England has a very highly developed law of contract, largely because the jurisdiction has not been invaded for many centuries. Consequently vast swathes of the world choose, in their commercial agreements, to agree to disagree in over here. Clauses stating, “in the event of a dispute, litigation will occur in the High Court in London” and the like are frequently inserted into huge contracts between parties who have no intention of visiting Madame Windsor’s playground, let alone doing any business here. Fighting the big cases generates huge respect for our lawyers around the world and a fair income for the public houses of Legal London. When they’re not drinking or fighting, English solicitors and barristers like nothing more than a good read.
The most readable, informative and authoritative tome on English contract law is Chitty. It truly is a remarkable book. When I retired from the Bar, I sold my law books but I kept Chitty. It is just too useful to lose. Like an old friend, inside its greyed hard cover sits a wealth of helpful advice, amusement and fond memories. It bothers me not that it is slightly out of date (I have the 29th edition, the publishers are on the 31st now), is too expensive for the ordinary mortal to own and has more editors than authors. It covers the whole history of disputes in England or, at any rate, those which made it to court for resolution. The first volume (1,967 pages in my edition) covers general principles, the second (1,785) refers to specific contracts. Anyone with a reasonable level of literacy and a considerable quantity of time can master the entirety of the English law of contract by reading it from beginning to end.
Thus, we are taught first to recognise what a contract actually is. The reputation of law as a creature with an multifarious nature is immediately established. The editors pounce on this opportunity in the very first sentence:
“There are two main competing definitions of a contract at common law.”
After the introduction, we learn about the steps by which a contract is formed, then the capacity of the parties, the nature of contractual terms themselves, illegality, joint obligations, third parties and assignment, performance and discharge, remedies for breach of contract, restitution and, finally, what to do in the event of a conflict of laws. That’s just the first volume. I won’t claim to have read it all and I definitely haven’t touched the 10th part of the second volume: “Gambling and Wagering“. Yet, I am so sure that nowhere in the law is there a general escape clause for Christians who wish to avoid their earthly obligations that I am willing to lay a bet on it. I’ll give £100 to anyone who can prove me wrong. Aside from requiring the proof to be sound law and dated before today, no terms and conditions apply.
The Christian Law Centre (CLC) is run by Andrea Minichiello Williams and David Clark. It claims that Christian Concern is a “sister organisation”; it was also started by Williams, who is a barrister. As with your humble correspondent, she is not in private practice (you can check via the Bar Directory). In an interview in 2009 with Evangelicals Now (http://www.e-n.org.uk/), she broke ranks with the normal etiquette of the Bar by boasting about a legal case the CLC lost and then compounded the problem by confusing it with another argument altogether:
Evangelicals Now: Tell us about some of the cases with which CCFON has been involved recently.
Williams: … During our campaign against the legalisation of creating and exploiting animal-human hybrids for research in the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Bill (as it then was), the Christian Legal Centre applied for a judicial review of the decision by the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority to grant licences to two universities to create and destroy animal-human hybrid embryos. The judicial review was not granted, but in January this year the newspapers reported that insufficient funding had been obtained by the universities concerned because their research was deemed to be less useful to science than other stem-cell research. We lost the case, but won the argument!
Strange though it is to claim that an argument based on religious grounds has been won because the ‘objectionable’ project was abandoned for entirely different reasons, the CLC has striven after even more absurd theories. In April last year, she penned an article for the Law Society Gazette (a publication famous for publishing just about anything), in which she claimed that,
“Modern legal thought, however, particularly under the Blair/Brown regime and now under Cameron and Clegg, has been dominated by liberal secular humanism, exemplified in the equalities legislation of the past decade.”
before going on to claim that only Christianity could save the English from state imposed totalitarianism. By way of evidence for this wild notion, she prayed in aid a series of well known workplace disputes over religion as if these local issues were somehow the fault of high politics.
This stance reveals Williams as a member of the increasingly desperate ranks of holier than thou right-wingers. Politics for them is a lost case so they clothe themselves in the habit of a particularly odd interpretation of Christianity instead. Gone is the famous slogan – love thy neighbour – and in its place is a series of conveniently collected Old Testament mores. Quite why they draw the line before supporting the reintroduction of slavery, no-one really knows. Here’s their favourite book has to say on the subject:
Exodus 21:7-8 “And if a man sell his daughter to be a maidservant, she shall not go out as the menservants do.”
That’s but one example. Williams’ most recent foraging expedition into politics has strayed into my home town. Big mistake. She saw fit to finger me along the way. An even bigger mistake. Whether she has been actively recruited by local councillor Christina Summers or whether she has volunteered her assistance we do not know but one thing is clear, this rogue councillor now has the backing of Williams’ odd legal outfit and supposed sister ‘organisations’.
The background to the story is that Summers was elected as a Green Party councillor for the Hollingdean and Stanmer ward on Brighton & Hove City Council in 2011. Before being selected by the party, she signed a declaration that she would advance equality in keeping with Green Party policy. The Greens were the first mainstream party to support the introduction of same gender civil marriages. Summers was interviewed by a selection panel inside the party and specifically asked whether, in the event of a conflict between her conscience and the party’s policy, she would vote with the policy or according to whatever she preferred. She replied that she would vote with the party’s policy. No ifs, no buts. Subsequently, she was selected as a candidate, party money was expended on her election campaign and she was elected. On 19th July 2012, she broke her promise to the party by voting against a motion in support of same gender civil marriages.
Incidentally, a few days later Scotland legalised same gender civil marriages. If you’re new to this subject, you may be wondering why I keep including the word ‘civil’. The reason is because these legal changes make no difference to church weddings whatsoever. Furthermore, there is no lobby to make any such changes because no-one gives a hoot what the churches do. First the god squad opposed the concept that the earth travelled around the sun, then they gave in to reality. Then they opposed the idea of galaxies being comprised of suns like our own, in countless number, then they gave that up. Then they opposed the notion of evolution, then they gave that up. Now they want to claim that gay people being permitted to marry will somehow undermine their pointless little club. They’ll give this notion up too, just as they gave up slavery, stoning adulterous women to death and wearing costumes made from only one sheet of cloth.
Here’s the article from ‘Christian Concern’ in support of Summers:
This article ignores the history of Green Party policy on the matter of LGBT rights. Having failed to reference support for same gender civil marriages coming first from the Green Party, it makes no comment at all on it being considered by the membership to be a “core policy”. Having pretended those facts were not worthy of a mention, it announces that, “members of the Green Party have a free vote on issues of conscience“. This type of rhetoric is pure sophistry, in the worst sense of the word. No-one can argue with the statement as it stands. The trouble is, Christian Concern have stood it up in the air without any legs to support it.
Plainly, so far as the Green Party is concerned, this is not an issue of conscience. What party will allow one of its core policies to be declared an matter of conscience for individual interpretation? Issues of conscience in politics are declared thus by the parties, not by those people who stand in church doors and pub bars, noisily protesting their preferred ethics. The right-wingers and the crazier end of the Christian communion may wish it was issue of conscience but they have not yet formed a party of their own from which to make such a pronouncement. They prefer to lurk in the shadows instead or hide behind the banners of other parties.
The article goes on to quote Summers’ interview with the local rag (popularly known as the Evening Anus, by the way). Summers apparently told this newspaper and its rapidly dwindling readership that marriage is for procreation. We all know this is not consistent with Christian belief and practice. If it was the elderly and the infertile would not be permitted to marry in Church. My wife and I have been unable to have children. This pains us greatly but we love each other, we wish to stay together until death us do part. The logic of Summers’ plea is that we should get divorced because marriage is not for us! Presumably, she and Williams and all the rest of them would say that we might get lucky, that miracles do happen. There is, of course, no arguing with that. For what it’s worth, such a miracle would now be most unwelcome. I’m too old to raise kids. If there’s any miracles going spare, I pray they get shared out amongst the more deserving youth.
The article goes on, referring to Summers’ statement that “every political party is a compromise“. Of course, that must be true. This is the point at which any reasonable reporter would mention the promises made by Summers to the Greens. Christian Concern neatly sidesteps that them. It must know about them, they were reported on my blog before they stepped in. The only logical conclusion is that Christian Concern wishes to conceal the truth.
Summers is reported as complaining that “a redefinition of marriage will endanger the conscience rights of schools and churches“. What on earth has this got to do with schools or churches? The former doesn’t conduct any form of marriage ceremony and the latter has nothing to do with civil marriages. It’s worth mentioning at this point that civil marriages have existed for centuries, without the church objecting. In fact, for a long time, churches refused to allow marriages to occur inside their buildings at all. This awkward piece of legal history is completely ignored by the article. Without an author’s name to the piece, it is reasonable to assume that Williams penned the piece herself or has approved it.
Normally when a barrister states a case, both sides of the debate are explained, the opposing side is undermined or diminished. This is both good tactics and honest argument. Williams’ approach is most unethical: she simply ignores the bits she can’t argue with. This is a disingenuous method because it leaves the naive reader without the full debate to decide on. It is a tactic reduced to rhetoric, it relies on the audience being uninformed.
Finally, the article wraps up with Williams’ own words. She says,
“The strong-arm tactics of the Green Party apparatchiks in this instance are disturbing. For a party that prides itself on equality, it is deeply ironic that it seeks to remove Christina Summers for her views on marriage. Clearly some views are more equal than others in the Green Party.”
An apparatchik is an official of an organisation. Alone of all the Green Party members, only I have publicly called for Summers’ expulsion. I hold no position in the party. This could have easily been checked – our party has a full time media crew. This statement is misleading and recklessly so. What purpose is served by this cavalier tactic? Undeterred by the need for basic fact checking, Williams goes on,
Hauling a councillor before a disciplinary panel for expressing her view on marriage in a free vote is unprincipled and unfair. What kind of freedom is it if someone is investigated for expressing a different opinion? Trying to coerce people into being loyal to the party above being loyal to their individual conscience calls to mind the worst kind of totalitarian politics.
Sources inside the party’s upper echelons tell me that the process of calling Summers to a “Panel of Inquiry” is expected to take many weeks. Clearly, that is the slowest hauling of all time. Again, Williams has repeated her false claim that this was “free vote“.
In fact, the Greens have no whip. Therefore, it can be argued that all their votes are free votes and, at the same time, none are. The fact is that free votes are incompatible with issues upon which there is a decided party policy. Before the vote in question, the Green Group of Councillors met and discussed all the issues on the agenda for the full meeting of Brighton & Hove Council, as they always do. Collectively, as is the established routine, they decided how to vote. Every other Green Party councillor voted internally to support the (Labour) motion. My sources say that after Summers explained how she intended to dissent, the tension rose, but they did not attempt to discipline her at that point. Instead they waited for her to make her speech and cast her vote, having warned her that this was against the policy she had previously agreed to support.
If this is what Williams describes as ‘coercion’ and “the worst kind of totalitarian politics“, she must be incredibly naive indeed and rather ignorant of world history. When Saddam Hussein first seized power, he gathered his ministers around a table, explained his plans for the country and invited them to feel free to offer up any constructive criticism. One of them made some modest proposal. As he was speaking, Saddam walked around the room. Suddenly, when he was walking behind the speaking minister, he drew his pistol and blew the man’s brains out. They splattered the cabinet table and the men opposite. Then he asked, “are there any more suggestions?” That’s totalitarianism. The word describes a system of government in which a dictator is absolute and unfettered by any rules or law. The mere fact that the Green Party has called up a Panel of Inquiry which will be convened according to the party’s constitution, disproves this wild allegation.
The paltry quality of the case raised by Williams on Summers’ behalf, hasn’t stopped subscribers to Christian Concern from contacting me. Mainly they have resorted to leaving comments on some posts I have written about Summers. None of them have seen fit to read a post I wrote last year praising her for making the best speech in the council budget meeting. Their comments and emails repeat similar phrases, as if there may have been a suggested text to complain with. I have been called a fascist. The word totalitarianism is called in for support.
Truth be told, despite me one of only three Green Party members mentioned in the article (Including Summers!), very few commentators and correspondents have criticised me. Compare and contrast this to the ire I provoked by criticising the Freeman on the Land brigade. That’s a bizarre cult, which promises freedom from debt instead of heaven, and worships fictional law rather than a god. The adherents to that creed have been campaigning against me for months and have left hundreds of comments on this blog. Of course, it may be an unfair comparison. Summers et al haven’t had so long but the early signs are that whatever campaigning Williams has managed to mount is running out of steam already
In the final analysis, we have Summers’ candour to the local newspaper, to which she claimed that she was not accountable to the party but to God. Various observers have noted that she will be accountable to the electorate, should she choose to stand for election again. (If she does that, there will be an absolutely enormous campaign against her – the plans are already being laid, mainly by the substantial LGBT community locally.) She is free to believe that she will have to answer for her actions on Judgment Day. No-one has any particular problem with that. Her freedom of belief is, as they say, sacrosanct. However, both she and Williams choose to ignore the main issue: the contract that political candidates have with their party.
The nature of this contract will vary from party to party. As far as we know, only the Green Party in Brighton & Hove have required its candidates to sign the equality pledge. Then there is the matter of Summers having declared that she would vote with the party rather than with her own conscience. If this were a legal dispute, Summers would be liable for breach of contract and/or an actionable statement under the Misrepresentation Act. Though there can be little doubt that a contract was formed, this is never going to reach a court of law. Judges would be extremely slow to interfere in individual political choices. Quite right too. However, the analogy is absolutely sound. These issues ruin the case for Summers. There is no wriggle room. None whatsoever.
Therefore, although this isn’t a legal dispute, Summers’ insistence and Williams’ support for her begs the questions whether they believe that:
- Christians can escape their end of a contract with another party?
- Christians can misrepresent the priority they will give their ‘conscience’, when striking a bargain?
- Christians cannot be bound by earthly contracts?
- Christians need not be honest?
If they do claim these privileges, why do they not claim them also in law? If they do not, why don’t they admit the facts of the present case?
Although I personally have railed against religion, the Green Party has not. By seeking to portray the dispute as one between freedom of religion and oppression, the Christian Right have undermined their own credibility and dishonoured the numerous martyrs against real oppression around the world, many of whom share their faith. The facts are painfully simple. There are some basic home truths, which they would do well to recognise. Christians, along with everyone else, are bound by the contracts they enter into. If a broken deal is a legal matter, we can expect to face legal consequences. If the deal is political, we can expect political consequences. If you want to work with other people, you have to prove your trustworthiness. That is as true in the workplace as it is in a political party. If you prove yourself unreliable, dishonest or untrustworthy, you will more than likely risk being sacked. There are no special privileges available for people with any one particular faith. There is no such thing as a Christian contract.