Thinking Anglicans

A major case about clergy employment vs. office holding

Gavin Drake has written twice for the Church Times about the employment tribunal hearing last week in Birmingham.

First, last week’s report: QC: ‘Spirit of Trollope is alive’

A LEADING ecclesiastical lawyer has suggested that “the spirit of Trollope is alive and well in the Church of England.” Geoffrey Tattersall QC made the admission on the second day of a week-long preliminary hearing at an employ­ment tribunal in Birmingham.

The tribunal, chaired by A. J. McCarry, is being asked to decide whether the Revd Mark Sharpe, formerly Rector of Teme Valley South near Tenbury Wells, was an employee. If he was, he would be entitled to bring his claim for unfair dismissal to a full tribunal hearing.

On Tuesday, Mr Tattersall, who represents the Bishop and diocese of Worcester, told the tribunal that a priest with freehold status, such as Mr Sharpe, had absolute liberty within his parish, and the bishop had no power to direct the work he did or remove him from office…

And this week: Judge must decide on priests’ employment status

…In his closing submission, Geoffrey Tattersall QC, for the Bishop and the diocese, told the judge that he was dealing with a test case, and that whatever he decided “for this freehold incumbent in the diocese of Worcester would decide the status of all freehold incumbents in the Church of England”.

He said that the Church of England’s case rested on the lack of an expressed contract between the parties and the very high level of autonomy exercised by incumbents — as governed by Measures that had the same force of law as Acts of Parliament.

The judge replied that he had not been aware of the strength of the Measures at the beginning of this case.

John Benson QC, for Mr Sharpe, told the judge that “there has been a great deal of information that, at first hand, is very difficult to understand. A lot of the material is arcane and bedded in history. The Church of England is an organisation that doesn’t fall comfortably in the role of an employer; nor does an incumbent fall into the role of an employee.”

He said that the evidence heard during the hearing and the past case law meant that he was “ploughing a lonely furrow in arguing that Mr Sharpe is an employee, but that won’t deter me”…

And scroll down in the second link for a sidebar, giving a succinct summary of the previous cases that have relevance to this.

Judgement was reserved and appears unlikely to be given before February.

The original tribunal hearing was reported in 2008 as Worcestershire rector claims harassment.

Notify of

1 Comment
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
Freddy Crabbe
Freddy Crabbe
12 years ago

John Benson QC is misconceived or intending to mislead the Tribunal Chairman. He is not dealing with a ‘Test Case’there already is a precedent in the Employment Appeal Tribunal on 24 November 2010 in Judgment handed down on 15 March 2011 which confirmed an earlier decision of Lord Hofman in favour of a minister of religion being a person with a contract of service if not actually an employee.

Would love your thoughts, please comment.x