Bellringing, inappropriate behaviour and judicial review: TH v Worcester Cathedral

In TH v Chapter of Worcester Cathedral & Anor [2016] EWHC 1117 (Admin) the claimant was a member of the Worcester Cathedral’s Guild of Ringers. In February 2015, the Chapter revoked his membership of the Guild and permission to ring at the Cathedral (‘the first decision’); and the Bishop invited him to sign an agreement that placed conditions on him ringing bells in all other churches within the Diocese (‘the second decision’).

Both decisions arose out of findings that the claimant had behaved inappropriately with children and young people. The original concerns were investigated by the Cathedral Chapter and advice was taken from Worcestershire County Council’s safeguarding officer: the Local Authority Designated Officer (“the LADO”). Both the first and second decisions followed the LADO’s advice. There was no question of any criminal conduct, however, and that remained the situation [1 & 2].

The five substantive issues between the parties were as follows:

  • Issue 1: The Jurisdiction Issue: Did these decisions trigger a claim under Article 8 and/or were they amenable to judicial review?
  • Issue 2: If so, was the claim in respect of the first decision out of time?
  • Issue 3: If so, was the second decision a decision for the purposes of judicial review?
  • Issue 4: The Substantive Issue: Had an Article 8 or judicial review claim been made out?
  • Issue 5: Were the decisions procedurally flawed? [20].

On the jurisdiction issue, Coulson J concluded that neither of the defendants was a ‘hybrid’ public authority for the purposes of s 6 Human Rights Act 1998 and Article 8 ECHR:

  • Neither had stepped into the shoes of the local authority; instead, they consulted the local authority through the LADO.
  • Neither was exercising any sort of governmental or public administration function. The first defendants were concerned with who would be permitted to enter the tower for the purposes of ringing the Cathedral bells; the second defendant was giving pastoral advice to the incumbents in his diocese. The LADO was consulted because, unlike the defendants, he was exercising a statutory function; and a body that consults a public authority does not then take on the legal responsibilities of that public authority.
  • Unlike a local authority, the defendants had no statutory powers in respect of safeguarding.
  • Neither was subsidised by public funds.
  • Neither was democratically accountable.
  • The United Kingdom would not be liable at Strasbourg for the alleged breach by reference to its international law obligations [67].

The actings of the defendants were therefore not amenable to judicial review:

  • Neither defendant had any statutory powers in respect of safeguarding.
  • They were not part of any system of public regulation and did not receive public funding: “The control of access to church towers for bell ringing purposes seems … analogous to the control of sporting associations.”
  • Who was permitted to ring in the Cathedral and the conditions imposed on a person ringing elsewhere in the Diocese were private decisions without any public element [77].

In addition, the claim for judicial review in respect of the first decision was out of time [90].

As to the second decision, that claim did relate to a decision so, at least on that ground, it could be challenged. However, the Article 8 claim failed because, inter alia, the findings of fact and the sanctions imposed were proportionate and the judicial review claim could not, therefore, hope to succeed. Because Coulson J found against the claimant in respect of every element of the alleged Article 8 claim, the alternative judicial review claim also failed [145].

As to the allegations that the first decision was unlawful because it was in breach of the rules of natural justice and therefore procedurally flawed, the allegations of actual or apparent bias, predetermination and inadequate disclosure were all rejected on the facts: in any case, “Many of them were not properly arguable” [172].

The claim was dismissed.

Cite this article as: Frank Cranmer, "Bellringing, inappropriate behaviour and judicial review: TH v Worcester Cathedral" in Law & Religion UK, 20 May 2016, https://lawandreligionuk.com/2016/05/20/bellringing-inappropriate-behaviour-and-judicial-review-th-v-worcester-cathedral/

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