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Methodist Ministers: Employees or Office-holders?

  • Frank Cranmer (a1) (a2)

The issue of whether or not a minister of religion is an employee or an office-holder came before the Supreme Court in an action for unfair constructive dismissal against the Methodist Church. The Court held by a majority of four to one that, on the basis of the Church's Deed of Union and Standing Orders, the terms of engagement of ministers were not contractual for the purposes of employment law and that a minister's duties were not consensual. The judgment moderates somewhat the impact of the earlier judgment of the House of Lords in Percy v Board of National Mission of the Church of Scotland – and makes the employment status of ministers even more sensitive to the facts of the individual case than it was before.1

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2 Moore v President of the Methodist Conference (Jurisdictional Points: worker, employee or neither) [2011] UKEAT 0219 10 1503 at 16.

3 Ibid at 1.

4 President of the Methodist Conference v Preston [2011] EWCA Civ 1581 (hereafter Preston I).

5 President of the Methodist Conference v Preston [2013] UKSC 29 (hereafter Preston II).

6 President of the Methodist Conference v Parfitt [1984] ICR 176.

7 Ibid at 184E.

8 Percy v Board of National Mission of the Church of Scotland [2006] 2 AC 28. The case involved a claim against the Church for discrimination, contrary to the Sex Discrimination Act 1975, by a woman associate minister who had been persuaded to demit her ministerial status after an allegation of an adulterous relationship with a member of her kirk session.

9 Young v Bristol Aeroplane Co [1944] KB 718 at 729: ‘The court is bound to refuse to follow a decision of its own which, though not expressly overruled, cannot, in its opinion, stand with a decision of the House of Lords’ (per Lord Greene MR).

10 The Standing Orders constitute Book III of The Constitutional Practice and Discipline of the Methodist Church (Peterborough, 2012), available at <>, accessed 20 June 2013; the quotation is from p 530.

11 Preston I at 2.

12 Preston I at 21.

13 Percy at 23, citing Mummery LJ in Diocese of Southwark v Coker [1998] ICR 140 at 147.

14 Percy at 24–25 (emphasis added).

15 Ibid at 26 (emphasis added).

16 New Testament Church of God v Stewart [2007] EWCA Civ 1004, in which it was held that the Revd Mr Stewart had an employment relationship with the Church for the purposes of a claim for unfair dismissal.

17 Preston I at 21.

18 Ibid at 25.

19 Ibid at 27–28.

20 Davies v Presbyterian Church of Wales [1986] ICR 280, an unfair dismissal claim by a minister in which Lord Templeman, delivering the leading speech, held that there could be no contract of employment between Mr Davies and the Church because the Church's book of rules did not contain any terms of employment capable of being offered and accepted in the course of a religious ceremony.

21 Ibid at 289C.

22 Preston I at 37.

23 The Article 9 point had been raised previously in Stewart, where Pill LJ had stated (at para 47) that ‘The religious beliefs of a community may be such that their manifestation does not involve the creation of a relationship enforceable at law between members of the religious community and one of their number appointed to minister to the others … The law should not readily impose a legal relationship on members of a religious community which would be contrary to their religious beliefs’.

24 Preston I at 34.

25 Hill, M, ‘Terms of service’, New Law Journal, 7 June 2013.

26 Preston II at para 2.

27 Ibid at paras 3–5.

28 Ibid at para 10 (emphasis added).

29 Ibid at para 17.

30 Ibid at para 18.

31 Ibid at para 19.

32 Ibid at para 20.

33 Ibid at para 49.

34 Ibid at para 36.

35 Ibid at para 37.

36 Ibid at para 45.

37 Ibid at para 48.

38 Ibid at para 47.

39 Macdonald v Free Presbyterian Church of Scotland [2010] UKEAT 0034 09 1002. The associated proceedings in the Outer House in Macdonald, Re Application for Judicial Review [2010] ScotCS CSOH 55 were ultimately settled. Thus Brentnall v Free Presbyterian Church of Scotland 1986 SLT 470 remains the most recent authority for the proposition that the Court of Session will intervene in a matter involving a patrimonial interest and review the actings of a tribunal of a voluntary religious body. See also Cranmer, F, ‘Clergy employment, judicial review and the Free Presbyterian Church of Scotland’ (2010) 12 Ecc LJ 355360.

40 Percy at 107.

41 Macdonald at 58.

42 Autoclenz Ltd v Belcher & Ors [2011] UKSC 41.

43 Ibid at 38 per Lord Clarke JSC.

44 Autoclenz Ltd v Belcher & Ors [2009] EWCA Civ 1046 at para 91.

45 Autoclenz Ltd v Belcher & Ors [2011] UKSC 41 at para 35.

46 Preston II at para 30.

47 Ibid at para 34.

48 Hill, ‘Terms of service’.

49 ‘Supreme Court rules that God is above the law’, Daily Telegraph, 15 May 2013.

1 I am indebted to Prof Lucy Vickers of Oxford Brookes University and to Dr Russell Sandberg, my colleague at Cardiff Law School, for their very helpful comments on this article in draft. Any remaining infelicities are mine.

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Ecclesiastical Law Journal
  • ISSN: 0956-618X
  • EISSN: 1751-8539
  • URL: /core/journals/ecclesiastical-law-journal
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