Courts do not have the jurisdiction of ‘Judicial Review’ for the decisions’ of religious organizations, unless the legal rights are at stake

Supreme Court of Canada: The Canadian Supreme Court Bench comprising of McLachlin C.J. and Abella, Moldaver, Karakatsania, Wagner, Gascon, Cote, Brown and Rowe JJ., allowed an appeal while discussing the scope and essence of ‘Judicial Review’.

The facts of the case were that the Judicial Committee of the Highwood Congregation of Jehovah’s Witnesses (Appellant), had disfellowshipped Randy Wall (Respondent) due to his engagement in a sinful act for which he was considered to be insufficiently repentant.  The Appeal committee had confirmed the decision of the judicial committee. Further, the Respondent for the purpose of ‘Judicial review’ of his disfellowship placed an originating application on the basis of it being procedurally unfair before the Queen’s Bench.

Following the facts of the case, the primary issue that was to be answered through was of the jurisdiction of the court’s to review decisions of religious organizations.

While concluding the case, and allowing the appeal, the bench gave an understanding of the concept of ‘Judicial review’ by explaining that the private parties cannot seek ‘judicial review’ to solve disputes that may arise between them; rather, their claims must be founded on a valid cause of action, and also stated that the respondent had no cause of action neither did the ecclesiastical issues raised by him were justiciable.

Therefore, the Court, while stating that ‘Judicial Review’ is only available where there is an exercise of state authority and on an analysis of the stated issues which no where touched the ‘rule of law’ decided that “Courts may only interfere to address procedural fairness concerns related to the decisions of religious groups or other voluntary associations if legal rights are at stake and the claim is founded on a valid cause of action.” The appeal was allowed by quashing the originating application for judicial review as the matter in issue was outside the courts’ jurisdiction. [Highwood Congregation of Jehovah’s Witnesses (Judicial Committee) v. Wall, 2018 SCC OnLine Can SC 10: 2018 Supreme Court Cases 26, decided on 31-05-2018]

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