High Court, Queen’s Bench Division: Gray J, July 2003
The claimant was ordained priest in the Church of England in 1981 but resigned his orders in 1994. Since that time he has continued to style himself “The Reverend”, to wear distinctive clerical dress and to undertake ministry independent of any denomination. In 2000 he founded ‘The Society of Independent Christian Ministry’ and ‘The Province for Open Episcopal Ministry and Jurisdiction’ with a former bishop of the Liberal Catholic Church who in turn ordained the claimant first as a priest and then as a bishop. The defendant was the publisher of the Daily Mail.
The claimant officiated at a ceremony described as the marriage of two homosexual men in the context of a nationwide daytime television programme. Reporting this, the Daily Mail described the claimant as ‘a self-styled bishop in costume mitre and cloak’ and later as ‘an imitation bishop who was a once-divorced former clergyman’. The claimant claimed these statements were defamatory, that he was a validly ordained bishop and that he had been ordained such by a bishop within the apostolic succession who retained the power to confer episcopal orders. The defendant applied for a stay of the libel action on the grounds that questions of the validity or otherwise of Holy Orders were a doctrinal issue and thus not justiciable by the court. Expert evidence was received.
The court held that a stay could only be granted in exceptional circumstances as to grant a stay would deny the claimant the opportunity to establish his good name in the courts. However the court upheld the defendants claim that the central questions in the case were non-justiciable questions of doctrine and ecclesiastical procedure. Without determining such questions the case could not continue and a stay was therefore granted.
(2004) 7 Ecc LJ 369