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John Bowers QC in EAT Victory on Church of England Minister’s Employment Contract

John Bowers QC
The Reverend Sharpe v (1) The Worcester Diocesan Board of Finance Ltd & (2) The Bishop of Worcester (2013) UKEAT/0243/12

The Reverend Sharpe, an ordained Church of England Minister, brought claims for unfair dismissal and whistleblowing. He lost before the employment tribunal on the grounds he was not an employee or worker. Mrs Justice Cox, sitting in the EAT, upheld the Reverend Sharpe’s appeal. The key finding was that the Employment Tribunal was wrong to decide that canon law necessarily precluded a contractual relationship. Many of the terms attached to the post of rector are dictated or shaped by canon law, but that did not preclude the Reverend carrying out his work pursuant to a contract of employment. Drawing analogies with other areas, it was noted that the pay and conditions of teachers and many local government officers are regulated by statutory instrument and statute respectively. The fact of canon law increased the number of standard, or non-negotiable, terms and conditions, but it did not necessarily preclude the existence of a contract of employment.

In terms of control, it was concluded that how often a Bishop uses his powers in practice is not determinative of his legal relationship with the Claimant and whether that relationship is contractual. What is important is the existence of residuary powers of control and discipline, not the extent or frequency of their application in practice.

The EAT remitted the matter to the tribunal for ‘fresh’ hearing,

John Bowers QC of Littleton Chambers and David Campion of Garden Court North Chambers appeared for the Claimant, instructed by Stephen Pinder at EAD Solicitors.

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