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Frank Kofi Otuo v Jonathan David Morley, Watch Tower Bible and Tract Society of Britain [2016] EWCH 46

Formation of contract; religious groups; whether intention to create legal relations

Facts

Mr Otuo was expelled from the Jehovah’s Witnesses. He brought an action for slander regarding words purported to have been spoken at a meeting where he had sought a review of his expulsion. Mr Otuo applied for permission to add a claim for breach of contract regarding the process leading up to, and the manner of his expulsion.

Issues

The Jehovah’s Witnesses argued no contract existed between the parties. They claimed the relationship was religious or spiritual in nature and substance, and there could not be said to have been any intention to create legal relations. Mr Otuo claimed he applied for international membership and his application was placed before the Body of the Elders, and he was thereafter informed he had been accepted upon terms with which he had always complied. He cited several publications which he contended governed the rules of his membership and this, he claimed, pointed to the relationship being contractual in nature.

Held

The argument that where the relationship was within a religious context and, therefore, could never be contractual was rejected. Whether the matter could fall within the court’s jurisdiction would depend on the circumstances. If a religious body summons members before it and assumes powers of punishment or expulsion, it is not self-evident that such matters are excluded from the court’s jurisdiction. Mr Otuo was nonetheless denied permission to append a claim for breach of contract, however, because he failed to persuade the court that the relationship was contractual in nature. There was no evidence of any intention to create legal relations.


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