Ministers of Religion in UK civil law: obstacles to employment status and potential reforms to achieve a degree of employment protection.

  • John Duddington

Student thesis: Phd


The scheme of this thesis is to look at the possibility of conferring employment status on ministers of religion in the United Kingdom by examining various apparent obstacles, legal and non-legal, to this and seeing if in fact they do pose such obstacles as to make employment status legally impossible. It begins with an examination of the legal obstacles in identifying who is a minister and who is the employer and then moves to the central issue of whether ministers can be classified as employees as such. looking first at the possibility of ministers being classified as employees as a question of pure employment law. The conclusion here is that, provided that there is a contractual relationship, many relationships between ministers and their church could satisfy the common law tests for employee status. However, this is to look at the question in isolation from other issues beyond employment law, matters which the courts have consistently regarded as vital considerations. That being so it is necessary to look at other ways of classifying the relationship. This thesis argues that whilst some of these ways, such as where ministers act voluntarily, are clearly appropriate in particular cases, the main way in which the courts have classified the relationship, that of office holding, has never been properly analysed and is in fact indistinguishable from employment except in a small number of cases. The thesis then moves to a detailed examination of the case law where employee status for ministers has been in issue and here we attempt a classification of the case law under three headings: the office holder category, the ‘intention to create legal relations category’ and the construction of terms category. The thesis then moves to two other areas beyond employment law. There is first the question of whether the autonomy of churches as a general principle of law would be compromised by the conferment of employee status, one which the courts have not regarded as important but which this thesis contends is a significant obstacle to employment status. The final potential obstacle is the ecclesiology of churches and this involves an examination of both legal and non-legal sources as well as looking at individual churches rather than at churches as whole. The conclusion reached is that there are significant and, in the case of some churches, insuperable obstacles to employee status. However, it is strongly argued that justice demands that ministers should have some rights akin to those of employees without actually having the status of employees. So, in the final chapter, a scheme is suggested for giving ministers certain ‘employee type’ rights together with proposals on how this scheme would be administered. The thesis gives a detailed account of how the scheme might work supported by case studies.
Date of Award1 Aug 2019
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • The University of Manchester
SupervisorJavier Garcia Oliva (Supervisor) & Elaine Dewhurst (Supervisor)

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