Catholic Medical Quarterly - February 2013 (Web only supplement)
Thomas More Legal Centre
The first Five Years
On 1st September 2007 a group met in London to consider the formation of an organisation to provide Legal advice and representation to individuals whose religious freedom was threatened by employers or Government. The initial impetus was the coming into force of the Sexual Orientation Regulations which were to ultimately lead to the closure of the Catholic Adoption Agencies.
Following that meeting the Thomas More Legal Centre (TMLC) was created with Mr Richard Kornicky CBE as Chairman and Neil Addison, Barrister as Director and on 7th January 2008 TMLC was officially registered as a Charity and began operations. On 7th January 2013 TMLC celebrates its 5th Anniversary. In those Five years it has developed a particular expertise in the Pro Life area and this article is a review of some of the main cases TMLC has been involved in over that period. Many of the names of those we have represented are kept confidential because TMLC has always tried to deal with cases through negotiation and where cases involve employees who are carrying on being employed avoiding undue publicity helps to ensure that there are still good relationships at work. The disadvantage for TMLC is that this reduces the publicity we can achieve for our work but it has also meant that overall we have been more successful than other more publicised organisations. A lot of our work has involved giving general legal advice and support at an early stage which has helped to prevent situations developing into cases
In the next few years we expect to be increasingly involved in defending the rights of pro-life groups to operate and express their views in Universities where Students Unions are increasingly adopting “pro choice” policies and then attempting to silence pro-life groups on the basis that they are “contrary to student union policy”. We also expect to see increasing intolerance of pro-life medical staff as part of what appears to be a systematic attempt by the NHS to minimise the right to Conscientious Objection in the Abortion Act. The effect of Same Sex marriage on the rights of Christian organisations and individuals to express their views and act in accordance with their conscience is also likely to come under increasing pressure
2008 onwards - Catholic Adoption Agencies
The threat to the Catholic Adoption Agencies was the original spur to the formation of TMLC We offered legal advice and a strategy to Catholic Care and the other Catholic Adoption Agencies but none of them followed our advice and, as is well known, most have become Secular Charities and Catholic Care has been uniformly unsuccessful in the legal strategy it has followed. We advised all the Agencies to change their Constitutions to include a clause reading
"The Charity shall not have power to engage in any activity which is contrary to the teaching of the Catholic Church"
which would have provided it with a protection under s193 Equality Act 2010 but which would have involved the Charity respecting all Catholic teaching ie not placing Adoptive Children with unmarried couples as well as not with same-sex couples. Instead of following this route Catholic Care tried to change its Constitution to read
"The Charity shall only provide adoption services to heterosexuals and such services to heterosexuals shall only be provided in accordance with the tenets of the Church."
which was rejected by the Charity Commission and other bodies as we predicted it would be. The problem with this approach was that it emphasised only one point of Catholic teaching ie that relating to same-sex relationships and was clearly and explicitly discriminatory. The St Margarets Charity in Scotland, by contrast, and also an Evangelical Christian Charity in the North East both of which have adopted the approach we recommended have continued to restrict their services to married couples whilst at the same time remaining within the law.
Interestingly as TMLC approaches its 5th Anniversary His Holiness Pope Benedict issued a Motu Proprio “De Caritate Ministranda,” (On the service of charity) where he said
“[Catholic Charities] are required to follow Catholic principles in their activity and they may not accept commitments which could in any way affect the observance of those principles."
which is entirely in line with the legal advice TMLC has been giving for the past 5 years
2008 Pro-Life Doctor
A Trainee Doctor approached TMLC after being told that he had to refer patients for Abortion otherwise he would be sacked and/or not not allowed to qualify. He was indeed referred to the General Medical Council for disciplinary purposes which was an extremely intimidating experience for a young professional at the start of his career. TMLC advised him on his legal rights to conscientious objection and wrote on his behalf to his employers. In that case as in others we relied not just on the Abortion Act but also on his Pro-life belief being a protected belief under the Equality Act. Ultimately he was exonerated by the GMC and has now completed his training and is a fully qualified, and still pro-life, Doctor.
2008 Catholic Magistrate
TMLC were contacted by a Catholic Magistrates who had been told that unless she was willing to participate in Same Sex Adoption cases she would have to resign. After TMLC involvement she did not resign and has not been required to participate in Same Sex adoption cases
2009 Catholic Mother
A Catholic Mother who had a nervous breakdown had her son taken into care though she kept contact with him. He was an active Catholic approaching Confirmation and was being looked after by a married Anglican couple who ensured that he kept contact with his mother and the Church. Brighton Council were going to move him to a Same Sex Foster Couple against the wishes of him and his mother. After TMLC became involved and contacted the Council the Council ultimately backed down and the child remains with the Anglican couple.
2010 Papal Visit
In the lead up to the Papal visit a great deal of media attention was paid to threats to "arrest" the Pope for, ill defined, crimes against humanity. Together with the Catholic Union TMLC issued a press release setting out the legal realities of the status of the Pope as a Head of State and the unquestioned status of the Vatican City as a state in International Law. In addition the Press were clearly informed as to the definition of crime against humanity and the real security dangers inherent in the "arrest" suggestions. Neil Addison gave a training seminar for members of the group Catholic Voices and a great deal of time was spent being phoned up by various reporters and by members of Catholic Voices wanting to clarify the real legal situation of the Pope and the Vatican
2011-12 Pro-Life Nurses
TMLC have had various cases where Catholic Nurses were told by their Hospital that they had to assist in Clinics where Abortion Inducing drugs were administered. In each case after TMLC intervention the Nurses were told that the Hospital accepted their right to Conscientious Objection and they would not be required to work in the Abortion Clinic.
2011 - 12 Margaret Forrester
Margaret Forrester was employed by the NHS as a Mental Health worker and in the course of a conversation with a colleague who worked as a receptionist organising Abortion appointments she gave the colleague a booklet "Forsaken" in which 5 women who have had Abortions talk about their experience of Abortion and its affects on them. The Booklet was not given to a patient and Margaret's colleague did not object to receiving it.
A few days after the booklet was given to the receptionist Margaret was suspended and subsequently disciplined for "Gross Misconduct" the wording of the Disciplinary Charge being "You distributed material which individuals may find offensive", ultimately she was sacked.
It was only after Margaret had been sacked that TMLC became involved and a claim was submitted to the Employment Tribunal claiming Unfair Dismissal and Religious Discrimination. In their defence given to the Tribunal the NHS states that their reason for disciplining Margaret is because the Forsaken booklet offered a "religious view" on Abortion ie they admit they objected to it because it is religious. They objected to it because one of the women who has had an Abortion said that she now regards what she did as a sin.
TMLC also brought a High Court claim against the NHS for breach of the Human Rights Act. (For technical legal reasons such a claim cannot be brought in the Employment Tribunal. ) The Human Rights claim was based on breaches of Article 9 (freedom of religion), Article 10 (freedom of expression), Article 14 (discrimination in the application of rights) of the European Convention on Human Rights.
Ultimately the case was settled by the NHS
2012 Abortion Prayer Vigil
In the run up to 40 Days for Life the Abortion provider Marie Stopes International wrote to the Catholic Charity “Good Counsel Network” threatening them with Injunctions and reference to the Advertising Standards Authority arising from their prayer vigils. TMLC responded robustly to the various Solicitors letters and pointing out the legally inaccurate basis of the threats made. Following our responses Marie Stopes did not proceed with any legal action. Had Good Counsel been intimidated by MSI then it is likely that similar threats would have been made by MSI and BPAS against other Pro-Life Prayer Vigils
2012 Pro-Life Students
Following a talk at UCL organised by the Students Catholic Society in which Lord Alton was a speaker the Union passed a resolution which would have required every student body to invite a "pro choice" speaker to any event which involved any form of debate or discussion of Abortion. Seemingly unobjectionable in principle it would in effect have given the Students Union the right to veto any event held by the Society. When contacted by TMLC the Students Union backed down and revoked the resolution. TMLC are working with other Student Organisations regarding intimidation towards Pro-Life groups in Universities and attempts to stifle free expression of pro life views. TMLC also gave legal advice and assistance in the formation of the new Alliance of Pro-Life Students
2012 Catholic Fertility Provider
TMLC recently provided legal advice to a Catholic Fertility organisation which was concerned that it would be obliged to provide services to unmarried and same sex couples. They have amended their constitution following advice from TMLC