Non-Domestic Rates

March 6th, 2014

The Strasbourg Court has on 4 March 2014 given Judgment in the case of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints v UK, Case 7552/09.  The Church alleged that the denial of the exemption from business rates, under the Local Government Finance Act 1988, reserved for buildings used for public religious worship, in respect of its Temple at Preston, Lancashire, gave rise to violations of its rights under Article 9 of the ECHR and Article 1 of Protocol No. 1, both taken alone and in conjunction with Article 14.

On 30 July 2008 the House of Lords had unanimously held, [2008] UKHL 56, that, as a matter of UK domestic law, a place of “public religious worship” must be one that is open to the general public. Four of the five Law Lords further dismissed the applicant’s arguments under the ECHR, holding that the liability to pay 20% business rates on the Temple did not fall within the ambit of Article 9, since Mormons were still free to manifest their religion and since the statutory requirement to be open to the public applied equally to all religious buildings and did not target Mormons in particular

The Strasbourg Court held, by a majority, that the complaint under Article 14 taken in conjunction with Article 9 was admissible. However, the Court held, unanimously, that there had been no violation.  There was no differential treatment.  Moreover, any prejudice caused to the Church was reasonably and objectively justified, and any interference was within the UK’s wide margin of appreciation with respect to the public interest and matters of general social strategy.

The conclusion was expressed at para 35 as follows:-

“In conclusion, insofar as any difference of treatment between religious groups in comparable situations can be said to have been established in relation to tax exemption of places of worship, such difference of treatment had a reasonable and objective justification. In particular, the contested measure pursued a legitimate aim in the public interest and there was a reasonable relationship of proportionality between that aim and the means used to achieve it. The domestic authorities cannot be considered as having exceeded the margin of appreciation available to them in this context, even having due regard to the duties incumbent on the State by virtue of Article 9 of the Convention in relation to its exercise of its regulatory powers in the sphere of religious freedom. It follows that the Court does not find that the applicant Church has suffered discrimination in breach of Article 14 of the Convention, taken in conjunction with Article 9.

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