Wednesday, June 06, 2018

Canada's Supreme Court: No Right To Fairness Review of Church Tribunal Decision

In Judicial Committee of the Highwood Congregation of Jehovah’s Witnesses v. Wall, (Can. Sup. Ct., May 31, 2018), Canada's Supreme Court rejected a challenge by a Jehovah's Witness that the church's Judicial Committee breached principles of natural justice and its duty of fairness in disfellowshipping him for sinful behavior.  He argued that the disfellowshipping caused other Jehovah's Witnesses to refuse to become clients of his real estate business. The court held:
[T]here is no free standing right to procedural fairness with respect to decisions taken by voluntary associations. Jurisdiction cannot be established on the sole basis that there is an alleged breach of natural justice or that the complainant has exhausted the organization’s internal processes. Jurisdiction depends on the presence of a legal right which a party seeks to have vindicated. Only where this is so can the courts consider an association’s adherence to its own procedures and (in certain circumstances) the fairness of those procedures.
The court also held that the issue is not justiciable, saying that "courts will not consider the merits of a religious tenet".  A press release by the court summarizes the decision. [Thanks to Nima Nematollahi for the lead.]