Thursday, March 01, 2012

UK: Judgment by employment tribunal upholds clergy office-holder status

24 February, 2012

THE chairman of the House of Clergy in the diocese of Worcester, Canon Stuart Currie, has welcomed a judgment by the Birmingham employment tribunal that clergy are office- holders rather than employees.

The Employment Judge, Alan McCarry, made the ruling after a claim brought by the former Rector of Teme Valley South, near Tenbury Wells, the Revd Mark Sharpe (News, 2 December). Mr Sharpe (above) claims that the Bishop and the diocese of Worcester failed to protect him from a catalogue of abuse and bullying at the hands of parishioners in his “toxic parish”.

The diocese rejected his claims, and, at a five-day preliminary hearing at the Birming­ham employment tribunal in November, argued that Mr Sharpe had no right to bring a claim to an employment tribunal, because, as a Church of England parish priest with freehold incumbent status, he was an office- holder, not an employee or worker.

In a reserved judgment, published last Friday, Mr McCarry agreed. “I do not see that within the complex statutory structure of the Church of England it is possible to imply that any relationship between a freehold rector in the Church such as Mr Sharpe and any identi­fiable person or body which could be said to be consensual and contractual. Certainly, Mr Sharpe has failed to demonstrate to my satisfaction that such a relationship existed with either of the respondents.”

The judge said the Church of England, as the Established Church, “has occupied a cen­tral position in English society for several hun­dred years”. He went on: “Despite that, it has no legal personality. It cannot sue or be sued. the rest


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