Agenda item

SAC New legal status: Geraint Edwards, Solicitor


The Legal Adviser confirmed that today’s meeting is the first properly constituted meeting of the Standing Advisory Council for religion, values and ethics (SAC).  He explained there were legislative changes made to sections 390 to 392 of the Education Act 1996 as a result of the Curriculum and Assessment Wales Act 2021. The effect of those changes was that the requirement that a local authority has to constitute a SACRE has been repealed and been replaced, subject to a transitional period until 2026, by requirements to constitute a SAC (Standing Advisory Council on religion, values and ethics).


The brief of SAC is broader than that of SACRE covering all the responsibilities of SACRE and adding Religion, Values and Ethics reflecting the RVE elements of the new Curriculum for Wales framework.


The composition of SAC differs to that of the former SACRE in that the law now requires the representative group for Christian denominations and other religions and denominations to include representation for persons who hold non-religious philosophical convictions (NRPC).


At Monmouthshire County Council's AGM on 18th May 2023, Full Council reviewed, updated and approved the Monmouthshire County Council Constitution.

The changes to the Constitution included replacement of the SACRE terms of reference, with one for SAC instead. These are substantially identical to those of the former body noting only the inclusion of values and ethics within its scope, and provision for an NRPC representative.


Additionally, there is provision that SAC will be responsible for handling the legacy SACRE responsibilities for the duration of the transitional period.  The terms of reference of SAC include a provision that the NRPC representative cannot vote on SACRE legacy matters because no legislative provision was made previously for an NRPC representative on SACREs.


Doubts have been raised as to whether that provision is lawful following the recent judgment of the High Court in the case of R (Bowen) v Kent County Council [2023] EWHC 1261.  The Administrative Court in London quashed the decision of Kent County Council to refuse to consider a Humanist for membership of Group A of its SACRE.


Considering the judgment raises some doubts as to the lawfulness of the restriction in the terms of reference of our SAC, discussion will take place with the Chief Officer’s representative and the Monitoring Officer and others to consider this issue and make any amendments as necessary. It is understood that Kent County Council still has the right of appeal, and should this occur, it will be necessary to await an outcome.


A Member pointed out that the legislation in England and Wales differs and in England SACREs remain in place.  The Member requested an opportunity to look at the judgement.  The Member referred to the debate at Council that the advice of Welsh Government wasn’t being followed to allow SACRE and SAC to coexist, but noted the changes to the constitution were accepted.  The Member said that SACRE/SAC members had not been consulted on the changes.


The Chair commented that the Monitoring Officer is of the opinion that the Council is working within the advice of Welsh Government.  He confirmed that he had received advice that the judgement referred to may have an impact in Wales but it will be necessary to await further information.