Friday, 28 November 2014

Equality Guidance published by Catholic Bishops

A new guidance document 

Applying Equality Law in Practice: Guidance for Catholics and Catholic Organisations

has been published by the Christian Responsibility and Citizenship Department of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of England and Wales.

The Bishops Conference says that the new Guidance 

"Will help Catholics gain a deeper understanding of this area of law and remove any misconceptions caused by its perceived complexity. It is important to note that the guide is not intended as a replacement for specialist legal advice.

The guide makes clear that if any issue arises that might lead to liability under equality law, it is strongly recommended that reader consults a solicitor or legal advisor."

About the guide, Archbishop Peter Smith, chairman of the Christian Responsibility and Citizenship Department said

"The aim of this guide is to offer some clear practical guidance on a complex area of law. It is not a substitute for taking professional legal advice but it aims to raise awareness on what the law allows and to enable potential problems to be anticipated and averted.

"There is both scope and sometimes a need for Catholics to make use of the new law’s provisions which can protect religious freedom."

Whilst the Guidance is, of course, primarily aimed at the needs of Catholics and Catholic organisations it should be of interest to any Religious Organisation looking to understand what their legal rights are

Tuesday, 18 November 2014

Freedom of Speech and Oxford University Students

Back in 2012 I wrote a blog about Students at University College London trying to dictate how the subject of Abortion should be handled in University debates and trying in effect to prevent pro-life groups having any platform.

 Sadly the same intolerant views have surfaced in Oxford University where Christ Church College has caved into intimidation and have cancelled a debate on "Abortion Culture" organised by Oxford Students for Life who had arranged for there to be 2 speakers 1 for and 1 against but even that degree of balance was not enough for the pro-abortion crowd who were pretty blatant about the intimidation and disruption they planned

“We thought we should go and say hi! Bring your friends, and if you want take along some non-destructive but oh so disruptive instruments to help demonstrate to the anti-choicers just what we think of their ‘debate’.”

This particular Face Book page has now, for some reason, been removed but I saw it myself before it was removed and can testify to the words used.  It was headed with the words "What the f*** is an abortion culture ?" using the full "F" word.  Frankly I have represented crack head yobs who could express themselves more elegantly than those "students" at what is supposed to be one of the leading Universities in the world

Anyway the actions of the members of the threatening disruptive group could constitute a criminal offence of Harassment under s1A Protection from Harassment Act 1997 as applied by s7(3A) of the same Act.  In addition the College, and Oxford University as a whole, has a legal duty under s43 Education (No 2) Act 1986 to 

"“ensure that freedom of speech within the law is secured for members, students and employees of the establishment and for visiting speakers”

and both the college and the University appear to have failed in their legal as well as their moral responsibilities.  Freedom of speech is precious and without freedom of speech no other freedoms are safe.  It should never be forgotten that in Nazi Germany it was idealistic students who were the first ones to throw books into the flames.  Those students who succeeded in stopping this debate probably consider themselves to be radical left wingers but the reality is that they are fascists who need to be faced up to and defeated.  

UPDATE  19 November 

In researching this subject and trying to make sense of some of the jargon on the oppositions Facebook page I discovered that I am a "Cisgendered Binary person without a Uterus" otherwise known as a Male (and they say Lawyers overcomplicate !)

An "Interesting" in the sense of "Completely Self Centred arrogant" article in The Independent  by one of the protesters who got the talk cancelled 

However not all is Doom and Gloom the Twitter Feed of a certain Will Neaverson (who seems to be an Officer at Christ Church) states (Nov 16)  "I'm proposing a motion to request my college not grant permission for Oxford Students for Life to host a 'debate' on abortion. Updates soon." which would normally have upset me until I noticed that he describes his current status as "Researching for North Korea thesis".  

which made me laugh out loud. An Oxford student studying North Korea who wants to close down democratic debate in Oxford, you simply couldn't make it up.  He is obviously a very good student of his subject. 

Tuesday, 11 November 2014

Abortion Back in the Legal Spotlight

Abortion is back in Court in 2 cases at present.

The Supreme Court is hearing an Appeal by Glasgow NHS against the decision of the Court of Session recognising the right to conscientious objection of Midwives laid down in  Doogan & Anor v NHS Greater Glasgow & Clyde Health Board [2013] ScotCS CSIH_36  

I discussed this case in this Blog at

Call the Midwife - I want an Abortion !        7  MARCH 2012

Call the Midwife I want an Abortion ! - 2    24  APRIL 2013

so I shall await the Supreme Court decision with interest and in the hope that it will confirm the clear and well reasoned decision of the Court of Session in April 2013

At the other end of the Courts structure a Doctor has been summonsed to appear at Manchester Magistrates Court in response to a private prosecution relating to alleged Abortions offered because of the Gender of the Unborn Child.  It is argued by the prosecutor that Gender Selection Abortion is illegal under the terms of the Abortion Act 1967

I covered this issue in my Blog post "Is Sex Selective Abortion Illegal ?  8 September 2013" when I came to the reluctant conclusion that Sex Selective Abortion, though morally repugnant, was not illegal.  I therefore do not expect the private prosecution to succeed however I wish the prosecutors well and will be delighted if I am proved wrong and the Abortionist in question is convicted.

Finally on a Non Abortion , but linked, issue the Court of Appeal are currently considering whether Fetal Alcohol Syndrome in a child caused by the grossly excessive drinking of his mother during her pregnancy could be a crime under s23 Offences Against the Person Act 1861. 

23 Maliciously administering poison, &c. so as to endanger life or inflict grievous bodily harm.
Whosoever shall unlawfully and maliciously administer to or cause to be administered to or taken by any other person any poison or other destructive or noxious thing, so as thereby to endanger the life of such person, or so as thereby to inflict upon such person any grievous bodily harm, shall be guilty 

The issue in the case does not involve an actual prosecution but relates to an attempt to obtain some financial compensation for the severely injured child involved.  Since the Mother has no money the claim was pursued under the Criminal Injuries Compensation scheme which is why it was necessary to argue that the conduct was a crime.  As a practicing criminal lawyer, I do not believe that this case will lead to pregnant women being prosecuted over their drinking or other habits it will I think be seen by the Court of Appeal that the criminal law is being used as a "peg" for a civil claim. 

That said though I am very sympathetic to the Child in the case I think there may be real problems in establishing that the mother, however excessive her drinking, was acting either unlawfully or maliciously and that problem was what caused the case to be lost in the Upper Tribunal in CICA v FTT and CP (CIC) [2013] UKUT 638 (AAC).  We shall just have to wait and see what the Court of Appeal decides.

Incidentally I was slightly involved in the case wearing my Thomas More Legal Centre hat.  The Abortion provider BPAS and the organisation Birthrights applied to become Intervenors in the case in order to argue for the complete bodily autonomy of the woman so I became involved acting for the Pro-Life Alliance in arguing as Intervenor for the equal rights and dignity of the unborn child

It may well be that the Court of Appeal will ignore both interventions and concentrate instead on the wording of the 1861 Act and the details of the Criminal Injuries scheme but I am glad to have had some small part in ensuring that the arguments of BPAS were countered and the Court was reminded that unborn children are human and entitled to respect and dignity

Monday, 10 November 2014

Oh Liberty, what crimes are committed in thy name

This is a somewhat personal and possibly off subject posting but it is a subject I feel strongly about and, what the heck, this is my Blog so I can decide what goes in it.

Some weeks ago in the “Catholic Times”  there was an article by a Catholic Priest called Monsignor Basil Loftus who writes a weekly column called “Vatican Counsel” where he frequently expresses bizarre and heretical views on Religion and History.  I try to avoid his articles as much as possible but occasionally I do read him which is an experience a bit like prodding a toothache just to confirm it is still hurting.

Anyway a few weeks ago he wrote an article in the Catholic Times where he finished with the words that he looked forward to a

"a Franciscan revolution to eclipse in drama and extent the French Revolution" 

(The reference to a “Franciscan revolution” is a reference to Pope Francis, Mgr Loftus having appointed himself as chief prophet and interpreter of the frequently off the cuff comments of Pope Francis. For myself when considering the (often opaque) comments attributed to Pope Francis I bear in mind that they usually come via unofficial English translations of remarks made in Italian by a native Spanish speaker with a strong Argentinian accent)

Anyway what sparked my anger with Mgr Loftus was not his remarks about his imaginary Franciscan revolution but rather his extraordinary praise for the French Revolution , not the first time he has praised this destructive murderous event in world history.  I therefore wrote a letter which said 

“  Even by his own standards the suggestion by Mgr Basil Loftus (19 October) that he looks forward to "a Franciscan revolution to eclipse in drama and extent the French Revolution" is bizarre.

The French Revolution was the cause of the death of thousands judicially murdered in the reign of terror. The Carmelites of Compiegne were guillotined simply for being Nuns and they are merely the best known of the thousands of Catholic Priests, Nuns and believers who were also sent to the guillotine solely for the crime of being practising Catholics.

Besides the reign of terror the Revolution led to massacres in the Vendee and other regions of France and plunged Europe into thirty years of war and destruction stretching from Madrid to Moscow. Is that seriously the "drama and extent" Mgr Loftus wishes on the Church and the world ?

If Citizen Loftus wishes to praise the French Revolution as a model to be followed then he has of course got the liberty to do so but it is a desecration of the memory of the numerous Catholic victims of that revolution for such praise to be uttered by someone who claims the title of Catholic Priest. “

I hoped that the letter would be published and having made my point I assumed that Mgr Loftus would then go on as before like most writers of articles who accept a degree of criticism as part and parcel of their job and are pleased to at least know that someone is reading them.  For Mgr Loftus however such a “normal” response is not enough and in an expression of hypersensitivity verging on paranoia he actually wrote a letter himself which was published in the papers letters column as if having 800 words published each week wasn't enough.  In his letter he said

“ Yes, the violence of the few did degenerate into the madness of the many, but the French Revolution inspired a continent-wide socio-political revolution of which both Church and State still feel the beneficial effects and, no less importantly, are still building upon.

It is also necessary to recognise that the violence against elements of Catholicism was to no small extent occasioned by the manner in which the institutional Church had identified itself with an oppressive regime which denied basic human dignity to that vast majority of humankind, which had neither civil nor ecclesial rights.

Today, for virtually the first time, Pope Francis is making it possible for voice of every baptised man and woman to be heard in the Church.

This would not have been possible without the progressive effects which the French Revolution inspired. The analogy is quite justifiable.

The puerile attempt at personal vituperation is particularly demeaning in your correspondent as a professional gentleman.

Not only is it lamentable in itself, but it also devalues the otherwise positive contribution which the letter affords as a springboard for further clarification which I am happy to make. “

Well I have a number of points to make but if Mgr Lofus really feels that I was engaging in “personal vituperation” in my letter then frankly he needs to get out more.  As most normal people would have realised when I called him “Citizen Loftus” it was a tongue in cheek reference to the fact that during the French Revolution the titles “citizen” and “citizeness” were compulsory and indeed during that era Mgr Loftus would have been Guillotined for using the title “Monsignor”. 

However I doubt if that would have happened in his case since Mgr Loftus is not the stuff of which martyrs are made. Having read a number of his articles I am quite sure that he would have been eager to swear to the “Civil Constitution of the Clergy” which in effect nationalised the French Church and made it and its beliefs subservient to the French state.  He also I suspect would have been quite happy to participate in the worship of the “Cult of Reason” or the Robespierre  inspired “Cult of the Supreme Being”.  I am quite certain he would not have joined the thousands who were maintained their faith and were sent to the Guillotine for the crime of being believing Catholics. 

For a Catholic priest such as Mgr Loftus to praise the French Revolution for its supposed beneficial effects is a form of Holocaust Denial akin to a Rabbi saying “at least Hitler built good Autobahns” 

The reality is that the French Revolution did not help in the human search for freedom quite the contrary it led to a murderous tyranny 100 times worse that the Government which it replaced and in the form of the Revolutionary Tribunal  the Law of Suspects  and the Law of 22 Prairial   it established the legal and institutional blueprint for many other dictatorships in particular that of Lenin and Stalin both of whom were admirers of the Reign of Terror and who followed its example.  The French Revolution and its evils put back democratic progress and liberalisation throughout Europe.

In any event to argue, as Mgr Loftus does, that mass murder is justified for the greater good is an historically illiterate and morally repellent argument especially coming from a priest who is supposed to preach the Gospel according to Jesus Christ, not the Gospel according to Robespierre and Stalin

Or, as Marie Roland  put it on her way to the Guillotine 
" Oh Liberty, what crimes are committed in thy name !".