Judge stops case of 'bishop' at gay wedding

An unusual libel case against the Daily Mail has been thrown out because a judge said he could not rule on a matter of religious doctrine. It is believed to be the ?rst time that a libel action has been resolved in this way.

The Mail story which prompted the case was a report of a gay wedding broadcast on ITV’s This Morning presented by Richard Madeley and Judy Finnigan on Valentine’s Day 2001. The ceremony was of?ciated over by a cleric calling himself Bishop Blake.

Daily Mail articles published on 15 and 17 February described Bishop Blake as “self-styled” and an “imitation bishop”. Jonathan Blake had formerly been a priest in the Church of England but had left the Anglican Church.

He sued the Daily Mail, claiming that he had been consecrated as a bishop in the Province for Open Episcopal Ministry and Jurisdiction.

At the High Court, Mr Justice Gray decided to stay permanently the proceedings because the central questions raised were “non-justiciable” issues of religious doctrine. It is an established principle that a court should not regulate the practices of a particular religious community.

Daily Mail lawyer Rebecca Jackson, of Reynolds Porter Chamberlain, said this was the ?rst time this principle had been applied to libel. She said: “The court is always extremely reluctant to stay proceedings but in this case a stay was the most neutral course for the court to take.

“The non-justiciable issues were so central to the claim and to the defences which [Daily Mail publisher] Associated was entitled to run that it was impossible to side-step them.”

By Dominic Ponsford

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