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04 APR 2012

R (National Secular Society) v Bideford Town Council [2012] EWHC 175 (Admin)

Local government – width of powers – saying of prayers – freedom of religion

There was no statutory power which allowed a parish council to say prayers at the start of full council meetings of the council. The practice was therefore unlawful.
10 February 2012
Administrative Court
Ouseley J
The National Secular Society (N) and Mr Clive Bone (C) applied for judicial review of the defendant parish council's practice of saying public prayers at full meetings of the council. The meetings were held monthly and all councillors were required to attend, with prayers being first item on the agenda. Councillors attending the meeting but not the prayers would not be marked as absent. The issue was solely about whether prayers could be said as a part of the formal business transacted by the council at meetings to which all councillors were summoned. The objection of N and C was to the fact that there was a religious component to formal council business. N and C argued that (1) the practice was outside the powers contained in s 111 of the Local Government Act 1972; (2) it breached the prohibition on religious discrimination in the Equality Act 2006; and (3) it interfered with C's Article 9 and 14 ECHR rights.

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