How would you describe your beliefs or identity in terms of religion?

I am a Quaker of the Unitarian Universalist Tendency and I don’t believe in the Trinity. Shock, horror!!!

What was your reason for adopting/retaining this?

I chose to be a Quaker for two reasons: 1. I was finding it incredibly difficult to go to Mass when I was an Anglican. I believed less and less in it and I realised I didn’t believe in the Trinity any more, and I had to choose between being a Quaker and a Unitarian, and I thought ‘the great thing about being a Quaker is that I don’t have to sing hymns! So, I became a Quaker. I had been a devout Anglican and I had been educated in an Anglican theological college and in another life I may have been ordained. I am lucky I wasn’t. I was 55 when I finally became a Quaker. 

Is GB an equal and tolerant society, especially in relation to religion and belief?

Yes, I think GB is as tolerant as you can get (in terms of religion and belief). Clearly, there are signs of intolerance in some quarters. This is evident in terms of Anti-Semitism. There are also signs of Islamophobia in some quarters, but on the whole, although not without blemish, I think as far as religious tolerance in Western societies is concerned, the UK is pretty good. 

Are there any challenges to living in accordance with your beliefs? If so, are they legal, social or political?

I don’t think there are challenges for me as a Quaker in this society. Quakers were first recognised as having a special status with the passing of the Marriage Act 1753, which allowed Quakers and Jews not to get married in the parish church. Everybody else had to. So, they recognized Quakers as a separate community very early on and many things have happened since which have accommodated Quakers. The obvious one is being allowed to affirm, rather than swear an oath. The other area where Quakers were accommodated, although not Quakers only, was in the matter of conscientious objection. During the First World War it was much harder to prove to be a conscientious objector and be accepted, but then during the Second World War if you were a Quaker, it would be assumed that you were a conscientious objector. Furthermore, some Quakers have some issues about paying taxes which can go to war causes. Hardline Quakers have problems with it and some go as far as refusing to pay. I am not that dogmatic. I reckon that probably most Friends do. If you live in a society, you have to accept the rules, provided that the human rights are respected.

See my article in Russell’s book,[1] in which I write about it at considerable length; but the bottom line is that since Quakers have to respect God in any person, that implies that you respect the rights of human beings, just as in Catholic teaching, as people are made in the image of God, they have to be respected. Catholic social teaching and what Friends believe about respect for individuals are remarkably similar. 

Are Human Rights positive for our society?

Human rights are good for British society.

Are Quakers campaigning on any Human Rights issues?

Quakers are advocating for various things. The Friends are advocating, for example, for the recognition of some sort of voting system for prisoners. Another important matter, whether or not you regard it as a human right, as it is arguable, it is a refusal to continue  the entry of young people under the age of 18 into the armed forces, which seems to be contrary to the Convention on the Rights of the Child. Apart from that, I don’t think Quakers are differentiated of any other religion or group. Of course, we support human rights. We wouldn’t do anything else.

We are better than Turkey! I think the Government’s response to the ruling in Hirst is rather disgraceful, but on the whole you have decent records of certainly making sure that our legislation is HRs compliant in the first place and in falling in with the decisions of the Court in the second place. What worries me, as I am sure it worries you, is the discussion about whether we should have a thing called a British Bill of Rights. Either it would be a re-enactment of the ECHR under British Law in which case it wouldn’t be a point in doing it, or it would be, as it has been suggested, the ECHR plus, in which case, what is the plus? What it must not be is an ECHR minus. The other thing is on my reading of the Treaty of Lisbon and, indeed the President of the ECtHR agrees with me, bearing in mind what he said a fortnight ago, since the EU “shall accede” to the European Convention, and anyway the European Convention is mentioned in the Treaty as part of European Law, I would have thought that if we bugger about, we risk putting ourselves outside of the EU. Clearly, there are members of the Tory party who would love that. If you ask me, Frank Cranmer, as an academic, I think they are barking mad.

Does the State get the correct level of intervention in religious practice?

I don’t think the State intervenes too much in terms of religion and belief. As you know, you can believe in what you like, provided that it is not criminal. You can worship as you wish, provided that you don’t do things such as human sacrifice. I once had a query during my day job from someone who wanted to set up his own church and he asked me whether I could suggest how to do it. My response was in the first place ‘are you really sure you want to set up your own church? There are lots to choose from. Why don’t you choose one of them?’, secondly, ‘if you want to do it, all you have to do is do it. You don’t have to register and if you want to meet with other people to worship, it is entirely up to you. It goes back to the fact that what is not explicitly prohibited, is allowed’. I also pointed out to the fact that they had to comply with charity law, but the interaction between charity law and religion is a different matter altogether. So, I reckon that as far as religious freedom goes it is pretty good. The only doubt that I had was when they refused on dubious grounds to register the Scientology chapel in central London, but fortunately the Supreme Court sorted it out. Hodkin is a good definition and it will influence the discussion on this topic for the next twenty years, but the original definition of Segerdal was very poor, to be honest. 

When should the State intervene in religious practices?

Well… lifestyle choices… oh God, that is difficult… if a lifestyle choice means female genital mutilation for your daughters, sure, the State should step in. You may not know this, but the Female Genital Mutilation Act 1993 was drafted by me. Yes, I was a Public Bill Office drafter at that time and a Member came along, who wanted to amend the Female Circumcision Act, and I said ‘look. First, nobody is going to oppose this. Why don’t you do the sensible thing, which is repeal the Act, re-enact it with all the amendments, so that people can see what it means…’ and she said ‘would you do it?’. I said I would and I sat down and wrote the bill which became the Act. So, there you are: I did something useful! To return to the subject… if it means that you enslave someone, the State must step in… if it means that someone likes wearing the burqa, I genuinely think that should not be the State’s concern. I think that to take the burqa as an example, France got it wrong, and the judgment of the ECtHR is pretty awful: that idea of ‘living together’ as a principle, which isn’t actually there. 

Is Parliamentary democracy a good thing?  Does it make it easier to practice your faith?

I would only consider a dictatorship by me as a preferable form of Government! (joke) No, all the evidence suggests that a democracy with a human rights regime is a situation in which economies flourish. As Churchill said, democracy is the least worst option. 

Do your beliefs mean that you feel that you have a duty to vote?

It is a difficult one, because I think I am going to write ‘none of the above’ on the ballot paper. The only party which I could vote for with some enthusiasm is the SNP. I am not allowed to vote in Scotland because I don’t live there enough, and obviously they don’t put up candidates in England and Wales. Out of the three main parties, I despair of all of them, and UKIP is full of mad people. 

Should Parliament have the final say in making law?  Would you like to see an empowerment of judiciary to strike down legislation?

The judiciary in the UK have powers to strike down legislation which is contrary to EU Law, because EU Law overrides domestic law, and on one or two occasions, such as Factortame, it has done so. As far as human rights are concerned, as you know, they must take into account the case law of Strasbourg and they may issue a declaration of incompatibility. I am not convinced that a declaration of incompatibility is not good enough. On the other hand, giving the judiciary powers to strike down primary legislation, there must be a yardstick against which to strike it down, and that would mean a written Constitution, which opens another can of worms.

I am afraid that on the subject of having a written Constitution, I am still agnostic. I can see all sorts of attractions to it, although having said that, people look at the American Constitution, and they forget that under the constitutional provisions regrettable things have been allowed. And also in Soviet Russia… so, a written Constitution is not the panacea. But the other thing is that written Constitutions have less flexibility. An example of hard law which has come back to bite them is the Fixed Term Parliament Act. We have spent the last year doing nothing and they all wish that they had been able to call the election and go home, but they are stuck. I suppose the answer Javier, sorry… to your question is, I don’t know whether the judiciary should have striking-down powers or not…. 

Is a majoritarian democracy a problem for minorities?  Do some groups face barriers to participation?

Rule by majority without a framework within which it will be exercised is potentially very dangerous indeed. The framework which we have is the ECHR, the EU Charter of Rights and Freedoms and EU Law. If Parliament wants to do something completely barmy, the chances are that it will be a violation of all of them. Majoritarian democracies need a sort of framework within which to operate, whether it is a constitutional framework, or a supranational framework (like us): it doesn’t matter, as long as the majority can’t do everything they want. 

Does it concern you that the House of Lords is unelected?

I worked thirty-six years as a Clerk of the Commons. So, I am bound to have prejudices. You won’t find a Clerk of the Commons who is impartial about the Upper House! It is not in our nature. I think that having an unelected second Chamber, with about 800 members is ridiculous. I would abolish it and would start again. Having a unicameral Parliament is tempting, but not many democracies do… Sweden has, New Zealand does… I can’t think of very many at all, but they are much smaller than us. Perhaps we need two Houses to give people enough time to get legislation properly revised before it is enacted, but it is not a given that we must have a bicameral system. Who knows? However, I think that the present Upper House is indefensible. I would like a wholly-elected second Chamber if possible. 

How do you feel about the presence of bishops in the House of Lords?

I agree with the presence of bishops in the House of Lords in principle… The bishops are on the whole aware of what they are doing and have something to say. The bishops I know (and I know a few), aim to represent Christian views and also faith views in general. I don’t want to see them go from the present House of Lords, because the House would be diminished without them, but I would want to see the present House abolished. 

Do public bodies respect the will of Parliament expressed in legislation?  Can you think of examples of this being deliberately ignored?

Yes, GCHQ, tapping people’s phones illegally… those are examples of public bodies ignoring legislation and that is why we need judicial review, and that is why the present Lord Chancellor, who is not a lawyer, is trying to resist it, because on the whole the Government doesn’t like citizens challenging it. Every time the Government or a local authority loses a JR case, in a sense they have acted illegally. I know there are different types of grounds of JR and in fact it is rare that a public authority intentionally goes against the will of Parliament, but it happens – and it happens, I suspect, in the murkier regions of the Executive.

The most important thing to stop it happening is for Parliament and the press to be vigilant, but basically it is law that is the ultimate key. Law only works if people respect it. Once they are start breaking it, then it is chaos. And you cannot make people good by legislation. 

How do you feel about the EU and Devolution?

Devolution? I think Scottish devolution has gone remarkably well. I don’t know about Welsh devolution so much and only very recently the Welsh Assembly has been provided with primary legislation powers. I think on the whole devolution has been a great success, and it has been necessary, because it was pretty clear, as far as Scotland is concerned, that quite technical things needed doing that the Westminster Parliament could not really do because of the lack of parliamentary time. The other thing is, if you live in Scotland and Wales, you have different choices from people in England. As far as Scotland is concerned, the health service is different, the education system is organised differently – and you may have different priorities. So, it is reasonable to have a devolved model.

I probably wouldn’t have joined the EU in the first place: but having been members since 1972/1973, going back is unthinkable. It is our major market. Where would we go? The Commonwealth? I don’t think so. Yes, I am happy. I wouldn’t have probably developed it like this, but this is where we are. I abstained in the referendum in 1975, but I am now very passionate about Europe, although I am more passionate about the Council of Europe and the Convention. But of course: better in than out. 

What does your faith teach about power and responsibility/accountability?

First thing you have to remember is, quite a few Quakers don’t believe in any sort of divinity at all. I have a friend, with a capital F, who is an atheist but is also a Quaker, because it gives him a structure. So, not all Quakers believe in God.

As far as the more general point is concerned, accountability, the Quaker take is that it is the job of right-thinking people to tell people in power when they are wrong and if necessary, hammer away at them until they do the right thing. Back to what I was saying earlier, about the campaign to remove kids under the age of 18 from the armed forces, you might not agree with the Quakers’ view on this, but to them it is very important and they have been passionate about it for the last ten years.

Other things… one area on which Quakers have been, and are, very involved, although it doesn’t refer to the British Government, is the Israeli-Palestinan conflict. There is a group of people, far braver than me, who stand outside demonstrations between the troops and demonstrators and try to calm things down. It is an ecumenical programme which is run by Friends House. Speaking truth to power, when “power” is Israeli soldiers for instance, is serious stuff. 

Are Quakers proportionately represented in public life?

We had one MP in the last Parliament. I had a bizarre afternoon once: I was clerking in Westminster Hall and the Friend who was a MP… I have forgotten the name… was speaking, and there were about six Quakers in the gallery…

I think Quakers have a useful contribution to make, but I don’t think Parliamentary democracy should aim to have members of each minority: in other words, a population of 25,000 Quakers in a country with more than 60 millions. In a mature democracy people should be appointed as human beings, and their religion or race or sexuality, or all the other protected characteristics under the Equality Act 2010, should not matter. I should say though that I can’t get enthused by all those people who keep banging on about not enough women in Parliament. I don’t really care if MPs are male, female, straight, gay, or green with television aerials coming out of their heads… what I want is competent people who bring their judgment in a reasonable way to what is going on and needs sorting out. 

Are the judiciary sufficiently Independent?

I don’t think I am competent to answer this question. You should ask different judges about independence. I don’t think judges are deferential. They are less deferential now than they were, certainly, forty years ago and probably even twenty years ago, but I think it is a difficult relationship. My own feeling is that if decisions are illegal or hopelessly irrational in the Wednesbury sense, that is what the court is for… stopping administrators from doing things like that. Equally, however, it is difficult… I think the role of the court is to work as a referee, to make sure that the Government doesn’t do things contrary to the law and human rights. It shouldn’t move into the area of policy decisions, which are complex, and the judiciary don’t have the resources or technical skills… and furthermore, the adversarial nature of the judicial system doesn’t lend itself to this anyway. I am not sure I have answered the question at all after all this!

I perceive the judiciary are sufficiently detached from politicians now. Maybe they were not 40 years ago, but they certainly are now. There was a time in which it was almost automatic for the Lord Advocate of Scotland to get into the bench when a vacancy came up. One of those who did so fairly recently was Lord Rodger of Earlsferry. He was brilliant, immensely learned, very decent. He was also a dissenter when he was in the House of Lords and the Supreme Court… quite often his dissenting judgments were upheld in Europe and clearly he was some kind of Conservative, because he was Lord Advocate in a Conservative Government – but his politics didn’t show in his judgments. 

Is the current system of checks and balances effective?

I am not happy with the balance of powers between Parliament and the Government, but I can’t think of any way of curing my unhappiness short of constitutional reform… and then we would have to start again and that would lead us to a written Constitution and I have already said that I have reservations about it. I think it would be desirable for Government to be more distant from Parliament, rather than so close. However, you cannot get it in our current system, because that would require serious constitutional reforms and I am not sure about the benefits of that. It is an imperfect world!

All I can say is that I have not experienced any problems myself and I cannot think of anyone who does. We have very few requests to accommodate, as we are a very easygoing bunch. If you ask a Muslim that question, if they were in hospital and they didn’t have halal meat you might get a different answer.

It raises a more general point that on the whole, religions in the broadly Christian tradition are accommodated because they don’t make very many demands, though you may get the odd thing as in Eweida and Chaplin. And Chaplin is misconceived anyway, because it wasn’t the cross they were objecting but the necklace it was hanging from – and the whole thing got confused. On the other hand, if you are dealing with religions with very strict dietary laws or religions with a particular view of the law of succession or whatever, accommodating that in what is nowadays a largely legal secular system may be quite complicated, and it is difficult to get the right balance.

Religious minorities are a different matter…. I must confess I am not too keen on slaughtering without pre-stunning. However, it is absolutely mandatory for Jews (and some Muslims) and this must be accommodated. I think it is harder for Muslims, Jews, Sikhs and Hindus than it is for people from a Christian background. 

Is it important to you to act within state law?

I can’t really think of circumstances in which I would break the law. I can only think in extremis. If God forbid, my family were in a situation in which a lunatic was shooting, if that happened… I think I would try to kill that person… I know this does not sound Quaker… you might argue whether or not that would be legal, but it is certainly on the margins, but yes… if I had a lunatic trying to kill school kids I would try to kill that person. 

Do you feel that you have a duty to speak for third parties?

Any response to that would be utterly pompous. It is not a question I could answer (speak on behalf of the weak and the vulnerable as a Quaker). 

Is the Rule of Law applied equally?  Are there some groups who receive preferential or prejudicial treatment?

I think overall the RL is applied equally. There are particular groups that the law accepts should be treated in a particular way. This is decided by a mature legal system and it is decided by a mature and diverse society. Look at the provisions of the Equality Act 2010. When I was younger discriminating against black people, gays, women… actually… was rife. As usual, it is not perfect, but we have come a long way from where we were fifty years ago. 

Should the police be allowed greater exceptions from the ordinary Rule of Law?

Not without very careful extra police control. I think that increase of powers of the police should be signed off by at least a magistrate… in my view by a circuit judge or higher. We have been here before. When Charles Clarke was Home Secretary he brought in one of the many Criminal Justice bills which was going to have 90 days detention for terrorist suspects without any kind of control, just decided by the Home Secretary… in the end of course, they realised that they had failed to convince even their own MPs, and they were going to be hammered in the Lords. So, they dropped the bill. It was a bad, bad piece of legislation. 

Are there any legal rules with a negative impact?

I cannot think of any rule which has a negative impact on us Quakers and that I would like to see amended. We Quakers are very undemanding! 

Is there anything else which you would like to tell us about your views on freedom and belief in contemporary Britain?

I think the overall issue is freedom of belief is a difficult area because of the business of clashing rights. I know we are all told that all human rights are of equal value and all provisions are on an equal footing. I think this is bollocks. There should be a hierarchy. On top of the hierarchy, you should find race. You cannot change your race: you are stuck with it. The other right that comes on the top is equal treatment on the grounds of gender and sexuality, because again you can’t normally change that. Further down, things like Arts 9, 10 and 11 are all important, but they are not as important as the previous ones. Where does freedom of expression end?

So, I think the decision in Ladele was the right one, but to tell you the truth I think it was an unfortunate case. On the facts the ECtHR got it right but, equally, it feels very harsh on her. This raises questions about whether there should be reasonable accommodation for direct discrimination and this is a subject on which Brenda Hale has talked and written. It is worth exploring, but it is potentially dangerous to go there. If you do, there’s always a danger that you’ll end up saying ‘no blacks, no Irish!’

[1] ‘Human Rights and the Christian Tradition’: A Quaker Perspective, in N Doe and R Sandberg (ed) in Law and Religion: New Horizons (Leuven, Peeters 2009)

Frank Cranmer co-edits the Law and Justice journal’s casebook with Russell Sandberg. He holds the degrees of MA (Dunelm) LLM (Wales) and STh (Lambeth) and after reading Law and Politics at Durham he spent most of his adult life as a clerk in the House of Commons. He is currently a director of a small government affairs consultancy based in Westminster, a Fellow of St Chad’s College, Durham, and an Honorary Research Fellow in the Centre for Law and Religion at Cardiff Law School, where he contributes to the LLM in canon law. His principal academic interests are church-state relations and issues of religion and human rights. He is secretary of the Churches’ Legislation Advisory Service and parliamentary and synod editor of the Ecclesiastical Law Journal. He is a Quaker.