R v Registrar General, ex parte Segerdal

JurisdictionEngland & Wales
Judgment Date07 July 1970
Judgment citation (vLex)[1970] EWCA Civ J0707-5
Date07 July 1970
CourtCourt of Appeal (Civil Division)
In the Matter of an Application by Michael Segerdal and the Church of Scientology of California for leave to apply for an Order of Mandamus
In the Matter of the Refusal by the Registrar-General to register the Chapel at Saint Hill Manor, East Grinstead, Sussex, under the Places of Worship Registration Act, 1855.

[1970] EWCA Civ J0707-5


The Master of The Rolls (Lord Denning.)

Lord Justice Winn and

Lord Justice Buckley

In The Supreme Court of Judicature

Court of Appeal

Civil Division

On appeal from Order of Divisional Court.

Mr P. Pain, Q.C. and Mr G. Lightman (instructed by Messrs Lawrence Alkin & Co.) appeared on behalf of the Appellants (Applicants).

Mr R.J. Parker, Q.C. and Mr G. Sltnn (instructed by the Treasury Solicitor) appeared on behalf of the Respondent.


We are here concerned with an estate at Saint Hill Manor, East Grinstead, in Sussex. It is occupied by a group of persons who call themselves the Church of Scientology. There is a building in the grounds which they describe as a chapel. It is separate from the other buildings. It is used for ceremonies which they have set out in a booklet entitled "Ceremonies of the Founding Church of Scientology". The booklet describes the Church Service, the Marriage Service, the Christening and Funeral Services. It also sets out the Creed of the Church of Scientology.


This group of persons desire to register this building, which they describe as a chapel, as a "place of meeting for religious worship". If it is so registered, they will obtain considerable privileges. They will have taken one step towards getting a licence to celebrate marriages there; they will be outside the jurisdiction of the Charity Commissioners; and the building itself may become exempt from paying rates. All of this depends on whether it is properly a "place of meeting for religious worship".


The legislation on this subject goes back to 1688. The Church of England was then the established Church of the land. All other denominations were proscribed. But in 1688 a measure of tolerance was extended to Protestants who dissented from the Established Church. The Toleration Act, 1688, made it lawful for Protestant dissenters to meet together as a congregation or assembly for religious worship, provided always that their place of meeting was certified to the Bishop or to Quarter Sessions and registered; and provided, also, that the place was not locked, barred or bolted but was kept open. The same measure of toleration was afterwards extended to the Roman Catholics by Statutes of 1791 and 1812, and to the Jews in 1846. Finally, in the year 1855 it was extended to all denominations. It was done by the Statute now before us, the Places of ReligiousWorship Registration Act of 1855. By that Act all denominations were made free. The 1855 Act applies to "every place of meeting for religious worship of any other body or denomination of persons". By Sections 2, 3 and 4- of that 1855 Statute, such a place may be certified to the Registrar-General; and on receipt of the certificate, he has to record it as a place of public worship.


The Act does not say who are the persons who can give the certificate. But there is a form of certificate given in the Schedule to the Act from which it appears that a "Minister" can certify, that an "occupier", or even an "attendant" can certify: or indeed anyone who can show a connection subsisting between him and the place of meeting. If any such person certifies that it is a place of meeting for religious worship, then the Registrar-General is to record it.


This brings me to the very first point in the case. Mr Pain submits that, once a place is certified to the Registrar as a place of meeting for religious worship, the Registrar is bound to accept the certificate and to record the place. In this very case a Mr Segerdal certified that the chapel of Saint Hill Manor was a place of religious worship, and asked the Registrar to register it. Mr Pain said that thereupon the Registrar had no option but to record it. He said the duty of the Registrar was ministerial only, and he relied for this purpose on a case in William Blackstone's Reports of 1766, The King v. Justices of Derbyshire, in 1 William Blackstone, at page 605. In that case, under the Toleration Act, a group of Methodists gave a certificate that their place of meeting was for religious worship and asked for it to be recorded. But the Justices had refused to record it. The reason for their refusal was apparently because they thought the certificate ought to set out the particular denomination, namely, that they were Methodists.The certifiers applied for a mandamus to command the Justices to record it. The Court issued the mandamus and said: "that in registering and recording the certificate, the Justices were merely ministerial; and that after a meetinghouse had been duly registered, still, if the persons resorting to it do not bring themselves within the Act of Toleration, such registering will not protect them from the penalties of the law".


I entirely agree with that case because it is plain that the place of meeting there was truly a place of meeting for religious worship. It was for Methodists. Once it is truly such a place, it is entitled to be recorded and registered. The duty is then only ministerial. But if the place is not truly such a place, then it is not entitled to be registered: and registration can, and should, be refused. I take this view because of the extreme latitude given to the C certifier. I cannot believe that a mere "attendant" or "occupier" can certify a place, when he may have little or no ground for his certification, and yet call upon the Registrar to record it straightaway without enquiry. That would lead to many abuses. No, that cannot be. I think that the Registrar D has only jurisdiction to register a place so long as it is truly a place of meeting for religious worship.


The case comes, in my opinion, within the first class mentioned by Lord Esher in The Queen v. Commissioners for Special Purposes of Income Tax, in 1888 21 Queen's Bench E Division at 319. He points out that Parliament "may in effect say that, if a certain state of facts exists and is shewn to such tribunal or body before it proceeds to do certain things, it shall have jurisdiction to do such things, but not otherwise. There it is not for them conclusively to decide whether that state of facts exists, and, if they exercise the jurisdiction without its existence, what they do may be questioned, and it will be held that they have acted withoutjurisdiction". So here, if the Registrar should record a place which is not truly a place of meeting for religious worship, he would be acting without jurisdiction. The prerequisite to his jurisdiction is that it should be truly such a place. If it truly is such a place, and certified as such, then, and then only, does the duty of the Registrar a become ministerial.


This view is supported by Section 8 of the Statute. It says that if it appears "to the satisfaction of" the Registrar that a place of meeting "has wholly ceased" to be used as a place of meeting for religious worship, then he is to take it off the record. He has to be satisfied that it had "ceased" to be used. It follows that, on the initial registration, he ought likewise to be satisfied. In order to be satisfied, he is entitled to make such enquiries as he thinks fit. It would, I think, be quite wrong that the Registrar should be compelled to act on the mere ipse dixit of a certifier, especially as the certifier may be a lowly or ignorant person, who is not capable of knowing what is a place of meeting for religious worship.


If the Registrar does refuse, the remedy is at hand. The applicants can apply to the Court for a mandamus, requiring the Registrar to register the place. If they show it is a place of meeting for religious worship, then the Court will order the Registrar to register it. They must adduce evidence before the Court; and the Court then itself will decide the matter. So also, if the Registrar should record a place mistakenly, then no doubt his decision, as was said in the case in 1766, can be challenged. It could be challenged by the Rating Authority on a claim for exemption from rates. It could be challenged in any legal proceedings by any person who had an interest in the matter. That gives the Act a sensible and reasonable interpretation. It is for the Court eventually to decide whether it is a place of meeting for religious worship.


That "brings me to the next question: Is this "building, described as a chapel, such a piace? The Registrar made enquiries. His assistant asked the applicant for information of the beliefs of the Scientologists, the forms of their Service, and so fox-the. On 22nd February, 1967, their Legal Secretary wrote, sending the book entitled "Ceremonies of the Founding Church of Scientology", adding: "I am sure you will find the answers to the questions you posed in the various ceremonies and particularly in the Creed".


The Registrar, having considered the matter and made all the enquiries he thought necessary, refused to record this place as a place of meeting for religious worship. Thereupon application was made for a mandamus. It was supported by an affidavit by Mr Segerdal. He describes himself as a Minister of the Church of Scientology. He exhibits the Creeds. He gives a description of what takes place...

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