This one crazy law from 1829 could topple our newly married Prime Minister

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Boris Johnson, meet the Catholic Relief Act

Original image via Wikimedia Commons/Snowmanradio

On 5 February 1829, the Duke of Wellington changed his mind.

The hero of Waterloo, by then Prime Minister, told the House of Lords that he now supported Catholic Emancipation: the repeal of laws forbidding Roman Catholics from becoming MPs or holding top political jobs. The Roman Catholic Relief Act 1829 swiftly passed into law, helped by the Duke’s vigorous lobbying.

The Act threw some bones to conservative opponents. No Catholic priest could become an MP, until that section was repealed in 2001. And no “person professing the Roman Catholic religion” was allowed to advise the monarch on the appointment of Church of England bishops, on pain of being “disabled for ever from holding any office, civil or military, under the Crown”. That section is still in force.

Which brings us to the Catholic marriage of Boris Johnson over the weekend.

Now that the Prime Minister is clearly “professing the Roman Catholic religion”, Joshua Rozenberg points out that he had better stop nominating bishops or risk falling foul of the 1829 Act.

Although the selection of bishops in practice is up to the Church of England itself, the process on paper involves the Prime Minister. As the church itself puts it, “Following the approval of Her Majesty the Queen on the advice of the Prime Minister, the announcement of the new Bishop is made by No 10 Downing St”.

It’s been suggested that all the newly Catholic PM needs to do is get someone else to send the name to Her Maj in future

The latest comments from across Legal Cheek

But I say it’s too late for that. Boris Johnson has arguably been a Catholic all along.

As the Irish Times reported yesterday, “according to the Catholic Church’s canon law, and despite Mr Johnson’s reception of Church of England confirmation at school, he remained a Catholic as it is not possible to formally defect from the Church”.

You can check out any time you like, but you can never leave.

The paper goes on to state as fact that “on assuming office in July 2019, Mr Johnson became Britain’s first Catholic prime minister”.

The final piece of the puzzle: has Johnson advised the Crown to appoint any Church of England bishops since then? Yes: 10 Downing Street announced the appointment of a new Bishop of Chelmsford late last year.

So there you have it: the Catholic Relief Act 1829 positively demands that the papist PM be pulled down. All that’s missing is the legal crowdfunder.

Sure, it’s not exactly democratic to harrass elected politicans with arcane legal technicalities. But it’s certainly popular: Johnson has previously been the target of a crowdfunded private prosecution for misconduct of public office and a prank County Court judgment in default (swiftly struck out ).

And that’s how the Duke of Wellington’s Catholic Relief Act could see this Prime Minister meet his Waterloo.

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Wikipedia would tell you this

“ The paper goes on to state as fact that “on assuming office in July 2019, Mr Johnson became Britain’s first Catholic prime minister””.

Pretty sure Blair was the country’s first Catholic PM… or at the very least modern PM



He wasn’t able to take communion, so he wasn’t Catholic.


Father Peter (OXON BCL)

Not true – he’s a member of our faith



No, while PM he went to Mass but had not been baptised or confirmed. He played at being a Catholic but he was not one.



Blair regularly received communion at Westminster Cathedral before he converted to Catholicism until he was told not to by Cardinal Basil Hume.



Yes, he pretended to be Catholic while PM but he wasn’t.



Blair only converted after leaving office. He didn’t convert 30 years earlier despite attending mass. He was Anglican in office. I always think of the Denial of Peter.



Boris see you next Tuesday, get in the sea


Alan Robertshaw

Could a catholic PM rely on the ECHR or Equalities Act to overcome this?

Arguably, the restrictions are discrimination based on religious belief.

Didn’t Charles and Camilla succeed in some similar argument when they wanted to get married?



Yes, I think if anyone tried to pull this one, modern-day equality / human rights law would kibosh it.

It’s inevitable that a few laws of this kind remain unrepealed, given just how many were enacted to prevent Catholics from participating fully in society. But still disappointing to see a website like Legal Cheek, which generally does a good job of promoting and covering the issue of equality and diversity in the legal profession, publish an article implying that a Catholic should continue to be fair game if he’s unpopular among the readership.


Archibald Pomp O'City

“still disappointing to see a website like Legal Cheek, which generally does a good job of promoting and covering the issue of equality and diversity in the legal profession, publish an article implying that a Catholic should continue to be fair game…”

Oh, get over yourself, you sanctimonious silly-billy. It’s only a bit of fun.


Serious Priest

When it comes to Christians, anything goes and its only a bit of fun you see. Any other group it is racism.


Scep Tick

There’s a good reason for it though. You can’t have someone who thinks the Pope runs the church appointing bishops whose entire raison d’etre is that the Pope should not run the church.



I always find it interesting to see whether a person’s ardent belief in the need to fight discrimination in society extends to anti-Catholic discrimination.



Anti-Catholic discrimination? Today? There’s tons of them absolutely minting it at the Bar.

I know people who even lied about being Catholic in order to secure pupillage interviews.






hear, hear. The number of so called atheist friends i have whose atheism only seems to flare up when the Catholic Church is involved



Things were better in the 1820s all around.



Interesting enough piece, but why is it worded like a buzzfeed click bait article?


1st seater

What types of seat should a first seat trainee do?


Lord of the Gs 💰💲

whichever seat your firm plonks you in LOL imagine thinking you have a choice


Ex-Simpson Thacher & Bartlett Equity Partner

Depends on the firm. If it’s CMS then expect to be put in ‘media’ by default alongside another 800 or so History grads from Nott’ Trent.

If it’s a real corporate firm, e.g. Kirkland/Weil, then you’ll be in an extremely enviable position of becoming a powerbeast deal titan market destroyer from the get-go, given the proper work these days resides exclusively in PE/Lev. Fin. 💸


Lady Cam. L. Toe III, Esq

Canon law


Shouldn't you know this by now?

You won’t have a choice. Pretty much every first-seater gets put in PE. If your firm doesn’t do that, LOL.



Several issues.
Johnson could remain Anglican and not have to profess to being catholic to be able to marry Carrie in the Cathedral. This is because you can’t choose to leave the catholic faith once you’ve been baptised. So to the church he’s always Catholic even if he is Anglican to himself. As long as he’s Christian he can marry and his previous divorces weren’t recognised as proper weddings as they were Anglican.
However, Johnson may have been automatically excommunicated when he paid for his mistress’s abortion, reportedly, in 2004. The church may not have known about this, making the marriage void (quicky annulment anyone), and if they did they would have insisted he took confession and we’re back to professing to being a Catholic.

One more thing, if he was barred from being PM for his “faith” he could always try the ECHR.



2021’s not shaping up to be a good year for the DUP, is it?



The whole article is based on a false premise.
The Catholic Relief Act 1829 was repealed in its entirety by the Statute Law (Repeals) Act 1978, Schedule 1, Part XVI.



Can’t find it.



It was repealed here: ( in Part XVI, on page 41 of the PDF )

It’s also marked as such in the reference to the original legislation, the phrase “no known outstanding effects” in the green bar at the top means that it no longer has any legal effect.



They repealed the 1791 Act, not the 1829 Act. The green ‘outstanding changes’ bit indicated there’s no current amendments outstanding.



The Catholic Church may claim him as a member by virtue of his baptism, but neither that fact, nor the fact that his wife insisted on marriage before a Catholic priest (so that it would be valid under Catholic canon law) means that he “profess[es] the Roman Catholic religion.”



Being the Prime Minister is not an “office holder under the Crown”



PM is also First Lord of the Treasury, so it is.



I don’t see very well where and when Boris Johnson professed any form of catholic belief. For the catholic church, he has always been a Catholic since baptism and, therefore, had no paper professing his faith to sign. But from an Anglican viewpoint, he was confirmed in the Church of England at Eton. The simple fact of being married by a catholic priest don’t make you a Catholic ; otherwise many Anglicans getting married to a Catholic would become Catholic. Besides Boris Johnson has refused up to now to speak of his faith, if any.


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