Now that I am retired having been many years a magistrate with a long awareness of the declining freedoms enjoyed by the ordinary citizen and a corresponding fear of the big brother state`s ever increasing encroachment on civil liberties I hope that my personal observations within these general parameters will be of interest to those with an open mind. Having been blogging with this title for many years against the rules of the Ministry of Justice my new found freedom should allow me to be less inhibited in these observations.





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Monday, 30 December 2013

LAW AND RELIGION



This country could a long time ago have been described as a “Christian” country.  The sovereign was anointed with holy water and s/he was appointed by God to rule.  The national church is by definition “English”.  It is fair to say that before the enlightenment the Hebrew Bible and its subsequent New Testaments were considered the natural (and only) way in which man`s moral behaviour could be judged.  There are still some who hold this belief that religious authority is the only basis for a system of civil and criminal law.  Indeed the last twenty years have seen direct collisions between them and a  humanist application of the law.  A population now containing 3 million Moslems the proportion of whom professes a desire for Sharia based governance is largely speculative owing to there being as yet no progressive or unorthodox religious derivatives as there are in Christianity and Judaism,  is  gradually changing the way in which religious belief in general is compatible with   a secular legal system operating for the most part on a secular basis.  Half a million Polish immigrants many of whom are practising Roman Catholics have encouraged some Christians to assert rights which have lain dormant for decades.    Orthodox Jews have recently been given the right to refuse work which would require Saturday working without sacrificing their rights to certain welfare benefits. Which leads to the definition of what is religion and what is a cult or an association of those with a common belief.  Scientology has recently in effect been granted religion status.  Self describing Jedi Knights number 176,632 under a category “other religions” in the last census.  The question for our courts is where to draw the religious line when it conflicts theoretically or practically with procedures.  The most obvious collision course was and is the wearing of full face covering by witnesses and/or defendants who profess that their interpretation of Islam requires such garb.  Currently members of recognised religions quite correctly seek adjournments if court appearances coincide with days or times of religious observance.  Which begs the question of the definition of religion.  Charles Lawson, 60, from Hadley in Telford, successfully applied to  magistrates in Flintshire to postpone his hearing day because  his church`s Sabbath  holy day fell on the date listed for his appearance; notwithstanding that his “church” on its website describes itself as a church without religion.   Perhaps my colleagues in Wales would have found differently if they had had access to the internet on the bench. One thing is for sure:- applications of this nature are certain to increase considerably.

2 comments:

  1. Law and religion have different influence on people but for me it should have respect and adjustment.
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  2. "Which begs the question of the definition of religion."

    Well, we now have Lord Toulson's working draft: “a spiritual or non-secular belief system, held by a group of adherents, which claims to explain mankind’s place in the universe and relationship with the infinite…[etc] “: see R (Hodkin & Anor) v Registrar General of Births, Deaths and Marriages [2013] UKSC 77 at para 57. He concluded: " I emphasise that this is intended to be a description and not a definitive formula". But I'd be very surprised if lower courts didn't start using it as a working definition.

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