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.
Updated | Mouvement Raëlien Suisse v Switzerland  ECHR 1598 (13 July 2012) - read judgment
This case concerned the Swiss authorities’ refusal to allow an association to put up posters featuring extraterrestrials and a flying saucer on the ground that it engaged in activities that were considered immoral.
The association complained it had suffered a violation of its right to freedom of expression. The Grand Chamber did not agree, ruling that the refusal had met a “pressing social need” and that the authorities had not overstepped the broad margin of appreciation given to them in view of the non-political dimension of the poster campaign.
At first blush there is nothing remarkable about this ruling. But it was a narrow majority (nine votes to eight) and a brief reading of the dissenting opinions gives pause for thought: does the slightly loony nature of a message justify its suppression? Lurking behind the authorities’ refusal to allow the association’s advertising campaign is a sense of disapproval vis a vis their anti-Christian message; one of the campaigns the association wished to conduct featured a poster stating “God does not exist”, and on another, below the association’s website, ran the message “Science at last replaces religion”. Continue reading
Khaira v. Shergill  EWCA Civ 893 read judgment
We have become used to the courts getting involved, more or less willingly, in religious issues, not least where religious freedoms conflict with legal rules which are said to be inconsistent with the exercise of those freedoms. But as Adam Wagner pointed out, in an earlier round of this litigation concerning two Sikh places of worship (Gurdwaras), the courts have developed rules stopping themselves from deciding certain cases, not least because the courts recognise they don’t know what they are doing once they get themselves immersed in issues of religious doctrine.
JEG v The Trustees of the Portsmouth Roman Catholic Diocesan  EWCA Civ 938
Elizabeth Anne-Gumbel QCand Justin Levinson of One Crown Office Row acted for the claimant in this case. They did not write this post.
The Court of Appeal has now confirmed that the church can be held liable for the negligent acts of a priest it has appointed. Permission to appeal to the Supreme Court has been refused.
This appeal was another preliminary stage in the main action between the claimant’s action for damages following the alleged sexual abuse and assault by a parish priest (now deceased), and the trustees of the diocesan where he served. The Court of Appeal has now confirmed that the defendants can held to account, even though there was no formal employment relationship between Father Baldwin and the Diocesan - see Rachit Buch’s post for an excellent analysis of the issues and summary of the facts. Continue reading
The current debate on legalising gay marriage was sparked by one of the more memorable speeches of this Government, when Prime Minister David Cameron said “I don’t support gay marriage in spite of being a conservative. I support gay marriage because I am a conservative.”
What has been missing from the debate since that speech has been a convincing, measured discussion from the political right on what he meant. Until now, that is. Today the Policy Exchange, a leading conservative think tank thank, has published What’s In A Name? Is there a case for equal marriage? Don’t be fooled by the question mark in the title. This report represents the best and most carefully considered case for equal marriage from a conservative (with a small ‘c’) perspective so far.
A sparkling, erudite and funny lecture last Thursday 5 July from the Chief Justice of Australia, exploring how the Australian system with a constitution, but without a Bill of Rights/Human Rights Act, seeks to deliver human rights protection – thanks to the Administrative Law Bar Association and the Angl0-Australasian Law Society. I shall try to summarise the differences, though, rather like the pre-HRA UK position, Australian human rights protection is a subtle one and a difficult one to explain in a short post. Particularly for a Pom. So I am in part throwing down a challenge to our Australian readers (up until this point, at least, quite a few) to comment on what follows.
The constitutional framework is all important. There are three major differences between this and the UK “constitution”. The first is the presence of a written constitution over 100 years old, and amendable only by referendum. The second is a federal system laid down by that constitution. Out of that arrangement comes a separation of powers between judiciary, legislature, and executive, and also between the Commonwealth (i.e, the federation) and each State, taken against the background of general common law principles drawn from the States’ shared colonial history. And the third is the lack of any substantive human rights instrument applicable to Australia as a whole.