In Khaira & Ors v Shergill & Ors, (EWCA, July 17, 2012), the England and Wales Court of Appeal held that a dispute over who has the power to name trustees of two Sikh Guwardas is not justiciable because it would require the court to resolve a dispute grounded in religious faith, doctrine and practice. At issue are trust deeds that give the express power to remove and appoint trustees of the Guwardas (one in Birmingham and the other in High Wycomb) to the First Holy Saint and his successors. The parties to the litigation disagree over whether whether the 9th claimant, Sant Baba Jeet Singh Ji Maharaj, is "the Third Holy Saint" and whether he is "successor" (via the Second Holy Saint) to the First Holy Saint. In an opinion by Lord Justice Mummery (with which the two other judges agreed), the court said:
... [C]ourts abstain from adjudicating on the truth, merits or sincerity of differences in religious doctrine or belief and on the correctness or accuracy of religious practice, custom or tradition. The courts also exercise caution in adjudicating on the fitness or otherwise of a particular individual to carry out the spiritual duties of a religious office, although there are some employment rights cases in which jurisdiction has been exercised on the basis of the existence of a contract of employment and of statutory rights not to be unfairly dismissed or discriminated against on a prohibited ground....
... [T]his court should put a halt to this case now. It is being asked to pronounce on a matter on which it cannot speak and should not pretend to speak with authority. The court risks diminishing respect for its own authority, as happened, for example, to the 19th century jurisdiction of the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council, when, in a more religious age, it gave appellate decisions (often ignored) in its ecclesiastical jurisdiction on points of the interpretation of scripture, doctrine, sacraments, ritual and vestments that arose in religious controversies in the established church. Those unfortunate and rather pointless battles in the courts have been rightly described as a cross-fire of jurisdictions that were a gold mine for barristers.
UK Human Rights Blog discusses the decision.