Case Preview: The President of the Methodist Conference v Preston (formerly Moore)
02 Tuesday Apr 2013
On 13 February 2013, the Supreme Court heard an appeal against the Court’s of Appeal’s decision in The President of the Methodist Conference v Preston (formerly Moore)  EWCA Civ 1581, upholding an earlier decision of the Employment Appeal Tribunal (“EAT”) that a Methodist minister was an employee. While we await judgment, below is a summary of the earlier decisions on appeal and the issues in play before the Supreme Court.
The claimant, Mrs Preston, had been appointed as a Methodist minister to a group of congregations for a five-year term without a contract of service. The church had provided her with accommodation, remuneration, a pension, holiday and sick pay and she was subject to annual appraisals and disciplinary procedures. She was issued with a payslip, and, at the end of each tax year, she was issued with a P60. Mrs Preston resigned before the end of her term and brought a claim in the employment tribunal for constructive unfair dismissal.
Decision of the Employment Tribunal
The tribunal analysed President of the Methodist Conference v Parfitt  ICR 176, which, on a similar set of facts, held that the spiritual relationship between the church and a minister meant that no employer-employee relationship existed. In Parfitt, Dillon LJ concluded that this relationship “is not apt, in the absence of clear indications of a contrary intention in the document, to be regulated by a contract of service”. The tribunal considered itself to be bound by Parfitt and dismissed Mrs Preston’s claim on the basis that it did not have jurisdiction to hear it.
Decision of the EAT
Mrs Preston appealed the employment tribunal’s decision in March 2011. The EAT held that Parfitt had been impliedly overruled by the House of Lords in Percy v Board of National Mission of the Church of Scotland , which discarded the rebuttable presumption that there was no intention to create a contractual relationship between a minister and the church. The EAT noted that the Lords in Percy had “plainly intended some departure from what they perceived as the trend of the previous authorities” and therefore allowed Mrs Preston’s appeal.
Decision of the Court of Appeal
The Court of Appeal upheld the EAT’s decision and entirely agreed with its analysis and conclusion. Kay LJ stated that the Lords in Percy “caused the tectonic plates to move” and that the EAT had not erred in ruling that it was not bound by Parfitt. On the question of an intention to create legal relations, Kay LJ cited Lord Nicholls in Percy:
The offer and acceptance of a Church post for a specific period, with specific provision for the appointee’s duties and remuneration and travelling expenses and holidays and accommodation, seems to me to [give rise to legally binding obligations].
The significance of Percy was also examined by the Court of Appeal in New Testament Church of God v Stewart . In Stewart, Pill LJ concluded that a tribunal is “no longer required to approach its consideration of the nature of the relationship between a minister and his church with the presumption that there was no intention to create legal relations”. The Court of Appeal interpreted this as a clear sign that the abandonment of the rebuttable presumption formed part of the ratio in Percy.
The respondent unsuccessfully attempted to invoke Article 9 of the European Convention on Human Rights (freedom of religion). The Court of Appeal cited Arden LJ in Stewart: “the fact that in an employment dispute one party to the litigation is a religious body or that the other party is a minister of religion does not of itself engage Article 9”.
This case will be of particular interest to ministers of any denomination. The existence of a spiritual dimension may not be sufficient to exclude ministers from having employment rights, not least where the facts clearly point towards an employer-employee relationship.