Back in Business

22 Dec

The writer has wondered for some time what the Church of Scientology has been up to (in the Courts, we mean – this is not a post about Tom Cruise, etc, etc) for the last few years. The UK Charity Commission’s 1999 decision to deny them charitable status (ie/esp as a body that advances religion) was comprehensive, but not exactly bulletproof: surely the Charities Act 2006 by broadening (arguably, at least) what counts as a religion had helped them – so why no word ?

Now we know – or at least we can theorise, courtesy of a High Court judgement noted by our friends at the UK Human Rights Blog. On one reading, paragraph 5 of Mr Justice Ouseley’s judgement says that the Scientologists are already recognised officially as a charity – but at the least it says that at least some local authorities treat it as charitable for local tax purposes. That may well answer our question: they have taken a piecemeal approach instead, persuading individual local authorities to treat them as charitable. Since the Church is wealthy and litigious, this cannot always have been a difficult decision: apparently HMRC also grant them VAT relief now too.

All of which – and we make no criticism of these tactics – set up nicely the current case: R on the application of Louisa Hodkin & CSREC v Registrar General of Births Deaths & Marriages (2012). There is a media summary here, and the actual Law Report here. The issue was whether the Scientology Chapel in question was “a place of meeting for religious worship” – which would enable it to be registered to carry out fully effective weddings in its own right. Of course, if they get to do their own weddings then they get to seem a lot more like a Church (Mosque, Temple, etc) – but they need to be accepted as a “a place of meeting for religious worship” first, which may seem a bit chicken-and-egg. Lord Lester (their lawyer) surely made much of that.

In fact, both the Registrar and the Judge considered themselves bound by a 1970 Court of Appeal (CA) authority on a similar point, R v Registrar General ex parte Segerdal. Thus the write-up in the Metro about their going to the Supreme Court (SC) – only the SC can overrule the CA.

In Segerdal the CA treated there as being two major issues, which then needed to be combined:
(1) Was Scientology a religion ?
(2) Was what happens in its Chapels ‘worship’ ?

The CA had not formally decided about (1) – although Mr Justice Ouseley discerned doubts. Their main point had been (2) – that what Scientologists did at their gatherings was not ‘worship.’ As to (1), it seems the Judge might have been sympathetic, but he still seemed to think (2) problematic, claims that Scientology beliefs have developed since Segerdal notwithstanding.

We will hear more of this: in the meantime, the Charity Commission’s decision tables confirm that the Commission is still inclined to contest ‘religious’ groups’ claims to be a religion rather than a philosophy if their beliefs seem excessively vague or their practices not especially religious.

However, these do both seem questions of degree rather than quality, so it may be that the Scientologists are not so far from recognition as a religion after all. It is the writer’s impression that they do have reasonably definite beliefs, although these are not very widely known (it is sometimes suggested that you learn more as you advance/pay more), and the Chapel services (note ‘Chapel’) are evidently meant to mimic a Church service (they even have a ‘Scientology cross,’ it seems), although the Judge’s impression seems to be that they do not as yet do so very closely – but what is ‘closely enough’ ?


Why I Blog (with apologies to George Orwell)

21 Dec

As regular readers may have noticed – and those searching this blog in future may wonder – these have been a quiet two weeks on this blog.

Perhaps these pauses are useful in a number of ways, but one reason has frankly been a sense that there really was nothing that one could usefully say to an age in which those two Australian DJs could say without apparent irony (words to the effect) that ‘No-one can imagine how bad we feel now’ and be put on suicide watch – instead of (say) being given as good a shake as the law allows and told to be silent until they had something useful to say – something useful to say to the grieving children of the nurse to whose death their ‘prank’ had led.

Of course, no such thing has happened. Indeed, their boss was quoted as saying that the nurse’s death was “not reasonably foreseeable” – without so far as we can tell anyone referring him to JB Priestley’s play, An Inspector Calls (1947).

It also allows us to reflect on George Orwell’s essay, Why I Writeperhaps surprisingly available in extenso here (I would have thought it still in copyright).

Ultimately, however, it is as an ancient blogger put it:

‘If I had said – “I will not speak thus” –
I would have betrayed our children’

– or a Roman blogger put it –

‘It would in fact be harder not to blog’

– and we agree. The times call for a critical (in the sense of critique rather than necessarily of criticism in the popular sense) commentary – and those who can provide it must do so, whatever their doubts about their readership.

Staying Classy Down Under

8 Dec

Our readers probably took no more notice than we did of the Australian Radio Station’s hoax call to the Hospital at which the Duchess of Cambridge had been treated.

However, matters have now taken a different turn with the nurse whom the radio DJs successfully hoaxed having apparently killed herself.

The DJs’ response to the furore is quoted by the BBC as being: “We’re very sorry if we’ve caused any issues and we’re glad to hear that Kate is doing well.”

Yes, just a few issues …

Lord Justice Leveson has – it is said – opined that these *Radio* DJs’ behaviour shows the need to regulate the *Press* as per his Report.

Mmmm … er, how, exactly ?

So classy …

More Alike Than They’d Like

6 Dec

We recall from Latin lessons at school the comment (apropos [of] Cicero) that ‘those who seek to walk in the middle of the road tend to get knocked down and run over.’ We hope that no such fate befalls (Prof) David Mead of Essex Uni, who has just posted a luminously sensible piece on the UK Constitutional Law Blog, asking both sides of the HRA* debate to ‘play nicely‘ (as it were) – more reason, less politics, he pleads. Bonne chance

*If you need to ask what this stands for, you may prefer to find another blog … – tho’ you’re welcome to stay if you like …

A Time to Lay Down Stones

5 Dec

We cannot be unaware that the online world eagerly awaits our thoughts about the Leveson Report. That we have not yet read it – and have no realistic expectation of doing so – will not deter the public clamour. (Reference: The Eatanswill Gazette – oh, and see an intriguing essay by GK Chesterton here …)

What do we think ?

Our view is that the real-er question is – what do we feel ? All the discussion and comment and point-scoring and debate seems to come down to – what do we feel about substantial state regulation of the content of the Press ? Many writers seem to regard their own position as obvious, and those who disagree as evidently foolish/in bad faith. We intend to avoid that error.

Others put the matter better, so the following links may assist:

On the general principle – Milton’s Areopagiticasummarised conveniently (hopefully accurately) here – is treated as a classic.

Some dissents to the general ‘hang the Journalists’ mood may be found here:
Simon Jenkins in The Guardian – following on from Peter Preston here.

We suggest that the reader makes up their mind/rationalises their prejudices using the following:

(1) Leveson LJ’s own little difficulty with information standards – well pointed out by our colleague Nick Cartwright and gleefully reported in the Press;

(2) Fraser Nelson’s cri-de-coeur in The Spectator. A heroic stand for Free Speech, or special pleading for exemption from the rule of law from the classier end of the sewer ? As Mr Nelson(F) himself points out, the alternative may not be very impressive: he cites Labour MP Jim Dowd as giving them a (dis)honourable mention in debate for this.

Freedom of Conscience or Freedom from the Rule of Law ? Would the latter claim be falsified if Mr Nelson complained to the ECHR about any such conviction a la Goodwin ? Or would that suggest that Journalists obey the laws they choose – as Mr Dowd complains? Is an analogy (not Mr Nelson’s) with the sanctity of the confessional helpful – or does it illustrate precisely the kind of claim that is being made ?

As we love to say, discuss ….


4 Dec

The ECHR has now published the 2nd part of its HUDOC Tutorial. This explains the Advanced Search feature. This looks rather impressive, I have to say – it provides (or seems to) a Westlaw/LexisLibrary style system of cross-referencing.

Try this for a link to it on YouTube.


How Lovely in the Newsroom are the Feet of them …

3 Dec

How Lovely in the Newsroom are the Feet of them …


‘There is More Joy in Heaven…’

3 Dec

‘There is More Joy in Heaven…’

The UK Human Rights Blog have of course enjoyed the Daily Mail‘s discovery of Human Rights post-Leveson – er, at any rate, of their own Freedom of Expression.

The Daily Mail‘s record on nuanced reporting of Human Rights issues is so – er – consistent that one has to understand the HRs Blog giving them both barrels as soon as they get the chance. However, there is more to this:

(1) As HRs Blog acknowledge, one can distinguish civil liberties from Human Rights – it was common to do so when this writer was at Uni, at any rate. This might help the Mail at least a bit with the charge of hypocrisy;

(2) The HRs Blog love to stress (not wrongly, of course) that all humans have human rights, however unpleasant. Pending DNA test results, it is believed that most Daily Mail journalists …;

(3) Leveson LJ’s comments about the Mail‘s reporting accuracy – which HRs Blog quotes – are a bit, well, what did you expect ? I don’t suppose it’s essential to understand something in order to condemn it – in a sense that’s exactly the HRs Blog’s point re the Mail and Human Rights cases – but it might help your credibility …

“Well, I Wouldn’t Start From Here”

26 Nov

It cannot be the case that Labour-run Rotherham Council thought that it would be a useful way to get a sly dig in at UKIP (the UK Independence Party) by taking some foster(ish) children away from some UKIP-supporting parents – because the parents supported UKIP having (it is said) defected from Labour – ahead of the by-election there.

There are at least three reasons for us to be sure of this:

(1) It has backfired spectacularly, with UKIP Leader Nigel Farage enjoying himself immensely in his new ‘victim’ status;

(2) Even a carefully-courteous radio interview on the BBC Today Programme evidently hadn’t been planned very well;

(3) As everyone involved seemed to agree, that would be a grave abuse of power – and one’d not expect politicians to have so much influence over Social Services.

For the Government it was a win-win too, since Michael Gove the Education Secretary was (it is reported) adopted himself, and so is getting a more sympathetic hearing from the Press at the moment and on this topic than he usually does.

How Many People Have to be Following You for You Still to be Leading ?

24 Nov

(Prof) Gavin Phillipson contributes a rather depressed post to the UK Constitutional Law Group’s Blog. In short, the good Prof found BBC Question Time rather unhappy viewing for the coverage it gave (and didn’t) to the Abu Qatada affair. From the comments he cites – and experience teaches one to expect further comment from the good Prof himself – one can see why.

The writer ventures a few suggestions.

Firstly, that a certain amount of what was said was indeed ‘for the audience.’ However, that changes things rather than makes them better. If Harriet Harman’s comments are partly excused as ‘playing to the room,’ then what of Chris Grayling’s line – which was surely rather more measured than what had been (said to be) expected of him when he was appointed – that he would eat every Human Rights lawyer’s babies for breakfast ? (I exaggerate slightly) Was that show of relative moderation ‘just for the room’ ? Were the gloomy comments on his appointment likewise, for that matter ? Hmm…

Secondly, these are difficult cases, so it may be unfair to gauge popular views of Human Rights too much by these responses. The view a Human Rights lawyer may reach by subtle weighings of interests may be reached by a more average voter intuitively – and be the same. (It may have the same weight at an election, of course)

Thirdly, the difficulty may be one of too little time spent inculcating a ‘human rights culture’ amongst the voters at large – I say this with 20-20 hindsight. If they accept the general values of Human Rights – and the writer is not sure that they do not – then one would expect the ‘hard cases’ like Abu Qatada to be accepted eventually – with grumbling, yes – recall McCann & ‘Death on the Rock’ – but accepted all the same.

Of course, that acceptance is not going to happen if – if it has not yet happened or is not yet secure (the better view ?) – a chorus of ‘The horror ! The horror !’ on Question Time is as far as our leaders are prepared to go in explaining and communicating the values behind Human Rights rules to the people at large. At least to that extent, the good Prof’s depression can be shared. Perhaps more communication in the easy cases would help ?

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