AI v MT  EWHC 100 (Fam) – Read judgment
The Times (amongst others) today deserves a spell on the legal naughty step. Its headline announces that a judge’s decision “opens way to divorces by Sharia“. One might expect therefore to find that the judgment giving rise to the headline – the decision of Baker J in the Family Court in AI v MT – was about Sharia law, or otherwise had something to do with it. In fact the judgment concerned a Jewish divorce under the auspices of the Beth Din, and had nothing to do with Sharia at all.
The judge approved a final order in matrimonial proceedings by consent. That consent order had arisen from the Beth Din. It did not elevate the Beth Din to the status of the High Court. To the contrary, the judge stated that the following legal principles applied (paras -):
Eweida and Others v. the United Kingdom – read judgment
The Strasbourg Court has today come up with something of a mixed message in relation to religion at work. They have voted that there is a right to manifest individual faith by wearing religious adornments but not by objecting to practices that are protected by anti-discrimination legislation.
All four applicants are practising Christians. Ms Eweida, a British Airways employee, and Ms Chaplin, a geriatrics nurse, complained that their employers placed restrictions on their visibly wearing Christian crosses around their necks while at work. Ms Ladele, a Registrar of Births, Deaths and Marriages, and Mr McFarlane, a Relate counsellor complained about their dismissal for refusing to carry out certain of their duties which they considered would condone homosexuality. Further details of all these cases can be found in our posts here, here, and here (as well as in the “related posts” section below).
On 29 December 2012 The Daily Telegraph published an article under the headline Christians have no right to refuse to work on Sundays.
This has now been shown to be nonsense. The judgment in Mba v London Borough of Merton was released yesterday and is analysed here. Mr Justice Langstaff made entirely clear that the judgment only applies to the individual worker who brought the appeal, not more generally. Here is some inaccurate reporting from David Barrett (remember this by him?), Telegraph Home Affairs correspondent:
Mba v London Borough Of Merton (Religion or Belief Discrimination)  UKEAT 0332/12/1312 (13 December 2012) – Read judgment
The Employment Appeal Tribunal (EAT) has dismissed the appeal of a Christian care worker against the decision of an Employment Tribunal that she was not constructively dismissed as a result of her refusal to work on Sundays.
Mr Justice Langstaff, President of the EAT, made it clear in his judgment however that anyone hoping either for ‘a ringing endorsement of an individual’s right not to be required to work on a Sunday’ or an employer’s right to require it would be disappointed, as ‘no such broad general issue arises’. 
With apologies for the boring title, here are three quick things.
First, the Government’s consultation on Judicial Review changes ends on 24 January 2013, so you have just over two weeks to respond. As with some previous consultations, I will be collating responses on the blog so please feel free to email them to me. My most recent thoughts are here: Quicker, costlier and less appealing: plans for Judicial Review reform revealed
Secondly, the European Court of Human Rights is to rule next Tuesday 15 January on four key cases involving discrimination and religious rights. The full background is here: Religious freedom in UK to be considered by Strasbourg Court and you can watch the entire hearing here. We will, of course, be covering the judgment in full.
Thirdly, in November 1 Crown Office Row hosted a mock trial on the topic of public inquiries and inquests at which a number of 1COR barristers, including me, spoke. The podcast of the event is now online and you find it here and also below the page break. You can also download the handout, which includes a number of very useful skeleton arguments for the mock trial, here.
R on the application of Louisa Hodkin v Registrar General of Births, Deaths and Marriages  EWHC 3635 (Admin) – read judgment
Ouseley J has dismissed a challenge by the applicant against the Registrar General’s decision not to register a chapel of the Church of Scientology as ‘a place of meeting for religious worship’ which in turn means it is not a registered building for the solemnisation of marriages.
The following report is drawn from the Court’s press summary
The Prime Minister has announced his support for gay marriage in religious institutions. Having already said, memorably, that “I don’t support gay marriage in spite of being a conservative. I support gay marriage because I am a conservative”, he has now gone a step further and argued that gay couples should be able to marry on religious premises. But, he also made clear, “if there is any church or any synagogue or any mosque that doesn’t want to have a gay marriage it will not, absolutely must not, be forced to hold it“.
The announcement is important in the context of a legal debate which has been taking place since the Government signalled that marriage law reform was on its agenda: namely, whether religious institutions would be forced, as a result of equalities and human rights legislation, to carry out gay marriage ceremonies whether or not they wanted to. In June, when the Government was consulting over the “equal civil marriage” plans, Church of England sounded the alarm that “it must be very doubtful whether limiting same-sex couples to non-religious forms and ceremonies could withstand a challenge under the European Convention on Human Rights”
What is really interesting about the Prime Minister’s announcement is that the Government is now going beyond its original proposals as set out in the June consultation. At that point, the Government was careful to state that the proposals related only to civil (that is, non-religious) marriage and, indeed said:
Verlagsruppe News Gmbh and Bobi v Austria (Application no. 59631/09) HEJUD  ECHR 2012 (04 December 2012)
Hard on the heels of the Facebook case, here is another legal dust up over the media’s sharp interest in any story involving allegations of inappropriate sexual relations, particularly in the Catholic church.
Following a police investigation into internet downloads, the principal of a Roman Catholic seminary in Austria became the target of unwelcome interest from the tabloid press, including the second applicant, who published a series of articles and photographs alleging that Mr Küchl was engaging in homosexual relations with the seminarians. One article identified the seminarian principal, whose face was clearly identifiable from the accompanying photograph. The article was entitled “Go on!” (Trau dich doch). The sub-heading read “Porn scandal. Photographic evidence of sexual antics between priests and their students has thrown the diocese of St Pölten into disarray. First the principal and now the deputy principal have resigned. High-ranking dignitaries expect Kurt Krenn [the bishop of the diocese] to be removed from office.” Continue reading
I have an opinion piece in this week’s Jewish Chronicle, We should support and not condemn Human Rights Act. The “we” in the title is the Jewish community, of which I am a part, although it also amounts to a fairly broad defence of the Human Rights Act.
The article was at first intended as a direct response to an opinion piece by Jonathan Fisher QC entitled The wrongs of human rights, but because of editorial pressures at the Jewish Chronicle it could not be published until a few weeks later, and as such ended up being a more general article. I have already commented on this blog on why I thought the timing of Fisher’s article was a little odd given that the Bill of Rights Commission, on which he sits, was still consulting the public on the very issues he addressed passionately in the article. I said:
Black & Morgan v. Wilkinson (unreported, 18 October 2012, Slough County Court) – Read judgment
The Christian owner of a B&B in Berkshire was found to have discriminated against a gay couple by refusing to allow them stay in a double-bedded room because of her belief that all sexual activity outside of marriage is wrong.
Although a county court judgment, this case has been splashed all over the headlines, partly because of BNP leader Nick Griffin’s comments on Twitter (about which see more below) but also because it is so factually similar to the high-profile case of Bull v. Hall and Preddy which is currently before the Supreme Court (see our analysis of the Court of Appeal judgment here). This judgment has also come along at a time when the European Court of Human Rights’ decision is awaited in the four conjoined cases of Ladele, Eweida, Macfarlane and Chaplin, all of which involve issues of religious freedom and two of which involve the same potential conflict between the right not to be discriminated against on grounds of sexual orientation and the right to religious freedom (see our posts here, here and here). Moreover, Recorder Moulder’s comprehensive and careful judgment has helpfully been made available online (see link above), so it can be considered in detail.
G (Children), Re  EWCA Civ 1233 – read judgment
If you received this article by email, it will have been attributed to Adam Wagner. It is in fact by Karwan Eskerie – apologies
What is happiness? If you thought this most philosophical inquiry was beyond the remit of the judicial system then you should read this case.
In Re G (Children), the estranged parents of five children disagreed over their education. Both parents belonged to the Chassidic or Chareidi community of ultra orthodox Jews. However, whilst the father wanted the children to attend ultra-orthodox schools which were unisex and where all the children complied with strict Chareidi practices, the mother preferred coeducational ‘Modern Orthodox’ schools where boys did not wear religious clothing and peyos (long hair at the sides), and children came from more liberal homes where for instance, television was taken for granted.
We will have to wait some time before Strasbourg hands down its judgment in the religious discrimination cases it heard earlier this week.
Whatever the outcome – which is perhaps predictable – the Court’s ruling will have a significant influence on the place of religion in public life and on how the relationship between religion and the state should be structured to reflect the aims of fairness and mutual respect envisaged in the Convention.
The Equality and Human Rights Commission argues in its intervention submission that Strasbourg – and the UK courts – should move on from their “restrictive” interpretation of Article 9, summed up by Lord Bingham’s oft-cited description of the Court’s position in R (SB) v Governors of Denbigh High School  UKHL 15
The Strasbourg institutions have not been at all ready to find an interference with the right to manifest a religious belief in practice or observance where a person has voluntarily accepted an employment or role which does not accommodate that practice or observance and there are other means open to the person to practise or observe his or her religion without undue hardship or inconvenience.[para 23]
(This is a revised intervention after the EHRC responded to widespread criticism of its proposed argument in support of “reasonable accommodation” of employees’ beliefs – see Alasdair Henderson’s post on this dust-up “Leap of Faith” and our following post on the reversal of the EHRC’s position.) Continue reading
The interaction between the law and religion or belief is rarely out of the headlines. Debate rages about whether Article 9, the human right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion, receives sufficient – or too much – protection in the courts. There has been a considerable amount of litigation, much of it contentious (see, for example, here, here and here)
A new report for the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) by researchers at London Metropolitan University, including myself, explores these controversies. It is based largely on interviews and roundtable discussions with around 100 religion or belief groups, human rights and/or equality organisations, employers, public service staff, academics and lawyers. It is concerned as much with differing perceptions and understandings of the law as with the law itself. It also examines the practical application of the law in the workplace and public services.
A Mother v. A Father HHJ Platt, Romford County Court, 11 May 2012, read judgment
I recently dared to enter religious territory in a post about religious no-go zones declared by the courts – they should not pronounce on the intricacies of Sikh succession because it raised doctrinal issues which the courts should not decide. Compare and contrast this family law case.
Judges have to get involved in disputes on divorce, of which the current case is an exquisitely difficult example. Its facts are very simple. C was 10. Her parents and grandparents are Jewish. Her father is a Christian convert, and C wanted to be baptised. Her mother did not want this. She said father had brainwashed C, and it was premature. Mother went to court to stop any baptism proceeding until C was 16. The Court could not simply wash its hands of the case; that would encourage self-help taken by one or other parent, to the lasting resentment of the other.
Dinah Rose QC
Monday night’s fascinating seminar on Article 9, “Outlawing God”, saw Dinah Rose QC, John Bowers QC, Dr Evan Harris (Liberal Democrat former MP) and Rabbi Michael Laitner (solicitor and Orthodox rabbi) square off over the relationship of the courts to religious belief and believers, refereed (and sometimes stoked) by Joshua Rozenberg in the chair. The seminar, which raised almost £2,000 for legal advice clinics at the Hebrew University, can be listened to here.
There was a clear division in the room: between the lawyers, who felt that the courts in both the UK and Strasbourg afforded less robust protection to Article 9 rights than to the other rights in the Convention; and Dr Harris, who could not accept that a religious belief was any more worthy of protection than any political belief.