A vicar who claimed he was the victim of a four-year hate campaign has lost a court battle over the right to claim for unfair dismissal in a ruling that called on Magna Carta and ancient Roman texts.
The Reverend Mark Sharpe (pictured) lost his claim after three Court of Appeal judges - Lady Justice Arden, Lord Justice Davis and Lord Justice Lewison - upheld ecclesiastical law, which implies he is an employee of God, overturning an earlier decision of an employment appeal tribunal that he was an employee under the provisions of the Employment Rights Act 1996.
Sharpe launched the case after his wife and four children claimed they had endured a campaign of intimidation from parishioners at a rectory in Worcestershire, which eventually pushed him to leave his post in 2009.
But in a landmark ruling the appeal court upheld the Church of England’s arguments which, under ecclesiastical law, stated that he was a ‘religious office-holder’ rather than an employee.
Lady Justice Arden called on Magna Carta in her judgment, in particular the provision that 'the English church shall be free'. This, she said demonstrates the length of the history attached to the right of patronage.
'Moreover, according to my researches, it touches on the point that, from as long ago as mediaeval times (through the influence of canon law), our land law recognised the right of patronage as a right of property, separate from that in the church building itself, and from that developed the valuable concept of incorporeal hereditaments.'
Lord Justice Lewison referred to disputes between popes and Holy Roman Emperors in the Middle Ages, when he said the right to appoint someone to ecclesiastical office was a ‘hot topic’.
He said examples from this era demonstrated how the appointment of vicars was ‘far removed’ from an ordinary job application, as the bishop did not select vicars and if the bishop or parochial church council refused their appointment, they were entitled to appeal first to the archbishop and then ecclesiastical court.
The judgment in Sharpe v The Bishop of Worcester also makes reference to the high level of independence, security of tenure, and the lack of effective framework of accountability that vicars enjoy.