Joanna Griffiths

by | Jul 17, 2017 | Interview, Legal profession and judiciary | 0 comments

How would you describe your religious or ideological identity?

I am mainly Church in Wales, although I go to chapel with my husband at times. However, I don’t go there on a regular basis because I was brought up to go to church. Until I moved here, I went regularly to church… I keep going for communion.

I don’t believe in some of the doctrines of the Non-Conformist bodies. My husband is a  Wesleyan and Wesleyans are very similar to Anglicans.

Is Great Britain an equal and tolerant society?

Yes, I think GB is a tolerant and equal society , generally speaking, in relation to religion and belief. 

How easy is it for you to live in accordance with your faith in this country? Are the challenges (in any) social, political or legal in nature?

I don’t think there are any challenges. I can worship wherever I like and there is no compulsion on me at all. I feel quite free to go to church or chapel if I want. So, there is no compulsion and I feel very free. I think it is quite a tolerant but increasingly secular society. You can see that in the way so many churches and chapels are closing down nowadays. In Bangor only the cathedral remains. All the little churches that used to support the cathedral have now closed down, and a couple of big churches have been sold off and the one opposite Morrison is now a Roman Catholic church. It is the same with chapels, which are being sold, made into houses. It is becoming a very secular society indeed.

I get the impression that there are more people who go to church on a regular basis in England than in Wales, but I don’t really know. I think there is still something in England about the idea of the village and the church. The church is still the central part of the life of the village, but that isn’t the same in Wales. I don’t think the Church has ever been part of the Welsh culture- the cultural influence has mainly come from the Chapels

I think that is the case. Christianity has had an influence on human rights and this goes way back to the beginning of Christianity and later included anti-slavery, and the role of the Quakers was also instrumental in terms of human rights. I think Christianity has really helped the growth and recognition of human rights.    

Have human rights (HRs) been positive?

Human rights are a very good thing for British society. 

Have Anglicans influenced our understanding of HR?

Yes, practising Anglicans have an impact on human rights in contemporary Britain. Think of Christian Aid, having bishops who are members in the House of Lords… they try to defeat the Government in certain cases… about austerity measures, etc. I think this particular Archbishop of Canterbury has clearly stood up for people who are extremely vulnerable and poor. I think the churches also started the food banks.  More than that, when the Bishops become political and they enter into the political arena, they have something to say and they can make it very uncomfortable for the Government. 

Are HRs respected by public bodies?

I think HRs are generally speaking respected by public bodies in Great Britain. 

Do public bodies get the level of intervention in religious practice right?

I think in relation to religion and belief the intervention of public authorities is about right. There are concerns about radicalism. 

How do you feel about faith schools?

Faith schools are a source of segregation in my view. Probably not the Church schools as they take children from all or no religious backgrounds, but certainly what is happening in Britain at the moment is that the Muslim community is being given the opportunity to educate their children separately from other children. I don’t think that is right, as it can lead to segregation and to a lack of understanding of all religions. If you have all children together in one place and you talk about all religions, that would enhance cohesion, understanding and a much better relationship amongst people of all faiths. Segregation does not take place in Anglican and RC schools to the same extent, as they have to teach all religions.  I did not go to a Catholic school, but I have a very good number of friends who went and they seem to speak a lot about the discipline of the nuns and about how horrible they were! (joke). When I was in school, RC and Jewish kids came to the same school, but they didn’t come to the assembly. There was an assembly every morning for about 15 minutes taken by the Headmaster with a hymn,  and RC and Jewish children didn’t come to those. We had scripture, biblical studies and we learnt about other religions. 

Should religious businesses be allowed exemptions from discrimination law?

I think that some religious people discriminate against people and I don’t think religious views give you the right to basically abuse other people, because that is what the owners of the hotel were doing. I don’t know where in the Bible it is said that they should not admit people into their hotels because of their sexual orientation. So, I concur with the judicial decision. 

When should the State intervene?

When there is radicalisation or terrorism, the State must intervene, and I must also emphasize, being a woman, that I don’t believe that women are second class citizens and I believe that the State should take action if women are not allowed to do certain things or they are treated in a discriminatory manner in comparison with men. I believe in equal rights and I don’t believe that in Britain certain sectors of the community, usually women, should be discriminated against just because they are women . 

Is living in a democracy a positive thing?

There is no better form of Government for us than democracy and living in a democracy makes it easier for me to live in accordance with my faith. Having said that, I must say that democracy is not necessarily good for every country and we have possibly seen examples in the last few years… dictatorship may be necessary for some countries. Not for the UK though. 

Do you feel you have a duty to vote?

Being a citizen and being a woman, I feel I have a duty to vote. Not so long ago women were suffering to get the vote. That duty does not come from my faith though. I think it is very important that people vote. 

Would you like to see an empowerment of the judiciary in Great Britain?

I wouldn’t want further empowerment of the judiciary in the UK. I think it is the democratically elected people who should make the law, I may not agree with the current Government… but I believe that if we are a democracy, Parliament should make the law and it is up to the judiciary to interpret it. 

What are the barriers to participation in our democracy?

I think it is difficult for some people to participate. People who are vulnerable, people who are not educated, poor people… it is difficult for them. Some people are not able to make their voices heard within their own communities. 

Is it a problem that the House of Lords is unelected?

I have real problems with the HofL. There must be a second Chamber, I don’t like the system of hereditary peers, I don’t like the system of rewards by politicians. People should be there on merit. I don’t actually know how you can get round some of the problems we have at the moment with the House of Lords, unless it is democratically elected. Just recently, last week we saw the situation with Lord S… and from what I gather, there are no powers to actually tell a peer in that situation to leave.  He had to be pressurised to leave. I think that is actually appalling, that there is nobody who could actually say ‘you have disgraced yourself, your family, the HofL and the country, and you have to go’. Fortunately, he was pressurised and he left, but if he hadn’t gone, it would have been a scandal. If the police intervened and he were prosecuted for having taken drugs, I guess that would have been different, but from what I gather that wasn’t the case. It was very difficult because nobody knew how to get rid of him. I would like a wholly elected chamber. They are paid £300 pounds a day  plus expenses – this is tax-payers money and I think they should  be more accountable to the public. 

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

I think bishops of the CofE should remain in the Upper House, because they are there on merit . I think their contribution is very valuable indeed. I think they speak for the voiceless of our society and they must remain in Parliament, but we should also have voices from other religions. 

Do public bodies respect legislation?

I think public bodies try to uphold primary legislation. I am sure health and safety legislation is sometimes disobeyed, but I guess it is ignorance on most occasions and it also comes down to money. In general, public bodies do their upmost. Sometimes it is difficult because of the financial costs. 

What does your faith teach you about people with power?

The Bible says that people with power should look after their fellow men and they should be accountable to them, as well as God.

Anglicanism teaches us that people must take responsibility and must help other people. We should be able to help each other as communities. 

Are Anglicans proportionately represented in public life?

I don’t really know if Anglicans are appropriately and properly represented in all those different public bodies. I would  think  that in the Welsh Assembly there are more people from a chapel background. To be honest, it is not really an important issue for me. 

Are the judiciary sufficiently independent?

I don’t think our judiciary in the UK are completely independent.  In principle Magistrates are independent and are supposed to be independent, but we do have a lot of Guidance. We have to work within the Guidance and give reasons for our decisions.  Sometimes,  however, we need to exercise a little common sense!!.

I think some judges are very closely linked with politicians though…. It is a cause of concern. 

How do Anglicans challenge decisions which they see as problematic?

I think Anglicans challenge decisions which they perceive as problematic through the political process… through Parliament… I have written to my MP, I have taken part in consultations and I take action, personally, when I feel that things need to be done. I have written petitions, but I don’t do much stuff online.

I don’t think my Anglican faith is relevant so long as Public bodies treat individuals with respect (in my dealings with public authorities). Whether or not you are Anglican is irrelevant, it is about how people respond. 

Do you feel that you have a duty to speak for the vulnerable?

Yes, my Anglican faith requires to speak on behalf of the vulnerable, but it is not just the faith… but well, I am who I am and I guess my faith has had a role to play there. I would hope that as a person I would want to speak out against injustices. I have found myself doing it in very challenging and tricky situations. 

Is the Rule of Law applied equally?

I think the people we come across are seen as equal  and I think the guidance that we do have is applied across the board. I don’t think there is any particular group who would be discriminated against in the courts. There are very clear guidelines.

The figures seem to indicate that some groups such as young black men are treated differently by the police. That is very concerning. However, I haven’t come across those situations, although I should say we live in a part of the country where there are not very many ethnic minorities. It is rare that we have someone from an ethnic minority in  court and that person would be treated exactly the same  as any other local person. 

Has the increase in police powers over the last 15 years been appropriate?

I think the empowerment of the police is a natural development. If we are threatened, it is understandable that we look at the police and the armed forces to protect us, and I suppose that is a natural development. I certainly wouldn’t want to see the police round here with guns. I find it quite frightening when I go to an airport and you see armed police all over the police, but I think it may be necessary. So, we need to accept certain changes in order to keep ourselves safe. 

Any laws you find personally restrictive?

I am quite happy with the legal system. I cannot think of any rules which I find restrictive and I would like to see them change.

Joanna Griffiths is currently a Magistrate and Chair of a Family Panel, having recently retired from her role as Director of Social services which allowed her to gain practical experience of work with both children and vulnerable adults. She has graduate and post graduate qualifications in Social Science and is a mother of two and grandmother to four young children. Her upbringing was Anglican, and she is a feminist by inclination.

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