Saturday, February 16, 2013

The Supreme Court

The last time the Supreme Court or The House of Lords as it was then called, heard a case from the firm was some 63 years ago, a week before I was born (Gilmour v Coates). Then their Lordships decided that as one cannot prove (or disprove) that god exists, the Carmelite order of (catholic) contemplative nuns who pray to god for the salvation of the rest of us, could not be classed in the  English legal system as charitable.

Their lordships' decision I suppose is understandable although given that  the Church of England still has a constitutional position in this country with their  bishops still entitled to sit in the House of Lords one might have expected their Lordships' decision to have recognised  the  then  and still just about surviving, British Christian constitutional position.

63 years on, the Supreme Court deliberated last week on another case the firm brought to their lordships, this time on the question of whether   a Methodist minister is an employee entitled to the benefit of the huge raft of employment protection rights. Or as we would say whether he or she was in fact not an employee at all but more like a servant of god.

Two years ago in the Truro Employment Tribunal, the Employment judge agreed with me that the  methodist minister was not an employee properly so-called. However the Employment Appeal Tribunal and Court of Appeal felt that the minister was an employee hence the reference of the matter for decision by 5 Law  Lords  only one of whom was a Lady. The Supreme Court  hearing was fascinating. On our side (for the  church) we had  a lady QC plus a male (senior junior) counsel and a lady junior counsel. The other side (a lady former methodist minister who had  resigned) I believe was being supported by one of the large trade unions, had two male QCs and the same junior male  barrister who I recalled well from the Truro Employment Tribunal hearing two years ago.

There are only very few Supreme Court cases heard each year and as a consequence they usually have much public importance. In this case the crowded public gallery included representatives from the Church of England. If the case is lost the issue could even arise as to whether ordinary Catholic diocesan priests who do not take vows of poverty, are under English law servants of man or of god.

The supreme court's proceedings are unusually for English courts fully televised, so there are   pictures which I may try to access later but  the full scene with  five Law Lords (judges) six counsel plus clients and solicitors  was remarkably impressive.

As to the final outcome -judgment has  been reserved probably until about April or May 2013.


  1. Judgment now due to be handed down on Wednesday.

  2. An historic win for the Methodists.

    The first judgment in C21 by the Supreme Court that has favoured any church position about the status of their ministers so far as I know.

    The first Supreme Court case my firm has been involved with since Gilmour v Coates in 1948. We lost the 1948 case because their lordships (the House of Lords then) concluded that one could not prove god exists at all so the Carmelites whose objects are primarily pure prayer for benefit of the rest of us, could not without more, claim charitable status.

    The original Employment Judge took the same view as I but the judgments of the Employment Appeal Tribunal and Court of Appeal which then decided against the methodists before the matter went to the supreme court, in my view reflect not only the increasing secular society the UK has become but also the tendency associated with some members of the judiciary, of following society's trends first and the law second.

    Hopefully the overturning of those (imho) weak judgments of the Court of Appeal and EAT by the Supreme Court, signifies more understanding and support for traditional religious beliefs than has previously in C21 appeared to be the case.


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