The Bathurst Diocese decision and legal personality of churches

Today at the Law and Religion Scholars Network (LARSN) Annual Conference (5 & 6 May, 2016) at the Cardiff University School of Law and Politics, Cardiff, Wales I presented a paper discussing a recent Australian case on the “legal personality” of churches and how they are held accountable for debts. The paper, “The Bathurst Diocese decision and its implications for the civil liability in contract and tort of church institutions”, can be downloaded here. Those who are interested can also see the Powerpoint presentation that was meant to go along with the paper here: Bathurst Diocese case presentation.

The abstract is as follows:

In the NSW Supreme Court decision of Anglican Development Fund Diocese of Bathurst v Palmer [2015] NSWSC 1856 (10 Dec 2015) (the Bathurst Diocese case), a single judge of the Court held that a large amount of money which had been lent to institutions in the Anglican Diocese of Bathurst, and guaranteed by a “Letter of Comfort” issued by the then Bishop of the Diocese, had to be repaid by the Bishop-in-Council, including if necessary by that body “promoting an ordinance to levy the necessary funds from the parishes”. The lengthy judgment contains a number of interesting comments on the legal personality of church entities and may have long-term implications for unincorporated, mainstream denominations and their contractual and tortious liability to meet orders for payment of damages. The paper discusses the decision and some of those implications.

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