Call for Evidence | November 2018 – January 2019
In March 2018, the Home Office set up what is described as an independent Commission for Countering Extremism with the purpose of challenging “all forms of extremism” and advising the Government on “new policies to deal with extremism, including the need for new powers.” The Commission’s remit does not include a study of terrorism. The Commission recognises that definitions of “extremism” vary and that there is no legal definition in the UK. In the Spring of 2019, the Commission intends to publish a study on “all forms of extremism” with reference to England and Wales.
The Government is to be applauded in their efforts to tackle and defeat ideologies peddling incitement to violence and murder, including the overthrow of democracy. However, there is a real and present danger that Bible believing Christians will be labelled ‘extremist’.
Public figures have already pointed to concerns about how law-abiding Christians are at risk of being caught by the vagueness of the term “extremism”. Lord Evans, former head of MI5, wrote in 2015 when the Government sought to pass the Counter-Extremism Bill: “definitions will be crucial . . . One can imagine already the powers being used against harmless evangelical street preachers or the like, out of misplaced zeal and a desire to demonstrate that they are not directed against one religion alone”. In 2014, when extremism disruption orders were debated by parliament, the then Justice Minister, Dominic Raab, wrote that their broad powers could be abused; “Those engaged in passionate debates – such as Christians objecting to gay marriage – could find themselves slapped down.” In 2016, the Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby, reportedly declared that he is an “extremist” according to the government definition, because faith could, in some cases, outweigh the rule of law, one of the fundamental British values which are taken as markers of integration. He noted that the government’s religious illiteracy meant it was unable to distinguish between groups like the Muslim Brotherhood and a “sort of conservative evangelical group in a Church of England church.”
Evidence in the public domain show how three members of the Commission hold divisive and dangerous views about Bible-believing Christians that disqualify them in these public roles, contrary to the Code of Conduct that obliges members of public bodies to be impartial. Where a member of a public body has a conflict of interest, such conflicts must be declared, and the individual must not participate in discussions or decisions where the interest suggests a danger of bias.
Government Consultation | September – December 2018
The government is consulting on a radical and controversial overhaul of the law on divorce in England and Wales. One of the main reforms would be to allow divorce on mere notification of irretrievable breakdown by either one or both spouses, abolishing any need to provide evidence of fault, i.e., providing a legal reason why the marriage has broken down. This would make divorce into a purely administrative process where one spouse could in effect walk free of the marriage by notification.
When the reason for marriage breakdown is not legally needed as a condition for divorce, this is sometimes known as “no-fault” divorce. Other aspects of the proposed changes include abolishing the right of a spouse to contest a divorce. Of the consultation, the Government “seeks views on the detail of how best to change the law to reduce family conflict and strengthen family responsibility.” It claims this consultation marks its “commitment to strengthen support for children and families”. The argument that allowing no-fault divorce is somehow capable of strengthening families is deeply controversial, and we understand that such provision will weaken families and undermine the security of children.
The last major reform of divorce law took place nearly fifty years ago. The Government’s current proposals for no-fault divorce builds on an existing campaign pushed by The Times newspaper and Sir Paul Coleridge of the Marriage Foundation.
Government Consultation | July – November 2018
The Children and Social Work Act 2017 placed a duty on the Education Secretary to make Relationships Education (RelEd) compulsory at primary school, and Relationships and Sex Education (RSE) compulsory at secondary school. This duty would be accomplished through regulations (Relationships Education, Relationships and Sex Education and Health Education (England) Regulations 2019). The 2017 Act further gave discretionary power to the Secretary of State for Education to make Personal, Social, Health and Economic Education (PSHE), or elements of it, compulsory in all schools.
The Department for Education had previously issued a Call for Evidence, when views were sought from organisations on subject content. The Government has said that these findings helped shape the form of the draft regulations, statutory guidance and regulatory impact assessment, which became the subject of the Consultation on RelEd and RSE, opened on 19 July 2018, closing on 7 November 2018.
The statutory draft guidance contains both the content to which schools will need to have regard in their delivery of RelEd, RSE and PSHE, and also the legal obligations falling on schools in their teaching of these three fields.
This Consultation sought views from all parties on the draft regulations and statutory guidance relating to RelEd and RSE and PSHE. It also sought opinions as to whether this guidance provided sufficient information and support to schools in the teaching these subjects.
The Department for Education has said it will consider the responses submitted to the consultation process when it finalises the draft regulations and statutory guidance. The Regulations will then be put before Parliament for final debate before implementation by Statutory Instrument, at which point the Department for Education will also publish its accompanying Guidance.