Law and religion round-up – 23rd April

A week dominated by…

…the General Election, June 2017

On 18 April we published a short post on the announcement by the Prime Minister of her intention to move a motion for an early election in the House of Commons on the following day, under the provisions of the Fixed-term Parliaments Act 2011. The House of Commons Library immediately published a helpful short guide to the election, and for anoraks, it answers the question: Will the Manchester Gorton by-election go ahead? vide infra. The House of Commons Library has also produced a briefing on the Fixed Term Parliaments Act.

On 12:57 pm on 19 April, the Prime Minister moved “That there shall be an early parliamentary general election”. [HC Hansard, 19 April Vol 624 Col 681]. After a 90-minute debate, the House divided: Ayes: 522; Noes: 13.  Continue reading

Supreme Court of Canada to review congregational expulsion: Highwood Congregation v Wall

In Wall v Judicial Committee of the Highwood Congregation of Jehovah’s Witnesses 2016 ABCA 255 (CanLII), Mr Wall had sought judicial review of his expulsion from the Highwood Congregation. A chambers judge had concluded that the Court of Queen’s Bench had jurisdiction to hear the application and the Court of Appeal of Alberta (Paperny & Rowbotham JJ: Wakeling JA dissenting) upheld that ruling, concluding that

“… a court has jurisdiction to review the decision of a religious organization when a breach of the rules of natural justice is alleged … We note as well that the respondent appears to have exhausted all avenues of appeal within the church so jurisdiction could also be found on that basis” [22].

The case was remitted to the Court of Queen’s Bench to be heard by a judge other than the chambers judge, but on 13 April the Highwood Congregation was granted leave to appeal by the Supreme Court of Canada: see Judicial Committee of the Highwood Congregation of Jehovah’s Witnesses v Randy Wall, 2017 CanLII 20389 (SCC). Continue reading

Dismissing a minister of religion: Celestial Church of Christ

In a recent hearing in the Chancery Division,  the employment status of a minister of religion arose once again…

…in this case, coloured by a factional dispute within the congregation. The Court also addressed the interesting question of whether or not a charity could maintain an action in tort for passing-off, even though it was not engaged in trading.


The facts in Celestial Church of Christ, Edward Street Parish (A Charity) v Lawson [2017] EWHC 97 (Ch) were as follows. The Celestial Church of Christ was founded by the Revd Samuel Oshoffa in the Republic of Benin in 1947 and incorporated in Nigeria in 1958; its present written constitution dates from 1980 [2]. Continue reading

Charity Commission report on the Preston Down Trust

Readers may recall that in January 2014 the Charity Commission for England and Wales agreed to accept an application for registration from the Preston Down Trust of the Plymouth Brethren Christian Church. The Commission has now published a report on its monitoring of the activities of the Trust, (registered charity no. 1155382): the publication is the first monitoring report into a newly-registered Plymouth Brethren Christian Church.

The Commission did not identify any evidence of significant issues relating to the Trust’s compliance with its governing document and the promises made to the Commission as a condition of registration. Continue reading

15 questions church charity trustees should ask?

As AGM time comes round again for many charities – churches included – the Charity Commission for England and Wales has issued a reminder, well worth reading in its own right, about the need for charities and their trustees to think very hard about their operations. The Commission suggests that if they have not already done so they should read Charity trustee meetings: 15 questions you should ask – the principles of which are equally apposite to Scotland and Northern Ireland even though they have separate and rather different legislation.

In brief, the questions are as follows:

1. What effect is the current economic climate having on our charity and its activities? What do we see in the future? How can we best reflect this in any scenario or forward planning that we do? Are we focusing on the right things, or have we drifted into activities that are over and above our core charitable aims? If we have, is it justified? Continue reading

Law & Religion 2014 and 2015: retrospect and prospect – Part I

It’s that time of year again, when folks wonder where the last twelve months have gone and make New Year resolutions which will last for at least a week – and bloggers write reviews of the past year. So here’s Part One of ours…


Scotland said, “No, but…”

Much the biggest domestic news of the year was that the Scottish independence referendum on 18 September returned a “No” vote by a margin of 55% to 45%. In its aftermath, the unionist parties looked hard at further devolution to the Scottish Government and Parliament, while the SNP added almost 60,000 new members in the wake of the result. Alex Salmond resigned as leader of the SNP and First Minister and was replaced by his depute, Nicola Sturgeon, while the leader of the Scottish Labour Party, Johann Lamont, also resigned, complaining that Labour at Westminster treated Scotland like a branch office, and was replaced by former Scottish Secretary Jim Murphy.

On 19 September, the Prime Minister announced that Lord Smith of Kelvin would chair a Commission on further devolution and its proposals were published in late November. The intention is to publish legislation by Burns Night 2015, 25 January (which falls on a Sunday).

The CJEU and the ECHR: where next?

The Court of Justice of the European Union threw a very large spanner into the ongoing works of EU accession to the ECHR when it issued a full-court opinion on the draft accession agreement declaring it incompatible with the European Treaties. There have already been several analyses of the decision: for helpful summaries see Michèle Finck on the International Journal of Constitutional Law  blog and David Hart on UKHRB.

Issues of religion or religious belief: Shergill v Khaira

In June the Supreme Court was faced with the knotty problem of the extent to which the courts may legitimately involve themselves in matters of religion and belief. In Shergill & Ors v Khaira & Ors [2014] UKSC 33. Continue reading