrimination: JWs Association v Turkey

The background

In Jehovah’s Witnesses Association and Ors v Turkey [2016] ECHR 453 the facts were as follows. For many years, the congregations of Jehovah’s Witnesses in İzmir and Mersin had been allowed to worship in private premises. The authorities in both cities then decided to close down their prayer rooms on the grounds that the Urban Planning Act (Law no. 3194) prohibited worship in premises that were not designated for that purpose and imposed certain conditions on the building of places of worship. Continue reading

Legal protection for historic Welsh churches

New legislation in Wales to protect the historic environment

On 9 February, the Welsh Assembly passed the Historic Environment (Wales) Bill which is now in the four week post-stage 4 period of intimation (10 February – 8 March) in relation to the Assembly’s legislative competence in this area [1]. The Bill was introduced following extensive engagement and consultation with a view to making important amendments to the two principal pieces of legislation – the Ancient Monuments and Archaeological Areas Act 1979, and the Planning (Listed Buildings and Conservation Areas) Act 1990 – while also introducing some stand-alone provisions. Continue reading

Unpopular decision to prevent Leakey situation

Consistory court examines subsidence from trees where local council has responsibility for a closed churchyard

Nothing to do with roofs and guttering, but the potential liability in tort for events caused by nature where no human activity was involved, as in Leakey & Ors v National Trust [1979] EWCA Civ 5, [1980] QB 485; i.e. a situation similar to that to which we referred regarding the landslip from St Mary’s churchyard, Whitby. As with the recent news item on removing “rough sleepers” who had set-up camp in St Giles’ churchyard, Oxford, the case of Re Christ Church Lye [2015] Worcester Const Ct Charles Mynors Ch highlights another of the lesser known duties of local councils who have taken responsibility for the “care and maintenance” of a closed churchyard under section 215 Local Government Act 1972. Continue reading

Is a church a “community asset”? – redundant churches and the Localism Act 2011

Background

The provisions of Part 5 Chapter 3 of the Localism Act 2011 require local authorities to keep a list of “community assets”: buildings or other land of community value. Local groups may nominate a building or other land for listing by the local authority as an asset of community value; and it can be listed if a principal (“non-ancillary”) use of the asset furthers (or has recently furthered) their community’s social well-being or social interests (which include cultural, sporting or recreational interests) and is likely to do so in the future.

The purpose of the legislation is to give local community groups a fairer chance to make a bid to buy a listed asset on the open market when it is to be sold. Generally speaking, an owner intending to sell a community asset must give notice of the proposed sale to the local authority and a community interest group then has six weeks in which to ask to be treated as a potential bidder: if it does so, the sale cannot take place for six months. The theory is that this period, known as “the moratorium”, will allow the community group to come up with an alternative proposal – though at the end of the moratorium it is entirely up to the owner whether or not a sale goes through, to whom and for how much. There are arrangements for the local authority to pay compensation to an owner who loses money in consequence of the asset being listed.

In General Conference of the New Church v Bristol City Council (Localism Act 2011) [2015] UKFTT CR 2014 0013 (GRC) the property in dispute was a church and adjoining land used by the Bristol Society of the New Church, a denomination based on the teachings of Emanuel Swedenborg. Continue reading

Back-garden burials?

On Tuesday in the House of Commons Mrs Emma Lewell-Buck (Lab, South Shields) was given leave under the Ten-Minute Rule to introduce her Funeral Services Bill. The Bill (which, it should be said, has no realistic chance of becoming law) would

“require the Secretary of State to undertake a review of funeral affordability and costs; to require the providers of funeral services to offer a simple funeral service; to require the Secretary of State to make certain arrangements relating to funeral payments”.

Its principal purposes are to identify ways of reducing funeral costs by requiring the Secretary of State to conduct an overarching review of funeral affordability in the UK, to reform the funeral payments social fund system and to require funeral directors to introduce the option of a “simple funeral”. Her principal point in support of her proposal was that recent research by Royal London Insurance had found that one fifth of bereaved families struggled to afford the cost of a funeral and that the price of a service is was accelerating far faster than inflation at the same time as state support was falling.

What hit the headlines, however, was her assertion that “Some are holding do-it-yourself funerals, and even having to bury relatives in their back garden”. Which sparked off the immediate thought, But can you do that without some kind of official permission? And as usual, the answer seems to be slightly equivocal. Continue reading