Blake v Associated Newspapers Limited

Reference: [2003] EWHC 1960 (QB)

Court: Queen's Bench Division

Judge: Gray J

Date of judgment: 31 Jul 2003

Summary: Defamation- Libel - Civil Procedure- Ecclesiastical- Human Rights- Arts 6, 10 - Stay of Proceedings- Justiciability - whether deference to religious doctrine outweighs right of access to the courts

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Appearances: Adrienne Page QC - Leading Counsel (Defendant)  Adam Speker (Defendant) 

Instructing Solicitors: Reynolds Porter Chamberlain for the Defendants

Facts

The Claimant brought a libel action against the publisher of the Daily Mail. He had been a vicar within the Church of England before relinquishing his status in 1994. He continued to describe himself as a reverend and to wear clerical robes. He was a founder of “The Society for Independent Christian Ministry” and later of “The Province of Open Episcopal Ministry and jurisdiction”. In 2000 the Claimant was ordained a priest and later consecrated a bishop by a co-founder of POEM. In his capacity as a bishop of POEM the Claimant presided over the marriage of two homosexual men on television. The Defendant’s newspaper published two articles about the programme and the Claimant, which he alleged imputed that he was not a validly consecrated bishop and that he publicly and dishonestly imitated a bishop. ANL pleaded justification and fair comment.

Issue

Whether the Court could adjudicate upon the Claimant’s claim to be a validly consecrated bishop of POEM.

Held

The courts would not adjudicate on issues relating to procedures adopted by religious bodies or on the fitness of a peson to carry out the pastoral and spiritual duties of their religious office: R v Chief Rabbi, ex parte Wachmann [1992] 1 WLR 1036. Many of the issues raised on the pleadings fell within areas the courts would not consider. Those issues related to matters including substantive doctrine of Catholic apostolic churches, ecclesiastical procedure and fitness for epsicopal office. The issues in the case could not be adapted so as to permit the action to proceed. To prevent the defendants from arguing that the Claimant’s consecration service had no religious validity would be unfair and contrary to the right to freedom of speech. This was one of the exceptional cases where justice required the action to be stayed.

Comment

The case was exceptional on the facts but raises the question whether, and in what cases, deference to religious doctrine is sufficient to deprive a litigant of his Article 6 Rights.

NOTE: The Supreme Court has disapproved of this decision in Khaira v Shergill  [2014] UKSC 33 at [57].