The Power to Pray and the Intervention of the Executive

 The High Court in Britain recently ruled that a local council had no lawful power to pray at the start of meetings.

The issue arose after the National Secular Society took legal action to challenge the tradition.

The judge ruled that the Local Government Act 1972 did not give the council the power to hold prayers as part of a formal meeting.


The move gave rise to consternation on the part of many who saw it as an attempt to marginalize Christianity.


But Eric Pickles, the Communities Secretary, has intervened by signing an order giving local councils a “general power of competence”.

What the Communities Secretary has actually done is to  fast track an existing  piece of legislation, The Localism Act, a section of which gives local councils the above-stated “general power of competence”, meaning  “the legal capacity to do anything that an individual can do that is not specifically prohibited”

The Communities Secretary says he has “effectively reversed” the court ruling.


Whereas the issue itself, and the reactions to it, are interesting in and of themselves, what interests me even more is the speed with which a member of the Executive moved to reverse a Court Ruling that was not believed (by him at least) to be in the national interest. The fact is, sometimes court rulings cause problems and can steer a society in the wrong direction.

Sometimes it is simply that the law itself is unclear. Sometimes it’s the way in which statute and case law are interpreted. In my view, one such wrong decision was Wills & Wills.

In any event, that’s when Parliamentary intervention is necessary. In such cases, it should be quick and decisive. Much like Mr. Pickles’ action in this case.


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